Ousted conservative prof accuses UCLA of 'bait & switch'

A popular conservative ex-professor is accusing UCLA of pulling a “bait and switch” by touting him as a summer instructor even as it worked to oust him from his position.

Keith Fink, a successful attorney and renowned legal commentator, served as a Communications Studies lecturer at the University of California-Los Angeles from 2008 until his forced departure in June 2017. His courses on “Race, Sex & Politics: Free Speech on Campus;” “Free Speech in the Workplace;” “Entertainment Law;” and “Arguing Contemporary Social Issues” proved extremely popular among students.

Indeed, Communications Department Chair Kerri Johnson attempted to restrict enrollment in his courses, even preventing him from granting exceptions, which Fink believes was an orchestrated effort to stifle his conservative views.

When Fink came up for a mandatory “excellence review” to consider his promotion to “Continuing Lecturer” in May, the committee that evaluated his performance included several colleagues whom Fink had identified in advance as having a potential bias against him—resulting in a deadlocked vote despite impressive student evaluations of his teaching and praise from several of his colleagues.

The tie-breaking vote was cast against Fink several weeks later by Social Sciences Dean Laura Gomez, whom Fink had also included on his list of faculty members likely to hold a bias against him.

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As that saga unfolded, Fink was in periodic contact with the Communications Studies Department regarding the two summer courses that he traditionally teaches, resulting in Fink being listed as the instructor for Entertainment Law (CS 164) and Contemporary Social Issues (CS 184) on the Summer Sessions website. The department even advertised the two courses with excerpts from student reviews praising Fink’s “wonderful lectures,” urging students not to “leave UCLA without taking a course with him.”

When Andrew Litt, Fink’s teaching assistant, began to receive inquiries from potential students about the two summer courses, he promptly investigated. Fink told Campus Reform that although he had taught the two popular classes for numerous prior summers, “the department NEVER asked me to teach this summer.”

Johnson, however, disputes Fink’s account, telling Campus Reform that Fink had identified his preferred times for each Summer Session course in an email on February 14. After those times were confirmed, she added, Fink sent another email on March 30 stating that he would need two teaching assistants.

“On April 19, Mr. Fink emailed to ask if he was still able to teach his summer courses, and he received an email confirming the scheduled courses from Chair Johnson on April 21,” Johnson continued. “Given these exchanges, we were surprised to learn on June 6 that Mr. Fink’s TA had contacted Summer Session asking that Mr. Fink be removed as the instructor of record with no explanation and no subsequent contact/response from Mr. Fink regarding this matter.”

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Fink contends that these communications were logistical and did not constitute a formal offer of summer employment from the department, saying the school’s memorandum of understanding with faculty requires departments to meet certain procedural requirements in order to hire professors to teach over the summer session.

Accordingly, as it became increasingly clear to Fink that his time at UCLA was running out—as early as March he received what he believes was a deliberately hostile review of one of his classes from the department’s vice-chair—he informed the department of his intent to leave the country for a trip to Asia on May 31.

“The department has to follow certain procedures in the MOU in order for one to teach in the summer and for this summer since they weren't having me teach they didn't follow those requirements,” he asserted. “They knew since early May because they were not offering me the opportunity to teach my classes I would be in Asia longer than usual over break.”

Litt sent an email on June 6 to Anthony Beck, UCLA’s Summer Sessions coordinator, informing him of the error in the listings and requesting that UCLA immediately remove Fink’s name from the courses so as to not confuse students who had “planned their summers around taking a specific course with a specific instructor” or cause undue problems for international students.

“Many UCLA students have enrolled in these courses due to their misguidedly incorrect belief that Professor Fink would be teaching them,” Litt noted in the email. “More urgently, students around the world have enrolled in these courses and need syllabi to get their transfer units pre-approved.”

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Beck promptly informed Litt that he had removed Fink’s name from the listing and asked Jane Bitar, the Communications Studies department manager, to inform currently enrolled students of the error. He also noted, though, that each academic department “controls and maintains any updates” pertaining to course listings for the summer term.

Later that day, Bitar contacted Fink directly to seek confirmation “that your plans to teach this summer have been changed, despite previous emails in with [sic] your teaching schedule was set with your consultation.”

After several days without a response, she followed up with another email giving him 24 hours to reply before his classes would be reassigned.

“Since Andrew cc'd you on the e-mail he wrote the Summer Sessions Office, we will take Andrew's e-mail as an indication that you have authorized him to cancel your teaching, and therefore, you have chosen not to teach in the summer,” she wrote. “If we do not hear from you in 24 hours, we will reassign your classes.”

Litt replied on June 11, reminding her that the department had not initiated the necessary steps to employ Fink over the summer, and reminding her that Fink had informed the department in writing on May 18 that he would be traveling in Asia over the summer, starting after his last day on campus on May 31.

Litt also pointed out that although Fink would have preferred to teach at UCLA over the summer, “it is the Department that does not want Keith to teach—during the Summer or otherwise,” as evidenced by its failure to officially confirm his appointment for the Summer Session.

“You know full well that Keith loves teaching at UCLA and has been fighting for the past six months to continue doing so,” Litt charged. “The Department's failure to confirm Keith's Summer appointments is no surprise—especially since the Chair, Vice Chair, and the MSO have fought hard to have him stop teaching at UCLA.”

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Bitar notified the currently enrolled students later that day that “Mr. Fink has chosen not to teach [the course] this summer,” while Litt sent an email of his own to the students informing them of the controversy surrounding Fink the courses.

In the wake of those announcements, Litt told Campus Reform that 57 students dropped Entertainment Law and 53 dropped Contemporary Social Issues, adding that he also received several “messages expressing negative sentiment” about the two courses from students who chose to remain enrolled.

Fink and Litt believe that the CS department engaged in “bait and switch” tactics to lure students into enrolling in the courses because UCLA gives a percentage of the revenue from summer courses directly to the departments that offer them.

Fink’s two summer courses are highly-rated, and Litt claimed that they have proven to be some of the most popular summer courses offered at UCLA. With a cost of $1,092 for University of California students and an average total enrollment over the last two years of 169, they were a significant source of funding for the Communications Studies Department.

“UCLA is no different than other schools—students largely take classes because of the teacher,” Fink told Campus Reform. “Students were coming from all over the world to UCLA specifically to take classes with me as well as from other universities. These students would be stuck in the class once a teacher was changed if not notified until the last minute for several reasons.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @SFarkas48