As of April 16, 2017, two students who were enrolled in Professor Keith Fink’s winter course, Communication Studies 167: Sex, Politics and Race: Free Speech on Campus, have yet to receive either a grade or units for the course. The two students, Negeen Arasteh and Shahab Naimi, independently claim that if they do not receive course credit and a grade for their work, they will not hesitate to take the matter to UCLA’s Judicial Board, as they believe that campus faculty violated university policies in denying them course credit.
Arasteh, a junior transfer student studying French and Sociology, and Naimi, a pre-medical student majoring in history, earned high scores on both the midterm and the final but never actually received credit for the four-unit course.
Fink’s teaching assistant, Andrew Litt, said that Fink has been in a battle against the chair of the communication studies department, Kerri Johnson, who assumed the role at the beginning of this academic year. In February, Fink appeared in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News discussing this issue. During the interview, Fink said that the department has exhibited viewpoint discrimination, choosing to undermine him because of his politically conservative views that may not fit into the department’s politically liberal narrative.
Fink and Litt said Johnson capped the winter lecture at 200 students, citing concerns about the course, some of which were not fully explained. Johnson attempted to cap Fink’s spring course, Communication Studies M172: Free Speech in the Workplace, at 170 students — and, at one point, even 150 students — citing the “burden” that such a large class would place on the TA.
Litt thought this to be “ridiculous,” telling Ha’Am, “I have TA’d the same exact class, cross-listed, for 239 students. Her argument does not make any sense.”
Fink and Litt expressed a desire to lecture and “influence the lives” of as many students as possible, especially in the impacted Communications Department. Litt added, “Years ago, Fink taught this class with no TAs and taught as many as 292 students at once.”
Ha’Am reached out to Johnson for comment, but she said she could not legally or ethically comment about any specific academic personnel matter.
Arasteh and Naimi were two of 41 students who received Petition to Enroll (PTE) numbers to join Professor Fink’s winter course on the first day of class. Fink has been assigning PTE numbers to non-enrolled students for ten years.
Per the UCLA Registrar:
“A PTE number is issued at the discretion of the instructor or department offering the class. When used with the nine-digit course ID, it guarantees enrollment.”
The PTE number is a guarantee by the school to enroll a student in a course. The students who received the written PTE numbers were successfully enrolled in the course for several hours, until the department deemed those numbers null. Litt said that the additional students “make a marginal difference in my workload, which doesn’t matter to me.”
During winter quarter, Communications Studies 167 was taught specifically in Rolfe 1200 because the student demand for Fink’s courses has always been high. Rolfe 1200 has a seating capacity of 292 persons, according to the UCLA Office of Instructional Development.
Due to a 12-unit minimum requirement for students to receive financial aid, Arasteh and Naimi had to enroll in extra classes late in the winter term to make sure that they could continue to afford tuition. While most other students abandoned their attempts to stay in the communications course, Arasteh and Naimi continued attending, taking Fink and Litt’s word that they would advocate for the students until they were enrolled.
By the middle of week three of winter quarter, the number of students enrolled in Fink’s course dropped from 200 to 196. Immediately, Arasteh and Naimi sought to take the spots. Fink and Litt were in full support of their enrollment, as the two students had attended every class and were doing well in the course. Filling out petitions for late enrollment, Naimi’s counselor apparently told him that “usually people do get in. If people have a good case, they’re fine. You seem to have a good case.”
A week later, Arasteh and Naimi both found out that their petitions were denied by Johnson. When they approached Litt about the issue, he was confused and surprised, and told them that he and the professor would meet with Johnson to discuss the situation further.
Meanwhile, both students continued attending the class, citing their need to take the class as an upper division elective and Fink’s “phenomenal” teaching skills.
“The way he speaks, the way he teaches, the way he debates, everything,” Naimi said. ”He’s one of the best teachers at UCLA.”
Department chairs are typically not a part of the late-add petition process, Litt said. Litt said that he late-added several courses when he was an undergraduate student at UCLA, including courses in the Communication Studies department, without the department chair’s intervention.
During Litt’s meeting with Johnson, the department chair had apparently changed her argument from “workload on the TA” to wanting to discourage students from sitting in “full” classes on the off chance of gaining enrollment. However, according to the TA, the pretense to the petition is the assumption of risk, and in this case, both students were successful — spots opened in the course that they were attending. Litt believes that this is indicative of bias (perhaps political) against Fink, who is one of just a few professors who identify as conservative on campus.
“By not enrolling these students, Johnson is vindictively enforcing an unwritten rule to use students as a means of passive-aggressively targeting Fink,” Litt said. “I highly doubt that any similarly-situated students in any other Communication Studies course would have been treated that way, and I invite anyone to seek answers to that question via a CPRA or FOIA request.”
There is a petition/open letter at ProfFink.info, addressed to Chancellor Gene Block and the UCLA administration, circulating in support of Fink.