Is Protection of Dissenting Opinions Part of the Diversity Conversation at UCLA?
This afternoon, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is inviting students to provide input into the hiring process for a newly-created position of Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Hopefully this will lead to a broad and wide-ranging conversation that includes the fundamental importance of protecting dissenting opinions. Diversity of opinion is among the most vital forms of diversity within the campus community, and in such an environment where clashes of opinion are inevitable, UCLA must ensure that none are punished for going against the grain of popular discourse. In the case of professor James Enstrom, sadly, UCLA has been failing this challenge for several years.
Enstrom, longtime Torch readers may remember, has been affiliated with UCLA’s School of Public Health (SPH) since 1976. In more recent years, Enstrom has been a dissenting voice within SPH’s Environmental and Health Sciences department on certain issues, among them the dangers of diesel fuel emissions. Enstrom has also been a critic of the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB), which wields major influence in determining state emissions regulations. He also blew the whistle on some of CARB’s incongruous practices. For instance, one of Enstrom’s senior colleagues was removed from CARB’s Scientific Review Panel after Enstrom showed that the colleague’s term had expired, yet he had remained on the panel without proper reauthorization. Enstrom also exposed a CARB scientist for having a fraudulent Ph.D.
UCLA retaliated against Enstrom for his outspokenness, laying him off in June 2010 with the justification, among other things, that his research was “not aligned with the academic mission of the Department.” UCLA defended Enstrom’s treatment in part by stating, untruthfully, that Enstrom wasn’t a professor at all and implying that he was not covered by the usual academic freedom protections for tenured faculty.
Enstrom sued UCLA in June 2012, and in March 2013 a federal district court allowed some of Enstrom’s First Amendment claims against the university to proceed. As Enstrom continues his fight for his basic rights into yet another academic year, we hope that a settlement or a ruling in his favor may finally be on the horizon.
And as the campus conversation on diversity continues at UCLA, the university should reflect on its failures in Jim Enstrom’s case. Diversity at UCLA doesn’t count for much if it doesn’t give proper due to the diversity of opinions held on campus and recognize the need to protect them equally.