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January 18, 2006

PROFESSOR BAINBRIDGE has thoughts on UCLA's angry alumni. My own sense is that a place where he and Eugene Volokh are happy can't be too oppressively leftist, but then, that's the law school. Law schools tend to be less oppressive than other graduate programs because both the faculty and the students have more options, and because lawyers tend to be unwilling to take abuse. I do agree with Bainbridge that the Bruin alumni need to distinguish between truly oppressive behavior toward students in class (bad) and political behavior outside class (nobody's business).

On the intellectual property question I'm not sure, though it strikes me as absurd to claim that taping classes is illegal. Students do it all the time, and if UCLA enforces that rule only with regard to critics, I doubt it will stand up. Plus it's just lame.

UPDATE: UCLA Alumna Gina Cobb says it's worse than I think.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Eugene Volokh weighs in. And Bainbridge has a followup post noting the power of technology: "When I was in college or law school, there basically was no way for students to speak out about alleged abuses by professors short of 1960s-style campus riots, which by the time I went to university the local cops were really good at squelching. Sure, you could give the professor low evaluations, but when the prof had tenure, that didn't have much impact. And, there was an urban legend at my school about a guy who dropped trou on one especially annoying prof. The same was true of most authority figures back then. There was no way to effectively complain about news anchors, politicians, union leaders, or what have you. The internet has changed all that."

MORE: On taping classes, reader Keith Wilson emails:

When I was an evening student 1L in 1981, we lived by the recorder. There just weren't enough hours in the day to assemble class notes, hornbook notes, study group notes, etc. Remember, this was WAY before the net, hell, during the infancy of LexisNexis. Anyway, the big shock came when I went to a review from a writing professor. In our school, they were last year's grads gaining experience by teaching legal writing. For my critique, I pulled out the Sony microcassette recorder (that then, cost about a week's pay) and started to record the comments on my legal writing. Of course, the teacher went ballistic, accusing me of trying to "trap" him at something. I was dumbfounded. At that point in my legal career, I couldn't comprehend what he was saying. I was just a dopey 1L trying to capture as much information as possible to help me get through school!

In retrospect, I've altered my position over the years. I've vasicilated between incredulity, and acceptance. Some 25 years later, I realize he was just a putz. If he was concerned with what was being recorded, he shouldn't have expressed it, or at least had the balls to stand by his conviction.

I never mind students taping my class. On occasion, I've even turned on the recorder myself for students who had to be away for some pressing reason -- though I've been known to start the recording, and then go on, as if finishing a statement, with " . .. . so that's what will be on the final exam. Don't tell anyone who wasn't here today!" That always gets a laugh. But my feeling is that a class is a public event, not a private one. If it were a seminar where students shared private matters in discussion it would be different, but that's not the kind of stuff I teach.