On Monday, the ASUC Standing Committee on University and External Affairs indefinitely postponed a bill that addressed academic relations with Israeli institutions after some senators said the naturally divisive bill would hurt the long-term workability of the ASUC senate class. While academic freedom is an important matter, and the student government should not shy away from controversial topics, the senators in the committee made the right decision to avoid further discussing a polarizing and divisive issue in the first weeks of the semester. We hope they instead focus on working together to ensure that government vacancies are filled.
More than 100 students, professors, UC alumni and other community members gathered to voice their opinions on Senate Bill 11, titled “A Bill in Support of the Free Flow of Ideas and International Academic Collaboration.” Sponsored by Student Action Senator Ori Herschmann, the bill called for the ASUC to support free academic exchange between UC Berkeley and Israeli institutions and for ASUC President Pavan Upadhyayula to publicly denounce an International Day of Action on College Campuses for Palestine, set to happen Tuesday, among other actions. Herschmann ultimately moved to indefinitely postpone the bill, saying he felt the bill’s intention was misread and misunderstood.
Contentious issues last year, such as the senate’s declaration of no confidence in UC President Janet Napolitano, made it difficult for people to feel comfortable in senate space, according to former external affairs vice president Safeena Mecklai. In the springs of both 2010 and 2013, the senate took votes on whether to ask the University of California to divest funds from companies associated with the Israeli military. Discussions leading up to the votes — which had different outcomes each year — took an emotional toll on all parties involved. By postponing the vote on SB 11, we hope the ASUC will shift its focus in the upcoming weeks to working as a collective unit to accomplish necessary administrative tasks. While it may seem odd that student government officials would postpone a bill because of its possibly divisive effect on the senate class, recent senate class history shows this was a mature decision.
The ASUC has a wide array of government responsibilities that it needs to settle soon. Although having structural complications should not thwart student government from functioning normally, we must acknowledge that student government is just that: a student organization. These newly appointed senators are still getting used to their roles as student leaders. Senators must work across party lines to prioritize governmental responsibilities, such as appointing an attorney general, an ASUC academic affairs vice president and an ASUC undergraduate representative.
This decision does not take away from the importance of the issue of academic freedom. However, the polarizing nature of the bill at this point in time would create more harm than good.