On Tuesday, UC Berkeley suspended an erroneously approved student-led DeCal called “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis” that many in the Jewish community alleged was politically bent.
AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit concerned with combating anti-Semitism in higher education, sent an open letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks on Tuesday, saying the course violated a UC policy that requires the UC Board of Regents to ensure that the university does not function as “an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.” The suspension came during the third week of class.
“UC Berkeley’s move to suspend a student-led course … is a flagrant violation of academic freedom,” alleged a joint statement from the DeCal’s student facilitator, Paul Hadweh, and Palestine Legal attorney Liz Jackson.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said that while the ultimate suspension of the Palestine DeCal was not because of the course’s content, the outcry over the subject matter spurred the initial review of the DeCal. The course, Mogulof said, was suspended because of an internal miscommunication about the approval process for DeCals.
The acting chair of the ethnic studies department — who did not have the authority to approve DeCals — cleared the fall course over the summer without fully complying with a checklist required for DeCal course approval, according to Mogulof.
If followed, this checklist would have directed the chair to seek approval for the course from College of Letters and Science Social Sciences Dean Carla Hesse. For the Palestine DeCal, Mogulof said, the dean’s approval was not sought by the acting chair.
The official DeCal website, however, states that “DeCals in the College of Letters & Science no longer need to submit a copy of their proposals to the Dean starting Fall 2014.” Mogulof said despite the website’s statement — which was created in 2014 as a way to handle the transition of the College of Letters and Science’s office space from Campbell Hall to Evans Hall — Hesse has continued to ask for DeCal proposals from department chairs and was unaware of the exemption on the site.
“(The question is): Does the dean and permanent department chair have the right to review courses … in their domain? And they do, because they are accountable and responsible,” Mogulof said. “That is what they’re doing now — they’re doing what they should’ve done earlier.”
Had Hesse known of this exemption on the DeCal website, Mogulof said, Hesse would not have agreed to the exemption. In addition, Mogulof emphasized that neither Hadweh nor the Academic Senate Committee on Courses of Instruction could have known of the misstep in the DeCal’s approval.
Students were informed that their DeCal had been suspended until further notice in an email, with some students disappointed that the academic space for discussing the state structure of Israel, separate from religion, was no longer available on campus. Younus Al-Bojermi, a campus junior transfer student, said the suspension left students scrambling to replace the one-unit class.
“They’re saying we’re politically organizing. We’re not politically organizing,” Al-Bojermi said. “We’re showing up to class to learn history.”
According to the DeCal’s syllabus, the course would have explored the “connection between Zionism and settler colonialism.” Many students enrolled in the course said the DeCal was not biased.
The AMCHA Initiative letter, however, alleged that the class portrayed Israel as an “illegitimate settler colonial state” and was partially dedicated to thinking about ways to “‘decolonize’ — that is, eliminate — Israel.”
“The program in question clearly put forth a political agenda and ignored history,” alleged Berkeley Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman and Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut in a statement.
Hatem Bazian, the DeCal’s faculty sponsor and a Near Eastern studies lecturer, said the reason behind the course’s suspension was “completely erroneous” and alleged it was an example of the “university playing politics.”
According to Bazian, on July 4, Hadweh submitted the appropriate forms to the department chair and the Academic Senate. Bazian said the course was then approved by the department July 12, followed by Academic Senate approval July 27.
“I complied with all policies and procedures required for creating the course,” Hadweh said in the statement. “The course was vetted and fully supported by the faculty advisor, the department chair, and the Academic Senate’s Committee on Courses of Instruction.”
Regarding the future of the controversial course, Mogulof said nothing has been officially decided and that at this time, any number of options — such as canceling, reinstating or modifying the DeCal — are on the table.