Carla Hesse rescinds suspension of controversial DeCal on Palestine

Brooke Whitney/Staff

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Update 9/20/16: This article has been updated to reflect new information from the AMCHA Initiative.

On Monday, Carla Hesse, executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, rescinded her suspension of the controversial DeCal course previously titled “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.”

The DeCal had been suspended Sept. 13 after the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit that aims to combat anti-Semitism in higher education, alleged that the course violated a UC policy of nonpartisanship. Following the suspension, Hesse met with the Ethnic Studies Department chair Shari Huhndorf, faculty sponsor Hatem Bazian and student facilitator Paul Hadweh to address her concerns about the course before moving forward.

She requested that Huhndorf, Bazian and Hadweh provide clarifications about how the course fits into the Ethnic Studies Department and whether the course had a political agenda in its framework. The three revised the course syllabus to ensure that it complies with relevant university and campus policies. They also changed the name to “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Inquiry.”

“The changes to the syllabus are nonsubstantive,” said Liz Jackson, Hadweh’s attorney, who works for Palestine Legal. “They’re all cosmetic changes to clarify that the course is about exploring questions.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a co-founder and director of AMCHA Initiative, agreed that the changes are “cosmetic and not substantive.” According to Rossman-Benjamin, the organization did not have a problem with the course, but rather the process, as it did not properly review the DeCal to prevent politicization.

“It’s pretty outrageous that (the course) was allowed to continue,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “The dean did her job, but the ethnic studies department did not, or did it in a way that was very wrong. It was a sham.”

According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof, the Academic Senate requested resubmission of the original syllabus, the revised syllabus and an assessment of the course by Huhndorf for its review and approval. At their meeting Monday, chair of the Academic Senate Robert Powell stated that the divisional council had met on the issue that afternoon.

“The divisional council is deeply concerned about the suspension of the DeCal class and the lack of shared governance and the lack of consultation and aggregation of student governance,” Powell said during the meeting. “A more detailed statement will be forthcoming.”

As of press time, Powell could not be contacted and no such statement had been released.

The original syllabus asked students to “explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine, one in which justice is realized for all its peoples and equality is not only espoused, but practiced.” The revised syllabus now poses the question of, “What might decolonization mean in this context, and how might it open the possibility for justice and equality for all peoples in the region?”

“I’m confident that the student facilitator is approaching complex issues in a constructive, open manner,” Huhndorf said in an email. “Their debates with one another will create a deeper understanding of a complicated situation.”

Contact Aleah Jennings-Newhouse and Revati Thatte at [email protected].