UC faculty alumni sign open letters to Napolitano decrying anti-Zionism on campuses

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In two separate open letters sent this week one from AMCHA Initiative and one from Alums for Campus Fairness 590 UC alumni, 47 organizations and 176 faculty members from campuses across the country urged UC President Janet Napolitano to address concerns of anti-Zionist sentiment in a number of UC faculty.

The letters specifically referenced the vetting process for UC Berkeley’s DeCal on Palestine, which was suspended and then reinstated this semester amid controversy, and a similar course at UC Riverside a year ago titled “Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid,” which received criticism but was not suspended.

The letter from AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit that combats anti-Semitism on campuses, asks Napolitano to issue a statement explicitly addressing UC Board of Regents policy governing course content and how it interacts with policy on academic freedom. Additionally, the letter asks UC chancellors to urge that courses vetted by the Academic Senate comply with the Regents Policy on Course Content.

“We wanted to say that there were symptoms of a much bigger problem that was happening on multiple UC campuses, where classes were being taught that were very politicized,” said Director of the AMCHA Initiative Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. “We wanted to suggest some good recommendations to address the issue without violating anyone’s academic freedom.”

AMCHA initially responded to the reinstatement of the Palestine DeCal with an open letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in September. Rossman-Benjamin stated that the intent of that letter was not to urge for the class’s cancellation but to raise flags about potential noncompliance with the Regents Policy, including the Principles Against Intolerance, which specifically condemns anti-Semitism in addition to other forms of discrimination.

“Recent studies show that anti-Zionist expression … whether found on the campus quad or in the lecture hall, is strongly correlated with acts of anti-Jewish hostility,” reads the AMCHA letter.

Steven Tadelis, a UC Berkeley professor of economics, business and public policy who signed the AMCHA letter, acknowledged the need for standards of discourse in the “sacred place” of the classroom.

“Some minimal set of controls need to be in place to guarantee that a course, no matter what the subject, is delivered in a way that is not inherently biased,” Tadelis said in an email.

UC Office of the President spokesperson Claire Doan stated in an email Wednesday that a response from Napolitano was “highly unlikely” that day but that the university “takes allegations of intolerance extremely seriously.”

“Under Berkeley’s system of shared governance, the curriculum—and thus the approval of all new courses—is the purview of the faculty,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email. “Courses therefore do not represent the views of the institution or the administration.”

Hatem Bazian, faculty advisor for the UC Berkeley DeCal, said in response to the letter that groups outside the university should not be given power in whether a course is offered at an institution.

“If we allow the external interest groups that are expressing the point of view of a foreign power to say what is acceptable and unacceptable in the classroom, then the university’s mission is undermined,” Bazian said. “In general, there should not be a litmus test for academic freedom.”

Contact Revati Thatte at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that any response from UC President Janet Napolitano to the letter was “highly unlikely,” according to UC spokesperson Claire Doan. In fact, Doan said Napolitano would likely not respond to the letter as soon as Wednesday.