Letter to UC President Napolitano Regarding Anti-Zionist Political Advocacy and Activism in Classrooms in Violation of UC Policies
November 1, 2016
Dear President Napolitano,
We are 47 religious, civil rights, education and research organizations, as well as 176 individual faculty members on campuses across the country. Many of our members are part of the UC community, including UC alumni, students and faculty. We write to express our grave concern at what we believe to be the improper behavior of anti-Zionist faculty and student instructors, who use the classroom as a pulpit for political advocacy and activism in violation of UC policies and conventional academic ethics designed to curb exactly such abuse.
An examination into the vetting process for the student-taught course “Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis,” at UC-Berkeley, revealed that the Regents Policy on Course Content was either ignored or breached by the course’s sponsoring department, Ethnic Studies. Even after Dean Carla Hesse asked Ethnic Studies to re-review the syllabus in light of the Regents Policy, the department chair approved the course, denying that it had any particular political agenda or that it crossed the line from education to indoctrination. We find it hard to believe that a course with an obviously one-sided anti-Israel reading list, exclusively anti-Israel guest speakers, and a clear intent to justify the elimination of the State of Israel is considered to be consistent with Regents Policy.
This course at UC-Berkeley is not an isolated case. In a similar case a year ago, an almost identical course at UC Riverside, “Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid,” was proposed by a student instructor under the supervision of an openly anti-Zionist faculty advisor in the English Department. When confronted with similar concerns about an inadequate vetting process that did not ensure the course’s compliance with the Regents Policy on Course Content before its approval, UCR officials there, too, claimed after the fact that the unambiguously one-sided, proselytizing course was in compliance with all UC policies. In stark contrast, Verity Educate, a non-partisan, non-profit group that analyzes the educational accuracy and objectivity of classroom curricula, determined that the UCR course “reflects a singular interpretation” and cautioned that the purposeful lack of political balance will result in students “com[ing] to see one argument as the mainstream or accepted view.”
We are deeply troubled that courses like these receive approval, despite the fact that they are blatantly politically-motivated and intended to indoctrinate students and are thus in violation of the Regents Policy on Course Content. We suggest that the faculty members responsible for overseeing course content, particularly at the departmental level, are failing to exercise due diligence in reviewing and approving courses either because they share the anti-Zionist political perspective of the proselytizing instructors and faculty and condone the promotion of that perspective in the classroom, or because they hope to avoid the controversy that rejecting the courses could initiate.
On at least four UC campuses, entire departments are dominated by faculty who have publicly endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities and scholars, and several department chairs and program directors have publicly endorsed an academic boycott of Israel. These departments have misused academic programming on their campuses to promote the political program of BDS.
We firmly believe in and strongly support the protections provided by the Constitution’s First Amendment for extramural expression by all university faculty members, even their right to express opinions and support causes that we find morally reprehensible or even antisemitic. We object, however, when faculty members use their university positions and taxpayer resources to recruit for an antisemitic political movement, indoctrinate their students to support the elimination of the Jewish state, or allow their colleagues to do so. As the UC-wide Committee on Academic Freedom has made abundantly clear, professors “who abuse their position to indoctrinate students cannot claim the protection of academic freedom.”
The effects of this abuse extend beyond corruption of the academic mission. Recent studies show that anti-Zionist expression, particularly the promotion of BDS, whether found on the campus quad or in the lecture hall, is strongly correlated with acts of anti-Jewish hostility, including assault, harassment, discrimination, suppression of speech, and displays of antisemitic graffiti and flyers (such as those seen recently at UC- Berkeley). Tellingly, these studies also show a very strong correlation between faculty who have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel and acts of anti-Jewish hostility. Schools with one or more faculty boycotters are four times more likely to be the scene of incidents targeting Jewish students for harm.
In 2014, your office issued two statements reaffirming that faculty and student instructors are bound by the Regents Policy on Course Content. However, as evidenced by the recent examples at UC-Berkeley and UC-Riverside, it is clear that the Regents Policy is being disregarded on UC campuses. And, with the notable exception of Dean Carla Hesse at UC-Berkeley, it seems that UC administrators are not reminding faculty of the vital importance of safeguarding academic freedom from abuse and of the faculty’s obligation to be diligent in enforcing the Regents policy.
Therefore, we urge you to take the following steps:
1. Issue a statement that describes and re-asserts the Regents Policy on Course Content and the UC Policy on Academic Freedom (APM 010), and that clarifies that the “advance of personal interest” and “political indoctrination” constitutes serious misuse of the classroom.
2. Charge each of the UC Chancellors with urging their respective academic senates to ensure that all courses are explicitly and carefully evaluated for their compliance with the standards of academic propriety as spelled out in the Regents Policy on Course Content.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to hearing from you.
The Undersigned 47 Groups and 176 Faculty Members
Academic Council for Israel
Accuracy in Academia
Aggies for Israel
Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi)
Alums for Campus Fairness
AMCHA UCLA Alumni
American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists
American Institute for Jewish Research
Americans for Peace and Tolerance
American Truth Project
BEAR: Bias Education, Advocacy & Resources
Chabad Jewish Student Group at UC Berkeley
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
Davis Faculty for Israel
Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)
Fuel For Truth
Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel
Iranian American Jewish Federation
Israeli-American Council (IAC)
Israel Peace Initiative (IPI)
JAM – Jewish Awareness Movement
Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA)
Middle East Forum
National Conference on Jewish Affairs
National Council of Young Israel
Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN)
Proclaiming Justice to the Nations
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Stop BDS on Campus
Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism
Students Supporting Israel
Students Supporting Israel at UC Irvine
Students Supporting Israel at UCLA
Students Supporting Israel at UC Santa Barbara
The Israel Christian Nexus
The Israel Group
The Shofar Project
Zionist Organization of America
* indicates faculty at a University of California campus
Cc: UC Regents
Regent Eddie Island, Chair Academic and Student Affairs Committee UC Board of Regents
Aimee Dorr, UC Provost and Executive Vice President
Carla Hesse, Executive Dean of the College of Letters and Science
Robert L. Powell, Chair Academic Senate UC Berkeley
Senator Carol Liu, Chair California Senate Standing Committee on Education
Assembly Member Jose Medina, Chair California Assembly Higher Education Committee
Assembly Member Shirley Weber, Chair Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate
Senator Marty Block, Chair California Legislative Jewish Caucus