AMCHA Co-founders Respond to UC President’s Letter Regarding UCLA’s Decision to Allow Promotion of Israel Boycott on Class Website

From: Tammi Benjamin <tammi@amchainitiative.org>
Date:
August 6, 2012 11:39:50 AM PDT
To:
president@ucop.edu, regentsoffice@ucop.edu
Cc:
Leila Beckwith <lbeckwit@ucla.edu>, chancellor@conet.ucla.edu, chancellor@berkeley.edu, chancellor@uci.edu, chancellor@ucmerced.edu, chancellor@ucr.edu, chancellor@ucsd.edu, henry.yang@chancellor.ucsb.edu, chancellor@ucsc.edu, chancellor@ucdavis.edu, sue.hellmann@ucsf.edu, provost@ucop.edu, Robert Anderson <Robert.Anderson@ucop.edu>, Robert Powell <Robert.Powell@ucop.edu>, Charles Robinson <Charles.Robinson@ucop.edu>, Marsha Kelman <Marsha.Kelman@ucop.edu>, “Jesse M. Bernal” <Jesse.Bernal@ucop.edu>, Governor.brown@gov.ca.gov, Gavin.Newsom@ltg.ca.gov, Speaker.Perez@assembly.ca.gov, ttorlakson@cde.ca.gov, senator.pavley@senate.ca.gov, senator.lieu@senate.ca.gov, senator.price@senate.ca.gov, assemblymember.mitchell@assembly.ca.gov, assemblymember.feuer@assembly.ca.gov, brad.sherman@mail.house.gov, howard.berman@mail.house.gov

Subject: RE: UCLA approves anti-Semitic boycott on class website

Dear President Yudof and UC Regents,

We appreciate your responding to our letter of July 22, in which we express deep dismay at the decision of the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom to allow Professor Shorter to advocate for an ant-Semitic boycott of Israel on his class website. We are, however, very disappointed that you have chosen to ignore your responsibility as chief officers of the University of California, and instead have stated that “The Regents and I have confidence that the Senate, and the UCLA administration, will handle the current dispute appropriately, consistent with principles of academic freedom and University policy more broadly.”   We find your response insufficient and evasive.

We firmly believe the problem is not specific to UCLA — neither its Academic Senate nor it administration — but rather has been a long-standing and pervasive problem throughout the UC system. We also believe that neither UC faculty nor administrators have exercised their due diligence in ensuring that academic programming is “consistent with principles of academic freedom and University policy more broadly,” nor have the Regents carried out their fiduciary obligation to “ensure that the public confidence in the University is justified” (Regents Policy 2301 on Academic Freedom), as you will see in what follows:

1) While it is true, as you have mentioned, that APM10 gives the Academic Senate the primary responsibility for applying academic standards to teaching and research, the campus and system-wide Academic Senates have shown themselves, in several instances, to be unwilling to carry out this responsibility with integrity.  The unprecedented and appalling decision of the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom to allow Professor Shorter to advocate for an anti-Semitic boycott of Israel on his class website — despite the political and unscholarly nature of such advocacy and its clear violation of University policy and state law — is only the most recent example of many:

  • In January 2007, at the suggestion of then UC President Robert Dynes, four UC faculty members, including ourselves, met with the head of the UC Academic Senate Prof. John B. Oakley and discussed a report we had given him, in which we had documented numerous examples of faculty-sponsored anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism on several UC campuses. We argued that such faculty behavior violated numerous UC policies, eroded the core academic values of the University and created a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students, and we recommended that an independent Academic Senate task force be established for examining the problem. Prof. Oakley refused to have the UC Academic Senate consider our concerns.
  • In February 2007, the UC Committee on Academic Freedom presented a statement to the Academic Council of the Academic Senate entitled “Academic Freedom: Its Privilege and Responsibility Within the University of California,” which warned: “Professors who fail to meet scholarly standards of competence or who abuse their position to indoctrinate students cannot claim the protection of academic freedom.”  The document was never approved or adopted by the UC Academic Council.
  • In May 2007, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin co-authored a report which was submitted to the Senate Executive Committee (SEC) of the UCSC Academic Senate. The report documented a clear pattern of political bias and advocacy (predominantly, though not exclusively, anti-Israel) in classrooms and at departmentally-sponsored events on that campus since 2001. The authors argued that such bias and advocacy are antithetical to the academic mission of the university and urged the Academic Senate to investigate the problem. The SEC agreed to look into the report and sent it to the UCSC Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) for consideration.  In May 2008, the UCSC Committee on Academic Freedom issued a statement ignoring the report’s primary concerns and instead twisting the committee’s charge into an investigation of the faculty members who had written the report, alleging that they had violated academic freedom. Moreover, the two chairs and a third member of the CAF who oversaw the committee’s consideration of the report had clear conflicts of interest in that all three had organized, promoted and were otherwise involved in problematic events mentioned in the report.
  • On May 4, 2012 the UC Academic Council of the Academic Senate issued a “Statement in Support of Faculty Harassed by Opponents of their Research.” In that statement, the Council condemned “the ongoing use of harassment, intimidation and violent attacks mounted by individuals opposed to certain types of research,” specifically mentioning recent attacks that “have targeted scholars engaged in research on Middle Eastern politics, as well as those who use vertebrate animal subjects.” However, while the statement mentions that “at least 13 acts of violence since June 2006 have targeted individuals who do research involving animals, including a car bombing at a researcher’s home in March 2012,” not one example of harassment, intimidation or violent attacks against “scholars engaged in research on Middle Eastern politics” is provided.  Indeed, although in his introduction to the statement UC Academic Senate Chair Robert Anderson claims that it was “proposed by the University Committee on Academic Freedom (UCAF) and endorsed by the Academic Council,” we have learned that the original statement approved by UCAF was only about animal researchers and included no language at all about Middle East scholars.  In this unprecedented and highly unprofessional action, the Council voted to insert into an official Academic Senate statement unsubstantiated language about harassment, intimidation and physical attacks against Middle East researchers, in order, we believe, to stifle our own legitimate criticism of academics such as UCLA Professor David Shorter, who use University resources in order to promote campaigns to harm the Jewish state. In this regard, it should be noted that at least one of the Council members voting on this statement has publicly supported anti-Israel boycott campaigns.  A formal written request dated May 7 from UCLA Professor Emeritus Leila Beckwith to UC Academic Senate Chair Robert Anderson asking him to clarify why a reference to scholars engaged in Middle East research was included in the statement was never answered or even acknowledged.
  • UC Academic Senate Chair Anderson similarly refused to respond to or acknowledge a letter signed by 36 members of the UC Academic Senate from 7 UC campuses, sent on May 16, asking for the UC-wide academic senate to consider, in light of Prof. Shorter’s use of his class resources to promote the academic boycott of Israel, the following question: Does academic freedom protect faculty who use their classroom, or class resources, to advance a personal political agenda?
  • At your request, on July 5th UC Academic Senate Chair Anderson, acting on behalf of the Academic Council, issued a response to the 80-page report of the California Association of Scholars (CAS) entitled “A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California.” The CAS report meticulously documents and analyzes the extent to which UC campuses have been harmed by the politicization of their academic programming and shows that when the focus of a professor or department is political advocacy, the quality of teaching and research is compromised, the access of students to vital information about complex topics of global importance is limited, and students’ fundamental right to be educated and not indoctrinated has been violated. Unfortunately, Anderson’s one-page letter completely ignores the serious concerns about the politicization of UC classrooms raised by the CAS report, and indeed, his dismissive response is itself further evidence of the academic senate’s unwillingness to address, or even acknowledge, this serious problem.

These examples demonstrate that the UC Academic Senate has abdicated its responsibility, under APM 010, for ensuring the academic integrity of the University of California and for protecting the privilege of academic freedom from abuse.

 

2) As you know, under the system of shared governance established by the Standing Order of the Regents, APM 010 also delineates an essential role for campus and system-wide administrators in protecting academic freedom from abuse.  So while the Academic Senate bears primary responsibility for the application of academic standards, the UC administration bears primary responsibility for ensuring that faculty do not violate University policy or state and federal law in carrying out their teaching and research duties, for example by promoting their own personal or political agendas in the classroom. (Several relevant policies and laws are appended below).  In fact, teaching or research which violates University policy or state and federal law is not protected by academic freedom, and UC administrators are obliged to address these violations.

However, in each of the numerous cases in which UC administrators have been asked to apply university policy or be in compliance with state or federal law, they have ceded authority to faculty, who, as we have pointed out above, are simply unwilling to apply standards of scholarship or to abide by university policy or state and federal law.  Here are a few examples:

  • In March 2007, a conference entitled “Alternative Histories Within and Beyond Zionism” took place at UC Santa Cruz, sponsored by 8 academic departments.  One graduate student and four professors, all self-identified anti-Zionists and well-known anti-Israel activists, delivered papers demonizing the Jewish state and its supporters, denigrating its founding ideology and encouraging anti-Israel political activism including boycott.  The five talks were replete with gross misrepresentations of the facts, selected half-truths and numerous unsubstantiated claims that met the US State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, including: Zionism is racism; Israel is an apartheid state; Israel commits heinous crimes against humanity, including genocide and ethnic cleansing; Israel’s behavior is comparable to Nazi Germany; Jews exaggerate the Holocaust as a tool of Zionist propaganda; and Israel should be dismantled as a Jewish state.  Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and another UCSC faculty member sent letters to UCSC Chancellor Blumenthal before and after the conference, arguing that the event, sponsored by eight departments, violated several UC policies and state and federal laws, and urging the Chancellor to address these violations. In May, they received a letter from the UCSC Counsel writing on behalf of the Chancellor, who refused to acknowledge any violation of policy or law and contended that faculty had the right to advocate political positions under the protection of academic freedom.
  • In October 2010, three UC faculty members, including ourselves, sent UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau two letters expressing our concern that the Muslim Identities and Cultures Working Group of The Townsend Center for the Humanities, an authorized academic unit of UCB’s College of Letters and Sciences, was an official co-sponsor of an event whose primary focus was promoting a boycott of Israeli academics and businesses.  In addition, we noted that the event’s speakers and non-academic co-sponsors had all promoted campaigns to harm the Jewish state, and that the faculty representative of the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group was herself an endorser of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Finally, we pointed out that anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns are not only a violation of the core principals of academic freedom and anti-Semitic according to the working definition adopted by the U.S. State Department,  but that these campaigns had already contributed significantly to a hostile environment for Jewish students at UCB.  We respectfully asked Chancellor Birgeneau to sever the university’s involvement with this event and publicly condemn the BDS campaign on his campus.  Chancellor Birgeneau refused our requests and instead endorsed a statement from the Director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities, who suggested that the Center’s sponsorship of this event was within its policies of adhering to “the protection of free speech and liberal understanding.”
  • In May 2010, 13 academic units and 5 administrative units at UC San Diego co-sponsored the UCSD Muslim Student Association’s week-long event, “Justice in Palestine Week 2010: End the Apartheid.”  The MSA event featured eight speakers, most of them well-known for their anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, as well as exhibits that demonized Israel through anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery and the promotion of efforts to harm the Jewish state through boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns. Soon after the event, a delegation of Jewish students met with UCSD Chancellor Fox and Vice Chancellor Rue to express their distress that so many university departments and administrative offices, including the office of Vice Chancellor Rue, had endorsed or sponsored the MSA’s “End the Apartheid” week.  To their great dismay, the students were told by the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor that there was nothing they could do about departmental or administrative sponsorship of this yearly hateful event. Ironically, the following year, the Vice Chancellor’s office once again sponsored and funded the MSA’s “Justice in Palestine Week,” and in 2012, four of the same departments that had sponsored the MSA event in 2010 were listed as sponsors and endorsers of the MSA event “Justice in Palestine Week 2012: 21st Century Apartheid,” which, as previously, featured talks and exhibits containing anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery and promoted anti-Israel boycott campaigns.

In each of these cases, despite faculty and departmental use of University resources to promote unscholarly, politically-motivated and anti-Semitic propaganda, UC administrators refused to acknowledge, let alone act upon, violations of University policy or state and federal law.

 

3) As cited above, the Regents Policy on Course Content (also known as the Regents Policy on Academic Freedom) specifies that the Regents “are responsible to ensure that public confidence in the University is justified.”  However, as a result of the UC faculty’s egregious misuse of public resources for political and at times anti-Semitic purposes, coupled with the unwillingness of UC administrators to address the problem at all, many of us are rapidly losing confidence in the University of California.

Condoning the abuse of academic freedom to promote a political agenda is appalling.  Condoning the abuse of academic freedom to promote anti-Semitism, as in the case of the recent decision of the UCLA Committee on Academic Freedom, is intolerable.  Despite your contention that you “do not sanction anti-Semitism at the University of California or anywhere else,” if you do not use the power vested in you as leaders of this University, knowing as you do that an official faculty body has violated University policy and state law in order to sanction anti-Semitic behavior, you too are culpable.

 

Once again, we urge you to do the following:

a. Publicly affirm the importance of the UC Regents Policy on Course Content, which states:

“They (The Regents) are responsible to ensure that public confidence in the University is justified.  And they are responsible to see that the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.  Misuse of the classroom by, for example, allowing it to be used for political indoctrination… constitutes misuse of the University as an institution.”

b. Call on the UC-wide Academic Senate and all campus Academic Senates to outline how they will enforce this Regents Policy.

 

Please understand that what we are asking is independent of whatever steps the UCLA Academic Senate and administration may take to address the specific issue of the sanctioning of Professor Shorter’s use of his class website to promote an anti-Semitic boycott.  As we have shown, there is clearly a much larger pattern of behavior that must be addressed at the highest levels of university governance in order for members of the Jewish community and decent citizens of this state to regain their confidence in the University of California.  Please do not continue to abdicate your responsibility.

 

We are sending a copy of this letter to you by U.S. mail.  We look forward to hearing from you soon.

 

Sincerely,

 

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
Tammi@AMCHAinitiative.org

 

Leila Beckwith
Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
Leila@AMCHAinitiative.org

 

Cc:
UC Chancellors
UC Provost Dorr
UC Academic Senate Chair Anderson
UC Academic Senate Vice Chair Powell
UC General Counsel Robinson
UC Secretary and Chief of Staff Kelman
UC Interim Diversity Coordinator Bernal
California Governor Jerry Brown
California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom
California Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson
California Senator Fran Pavley (UCLA)
California Senator Ted W. Lieu (UCLA)
California Senator Curren D. Price, Jr. (UCLA)
California Assembly Member Holly J. Mitchell (UCLA)
California Assembly Member Mike Feuer (UCLA)
United States Congressman Howard Berman
United States Congressman Brad Sherman

Bcc: Members and supporters of the Jewish community

 

 

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University of California policies and state and federal laws which ensure that Academic Freedom is not abused to promote political propaganda, including anti-Semitism:

  • The Policy on Course Content of The Regents of the University of California (also known as the Regents Policy on Academic Freedom): “They (The Regents) are responsible to ensure that public confidence in the University is justified.  And they are responsible to see that the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest. Misuse of the classroom by, for example, allowing it to be used for political indoctrination…constitutes misuse of the University as an institution.”
  • Directive issued by Clark Kerr, President of the University of California: “University facilities and the name of the University must not be used in ways which will involve the University as an institution in the political, religious, and other controversial issues of the day”.
  • Directive issued by Charles J. Hitch, President of the University of California, “Restrictions on the Use of University Resources and Facilities for Political Activities”: “The name, insignia, seal, or address of the University or any of its offices or units shall not be used for or in connection with political purposes or activity except as consistent with University regulations…University equipment, supplies, and services—duplicating machines, telephones, mail and messenger services, vehicles, computers, stationery, and other equipment, supplies or services—shall not be used for or in connection with political purposes or activities.”
  • Academic Personnel Policy (APM) 015 – Faculty Code of Conduct: Types of unacceptable conduct: “Unauthorized use of University resources or facilities on a significant scale for personal, commercial, political, or religious purposes.” 
  • Article IX, Section 9, of the California Constitution provides that the University “shall be entirely independent of all political and sectarian influence.”
  • California Education Code Section 92000 prohibits the use of the name of any UC campus for the support, endorsement, or advancement of political or partisan activity or program, including “boycott”.
  • U.S. Anti-discrimination law (such as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin by a governmental entity (such as the University of California). According to the UC Policy on Sexual Harassment, “freedom of speech and academic freedom are not limitless and do not protect speech or expressive conduct that violates federal or state anti-discrimination laws.”