UC Berkeley reinstates class on Palestine following outcry over its suspension
Sam Levin, Guardian, Sep 19 2016
SAN FRANCISCO – The University of California, Berkeley has reinstated a controversial course examining Palestine “through the lens of settler colonialism” after facing intense backlash that it was stifling academic freedom. A coalition of Jewish organizations had launched a campaign against the course, claiming it was “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Israel” and last week the elite school suspended the class, saying it “did not receive a sufficient degree of scrutiny.” But on Monday, UC Berkeley announced that a review had determined “the course does not cross the line between teaching and political advocacy and organizing.” Undergraduate Paul Hadweh, who created the course, which is part of a UC Berkeley program that allows students to teach classes to their peers, said:
I’m hoping that this will make the administration think twice before they respond to outside political pressure.
The dispute comes at a time of increasingly tense debate surrounding free speech on college campuses and student activism on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Pro-Palestine groups argue that universities have suppressed their right to free speech and protest and that student activists are up against well-funded initiatives aimed at discrediting and harassing individual protesters. But pro-Israel and Jewish organizations claim that the growing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) movement, along with the BDS efforts targeting the Israeli government, are anti-Semitic and shouldn’t be allowed on campuses. Hadweh’s class, called “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Inquiry”, aims to explore the region in the context of “settler colonialism” and study how “decolonization” could “open the possibility for justice and equality for all peoples in the region.” A coalition of opposing groups argued that the syllabus implied that the class “intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it.” The university claimed that it was suspending the course due to procedural concerns, though professors and students said that administrators were responding to negative press and criticisms from Israel advocacy groups. On Sunday, Shari Huhndorf, chair of the department of ethnic studies, said in a letter to administrators:
The course is structured by open inquiry rather than a specific agenda. We are impressed by how thoughtfully the student facilitator has constructed the course. The histories and dynamics of settler colonialism, structural inequality, and social marginalization are central to our teaching and research.
Hadweh said he has agreed to make minor adjustments to the language of the syllabus, but that the fundamentals of the course are intact. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, a Jewish group that led the charge against the class, said on Monday that she had not yet reviewed the new syllabus but was upset the school would allow a course that uses the “colonialism” framework and promotes “decolonization. She said:
It sounds like the revisions were not adequate. It’s deeply disappointing and suggests that they really are not considering … what ‘indoctrination’ really is.
Supporters of the course, along with SJP and BDS activists, have argued that they are not targeting the Jewish faith but are speaking up against the Israeli government and against human rights abuses associated with the occupation of Palestinian territories. Liz Jackson, staff attorney with Palestine Legal, who is representing Hadweh, said:
It’s a victory for everyone across Pindostan who is facing this documented and coordinated attack on the right to study and speak freely on Israel and Palestine. To me, as a Jewish alumnus of UC Berkeley, the suspension could still have a chilling effect on free speech. For Paul and every other student and scholar on campus who wants to think about … this international problem from the perspective of Palestinian history, the message that they got from the university is “We’re going to pay extra attention to you. And you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent to us.”
Hadweh, a 21-year-old senior, who was born in Pindostan and grew up in Palestine, said:
The university threw me under the bus and publicly accused me of failing to meet policies and procedures. This was not the first time something like this happened and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last. On the bright side, it seems the controversy has inspired my class to be particularly enthusiastic. I never imagined students would be so eager to do reading.
UC Berkeley reinstates Palestine course, but tried to change content
Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada, Sep 20 2016
UC Berkeley has reinstated a student-led class on the history of Palestine suspended on Sep 13, following sustained outcry by students, members of faculty, lawyers and supporters of campus free speech and academic freedom. More than 40 off-campus Israel-aligned groups, along with the campus’ Hillel chapter, had pressured the university and its outgoing chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, to censor the class. The groups claimed it was a venue for “political indoctrination.” There are indications that an Israeli government official and the heads of Israeli universities also acted to pressure the Berkeley administration.
In suspending the class, Dirks and the executive dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, Carla Hesse, had accused Paul Hadweh, the student teacher who planned the course, of failing to follow procedures. Hadweh maintained that he and his faculty sponsor, Hatem Bazian, complied with all policies and procedures for approving the class. Palestine Legal sent a letter to Dirks on Friday, warning the administration that suspending the course was a violation of the First Amendment and “undermines Hadweh’s right to an equal educational opportunity, and subverts the university’s stated processes for approval of DeCal [Democratic Education at Cal] courses.”
Members of the academic senate planned to discuss the suspension of the course during an extraordinary session on Monday. But on Monday morning, Hesse announced to members of faculty that she had reinstated the course after conducting a review. However, she still singles out Palestine-related subject matter for special scrutiny. Hadweh told EI that although he is relieved the class has been reinstated, he “expects nothing less than an apology” from the administration, which has not yet made concessions to him for his mistreatment. Hadweh says he ended up making “cosmetic changes” to the course description as prompted by Hesse’s review, but that the syllabus has not been adjusted. He told EI:
The changes are just clarifications to the course description, its objectives and the final project. The course seeks to explore the body of scholarly literature and ideas related to the history of Palestine and settler-colonialism.
Hesse says that she suspended Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis “because it became apparent that neither the chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies, nor I had been made aware formally of this DeCal class offering, nor seen the syllabus.” Bazian told EI that the dean has not personally reviewed the syllabuses for the other 193 DeCal courses offered this semester. He said:
Not a single course that I have sponsored in the past had to be run by the dean’s office, including the two that I sponsored last year. The other DeCal courses that are under the College of Letters and Sciences had not submitted nor had any issue raised with them regarding the procedural process. Palestine-related courses are subject to regulations by exceptions, administration and political intervention that run contrary to the principles of academic freedom and inquiry. The discussion in the meeting was not about procedural matters but rather the content of the course and claims made directly based on the letter that came from the 43 external, ideologically-committed groups. In a meeting last week, Dean Hesse did ask for changes to the content, considered the course to be one-sided, claimed it to be a type of ‘political indoctrination’ and even held up the poster stating that Israel is not included in it. Hadweh directed the dean’s attention to read the text, which actually had it and described in detail the shifts in land and territory held by Israel. I, also, asked if this is the case, then could Dean Hesse point to me on the map Israel’s borders so as to include a demarcation of it? At that point, the dean put the map away realizing that such argument does not hold.
Hesse said she had asked Hadweh, Bazian and the department chair “to assess whether the course description and syllabus had a particular political agenda structured into its framing.” She also asked if the course description had “potentially violated” the university’s policies on course content as well as the “principles against intolerance,” which were also recently formulated under intense pressure and scrutiny from Israel lobby groups. Bazian had said over the weekend:
The charge of the class being a form of ‘political indoctrination’ is simplistic and offensive to ethnic studies, the faculty who reviewed and approved the course and the intelligence of UC Berkeley students enrolled in the course.
In scrutinizing the course in order to justify a suspension, Hesse also challenges its placement under the Department of Ethnic Studies. She states that she asked the department’s chair, along with Hadweh and Bazian, “to clarify how a course focused exclusively on Palestine was consistent with the academic mission of the Dept of Ethnic Studies, as opposed to another department or program with expertise in regional area studies.” Bazian said:
The placement of a class is an issue for the department’s faculty to determine, and all evidence points to a substantial engagement on the part of ethnic studies with the field of colonialism, postcolonial and decolonization.
Liz Jackson of Palestine Legal said:
This is a victory for Paul, who spent spent eight months going through all the recommended and mandated procedures to facilitate a course. It’s also a victory for the 26 students who enrolled and had their academic studies severely disrupted, and for students and scholars across Pindostan who are facing a coordinated attack on the right to speak and study freely about Palestine-Israel. From the moment this controversy broke to now makes it obvious that the university is applying special scrutiny to the Palestinian perspective, to a Palestinian student trying to study Palestine. They can’t undo all of the facts that make that clear. From the fact that Israel advocacy organizations brought the class to the administration’s attention, complaining about something that they don’t like, to the large number of Israeli studies courses that are also arguably ‘one-sided’ and which ignore history and are political, to the fact that they did not apply similar scrutiny to other DeCal courses, to the fact that they tried to cover up viewpoint discrimination by applying procedural errors which did not exist, this all makes it very clear that this is special treatment toward Palestinian perspectives. The reinstatement of the course is a good thing, but the university has a lot more to do to repair the damage they’ve done to the educational environment.
John Wilson, an expert on academic freedom issues who edits the American Association of University Professors’ Academe Blog, also says that questions about the administration’s conduct linger despite the reinstatement of the class. Wilson says:
Shari Huhndorf, chair of the Dept of Ethnic Studies, challenges Hesse’s claims that changes were made to the course description and syllabus to meet concerns raised by the administration. Supporting Hadweh’s assertions, Huhndorf says that the revisions to the syllabus “simply clarify that the course does indeed comply with relevant university policies.” The revisions did not involve changes to the class’s content, according to Huhndorf. It is also becoming increasingly clear that Dean Hesse may not have had the authority to suspend the course at all. University rules place authorization and supervision of all courses under the authority of the academic senate.
Meanwhile, as he prepares to teach next week, Hadweh said he’s “feeling great” about the course’s reinstatement. The university’s suspension of the course meant that the first two classes were missed and will have to be made up for. But he said:
I’m excited to get back into the classroom, which is where I wanted to be from day one.