California Scholars for Academic Freedom

letter to UCSB Chancellor Henry Wang re: Louis D. Brandeis Center

Santa Barbara, 3/12/14


To: UCSB Chancellor

Henry Yang


Dear Chancellor Yang,


We, The California Scholars for Academic Freedom**, write to you to inquire about the following article published by the Louis D. Brandeis Center (LDBC) <>. If the article is not accurate, we urge you to issue a clear statement to that effect in which you chastise the LDBC for publicizing misinformation about UCSB. If there is any accuracy to the article, we request a response from you regarding the following three contentions:


1) That “The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) has pledged to implement recommendations from the Brandeis Center, and in return the Center has agreed to withdraw its U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Title VI complaint asserting that the university had created a hostile environment for Jewish students.”


2) That, according to LDBC President Kenneth L. Marcus, there were “incidents” and “infractions” at UCSB concerning the “safety and welfare of Jewish students” that the administration had sought to rectify with its pledge.


3) That UCSB has therefore agreed to “hosting on-campus educational programming conducted by the Anti-Defamation League on anti-Semitic hate and bias; and adopting a neutral observer program for on-campus events, especially those that could stoke intense debate and conflict. UCSB also issued formal statements that explicitly condemned anti-Semitism on campus and restated the school’s commitment to mutual respect, civility, tolerance, and decency.”


Our first set of questions relates to the assertions and allegations presented in the three statements above: Has UCSB made the pledge discussed in point 1 and agreed to the provisions described on point 3? What are the incidents and infractions alluded to in point 2?


If any or all of these points are inaccurate, we urge and expect you to issue a clarifying statement. If any or all are accurate, we would like to register our grave concern. We would be concerned about our administration pledging rights of intervention to a non-academic and partisan organization into the life of the university. We would also be concerned if indeed “incidents” and “infractions” regarding Jewish students at UCSB did occur, and this was the way the administration chose to resolve it. Finally, we would be concerned about a change in policy undertaken without disseminating information and pursuing open consultation with faculty regarding the solutions to the supposed problem of on-campus anti-Semitism.


In relation to the latter point we would also like you to consider and respond to a number of further concerns and questions:


1) There is nothing wrong with a university bringing in people to conduct anti-bias workshops. Indeed, there are a number of groups, such as the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI)

which do particularly good work on anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), however, while at one time it was a reputable civil rights group, has since become highly partisan and routinely engages in or supports attacks on the academic freedom of those who engage in legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies, asserting that these constitute anti-Semitism.  A case in point was the 2009 attacks by the ADL against our member and colleague Bill Robinson.


2) If the administration did agree to ADL-led “educational programming,” which body of the university will monitor their interventions, and how would student participation be managed?  On what basis was it determined that there is a basis for new and different programming for anti-Semitism that is different than current anti-bias programming regarding race, gender, sexual preference, etc.? If anti-Semitism is included in the existing programming, why would there be any need for additional programming?  We would note that allegations of pervasive anti-Semitism in the UC system are contradicted by the findings of the study conducted by UCOP.


3) What is the meaning and nature of a “neutral observer program” for events? Who will choose the observers and identify or select “observable” events?  Will they only be dispatched to talks in which the speaker is critical of Israeli policies?  If so, why are talks regarding Israel placed in a special category and subjected to non-academic partisan scrutiny?


We hope you will give our request urgent attention, and, in the fortunate case that the information published on the LDBC webpage were incorrect, you would issue an immediate and public correction to their statements.


On behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom,


Claudio Fogu

Associate Professor of Italian



Nancy Gallagher

Chair, Middle East Studies Program


Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi,

Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies



David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor of English




Lisa Rofel

Professor of Anthropology



Rei Terada

Professor of Comparative Literature


**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of nearly 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing  attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Letter to Dr. Leslie Wong, President SFSU, re. Amcha letter


Letter from California Scholars for Academic Freedom


Dr. Leslie Wong, President

San Francisco State University


CSU Board of Trustees


Dear President Wong and CSU Board of Trustees;


We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)* to express concerns about accusations made in a letter addressed to you by the Amcha Initiative. The March 5 letter is co-signed by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East; Simon Wiesenthal Center, Campus Outreach; Stand With Us; and Zionist Organization of America West. It is posted on the Amcha website along with highly inflammatory accusations against San Francisco State University faculty members and students. One link on the Amcha site is titled, “SFSU Prof Advocates Violence against Israel” and SFSU Professor Rabab Abdulhadi is denounced as “the faculty advisor to the former knife-wielding student” [1].


The Amcha letter describes as “deeply troubling” the SFSU academic event, “Report and Discussion From Members of the North American Based Academic and Labor Delegation to Palestine 2014.”  We understand that the SFSU faculty members participating in the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative previously met with Palestinians from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, including members of the Palestinian Legislative Council both in the West Bank and the 1948 areas, members of the Israeli Communist Party, PLO (Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, Fida, PPP, and Arab Liberation Front) and outside the PLO (Hamas) as well political independents, and with professors from the Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University.  The point of the meeting at San Francisco State University, to which the Amcha Initiative objected, was to describe and discuss those prior meetings.


The Amcha Initiative letter accuses SFSU faculty members of meeting with Palestinians, whom Amcha labels hyperbolically as terrorists or of having terrorist associations.  In a blatant attempt at censorship, Amcha calls upon President Wong to speak forcefully against the event, “to monitor it carefully for antisemitic and anti-Israel animus” and “(if it is permitted to go forward) to provide counter-programming on the antisemitic nature of such BDS activities.”


We urge President Wong not to yield to any of those demands, each of which would be an assault on academic freedom and a barrier to the free exchange of ideas.  For a university president to speak against the aforementioned Report and Discussion or monitor it for anti-Semitic and “anti-Israel animus” would be seen as a form of intimidation of faculty members and students.   Amcha’s proposal for counter-programming is a call for the administration to deligitimize this academic meeting and it is a step toward anti-intellecutalism.  If this principle were applied broadly, then any presentation on global warming, for example, would have to be accompanied by an anti-scientific presentation by climate deniers.


The Amcha Initiative’s McCarthyite tactics are not unique to San Francisco State University.  Amcha has denounced faculty members at other UC and CSU campuses for criticisms of Israel [2] and filed frivolous claims of anti-Semitism against UC campuses, later dismissed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education [3].  Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a co-founder of Amcha, has also made a public accusation that Muslim and Palestinian students are generically tied to terrorist organizations [4] and has been linked to spying on student groups [5].  The Amcha Imitative waged a campaign in 2012 to prevent Ilan Pappé from speaking on three CSU campuses.  Ilan Pappé is Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies, and Co-Director for the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies at Exeter University.  That effort at censorship failed due in part to the principled defense of academic freedom by three CSU campus presidents [6].


The conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has become a standard tactic by the Amcha Initiative and those who seek to censor criticism of Israel.  That tactic itself is fundamentally anti-Semitic because it associates with Jewishness an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel, and it ignores the many Jews who actively oppose those crimes.  Far from the worthy goal of fighting real anti-Semitism, the Amcha Initiative serves the propaganda aims of the government of Israel, at the expense of academic freedom and constitutionally protected rights of California residents.


Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom allows professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech.   These are essential activities for any institution calling itself a university.


We urge you to uphold the academic freedom of faculty members at San Francisco State University and to recognize that the Amcha Initiative is an extremist organization whose goals are inconsistent with academic freedom.




[1] Amcha Iniative Website


[2] Amcha Initiative, The Electronic Intifada,


[3] Victory for campus free speech as US Dept. of Education throws out “anti-Semitism” complaints, by Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 08/28/2013


[4] US university lecturer’s shocking hate speech against Arab, Muslim students condemned, by Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada 02/12/2013


[5] Documents reveal Zionist group spied on US student delegation to Palestine, by Asa Winstanley and Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada 29 January 2014


[6] Open letter from Three CSU presidents, Jeffrey Armstron, John Welty, Harry Hellenbrand, February 16, 2012


Contacts (listed alphabetically):


Kevin B. Anderson

Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and Feminist Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara


Mohammad Azadpur

Professor of Philosophy

San Francisco State University


Carole H. Browner

Distinguished Research Professor

Department of Anthropology, Department of Gender Studies,

Center for Culture and Health, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

University of California, Los Angeles


Richard Falk

Research Fellow

Orfalea Center of International and Global Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara


Manzar Foroohar

History Professor

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo


Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor

Department of Psychiatry, and Global Health Sciences

School of Medicine

University of California, San Francisco


Dr. Nubar Hovsepian

Associate Professor of Political Science

Chapman University


Ivan Huber, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus of Biology

Fairleigh Dickinson University


Professor Mahmood Ibrahim

History Graduate Coordinator and Adviser

California State University Pomona


David Klein

Professor of Mathematics

California State University Northridge


Dennis Kortheuer

Department of History

California State University, Long Beach


Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Asian American Studies

University of California, Davis


Targol Mesbah

Assistant Professor, Anthropology & Social Change

California Institute of Integral Studies


Flagg Miller

Associate Professor

Religious Studies Department

University of California, Davis


Minoo Moallem

Professor, Gender and Women’s Studies Department

University of California at Berkeley


Ahlam Muhtaseb, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Communication Studies

California State University, San Bernardino


Gabriel Piterberg

Professor of History

Director of the Gustav von Grunebaum Center for Near East Studies

University of California, Los Angeles


James Quesada, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

San Francisco State University


Craig Reinarman

Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies

University of California, Santa Cruz


Rush Rehm

Professor, Theater and Performance Studies, and Classics

Artistic Director, Stanford Summer Theater (SST)

Stanford University


Lisa Rofel

Professor of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz


Vida Samiian, Dean

College of Arts and Humanities

California State University Fresno


Judith Stevenson, Ph.d.

Director, Peace and Social Justice Program

Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development

California State University, Long Beach



**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of nearly 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing  attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.


March 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment


January 12, 2014


Dear President Napolitano,


On behalf of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom we are writing to request that you make a public statement of support for the right of academics–students as well as professors–to refuse to turn over computers, phones, and other electronic information and documents, as well as field notes and other research related materials, when requested or ordered to do so by Customs and Border Protection agents in the absence of a warrant authorizing the search of their belongings. California Scholars for Academic Freedom is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing hundreds of faculty at universities throughout California, the majority of them at the University of California.


During your tenure as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, you supported and enforced the policy of searching computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices and possessions of travelers without a warrant or even reasonable suspicion, at all points of entry to and egress from the United States. As you know, a federal judge just ruled that such searches are constitutional. We imagine this case will ultimately be heard by the Supreme Court.


As academics many of us travel frequently to the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa and other Muslim countries, and work on the war on terrorism, socio-religious movements and other sensitive issues. We study and write about civil society and political protest movements across the Arab/Muslim world. There is thus a strong likelihood that we might possess sensitive and/or confidential information from colleagues, interviewees, government and other officials as well as activists across the region, some of whom might have views that are critical of US policies and those of its clients and allies in the region. This information is part of our research and as such, we believe, it is covered by the protections relating to academic freedom normally afforded scholars. Some of us also work as journalists, and are thus also covered by the protections afforded to journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources and research absent a court order compelling them to turn such information over to authorities.


As a matter of principle, if presented with a warrantless request or demand to turn over such materials our inclination is to refuse to turn such materials over. We believe not only that our work as academics affords us particular Constitutional protections from such warrantless searches but that, given the history of NSA, CIA and other intelligence agency collaboration and cooperation with foreign intelligence and security services, including those that mistreat, torture and even kill people like those whom many of us research and write about, such a position is a professional as well as ethical obligation.


While you enforced the policy of warrantless searches as DHS Secretary, you are now the President of the University of California, with a very different set of interests, principles and people to protect. In that capacity, we would like to ask you, for the record and explicitly, to inform us whether we can expect the University, UCOP and you to support our refusal to turn over such information in the event agents request or demand to examine it without a warrant. Further, while we are aware this is not a routine occurrence, we believe the seriousness of the intrusion into our civil and professional rights and obligations demands that the University issue a firm guideline and policy on this issue.


More specifically, there are several issues of concern, including: the judge’s belief that “it would be foolish, if not irresponsible” to store anything you didn’t want anyone to gain access to on one’s computer (thus placing the onus on us to clean out all our computers and belongings of any information we might not want government agents to view before arriving at an entry/exit port, a near impossibility in most situations); the fact that the buffer zone where such searches can take place extends, according to the ACLU, 100 miles inland from all borders (thus including all UC campuses); and the fact that Customs and Border Protection cannot even inform the public of the number of times such searches occur (although DHS figures are at least as high as 6,500).


Indeed, the case just ruled upon (Case 1:10-cv-04059-ERK, Document 36), in which you are named defendant, specifically involved a graduate student in Islamic studies who, upon returning to the United States, had his laptop seized and was handcuffed and held in detention for three hours after agents ordered him to open his laptop and show them its contents, which included photos of Islamist rallies he’d attended as part of his research. The agents kept his laptop upon his release. We find it unconscionable not merely that this occurred, but that no apology was made to the student, and that no guidelines were issued by DHS to ensure such violations of students’ rights would not occur in the future.


Would the University offer a legal defense of and provide counsel to protect our right to keep our notes and other information confidential and out of the hands of US security and intelligence officials without a warrant presented to us at the time of such a request? Whatever your response, could you please provide us with your legal rationale behind it, so that we may understand the basis for the policy and thus understand how best to proceed. Your status as a defendant in the case while you served as DHS Secretary should not preclude you or your office from providing a statement of official UC policy on this issue.


Thank you very much for your prompt attention and response to this query.


Sincerely and on behalf of California Scholars 4 Academic Freedom,



Nancy Gallagher

Research Professor of History

UC Santa Barbara


Judith Butler

Professor of Comparative Literature

UC Berkeley


Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Global Health Services

UC San Francisco


Suad Joseph

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology

UC Davis


Edmund Burke, III

Research Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History

UC Santa Cruz


Katherine Callen King

Professor of Comparative Literature



Mark LeVine

Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History

UC Irvine



David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor of English

UC Riverside


Fatima El-Tayeb

Professor of Literature, and Ethnic Studies

UC San Diego



(The above signatures, one from each campus, are included for contact purposes. The letter represents the collective request of the CS4AF community, including hundreds of other UC, CSU and private university professors in California)


Cc: Chancellor Dirks, UC Berkeley

Chancellor Blumenthal, UC Santa Cruz

Chancellor Yang, UC Santa Barbara

Chancellor Block, UC Los Angeles

Chancellor Wilcox, UC Riverside

Chancellor Khosla, UC San Diego

Chancellor Drake, UC Irvine

Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann, UC San Francisco

Chancellor Leland, UC Merced

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


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