California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to UCI Vice-Provost Haynes in response to his report titled “Higher Ground”

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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Dear Vice Provost Haynes,

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom** to express our concern with the report you released titled, “Higher Ground.”

The report creates an impression of significant and disproportionate levels of anti-Jewish sentiment at UCI without providing evidence to support this contention. Moreover, it singles out anti-Semitism as a bias or prejudice against Jews, while ignoring entirely the bias and prejudice against other groups on campus, including Muslims and Arabs. Despite the apparent pains taken to avoid conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and “anti-Israel” sentiments and behavior, the report does just this by emphasizing alleged bias and prejudice against Jews above—and, indeed, to the exclusion—of all other types of prejudice on the campus.

The problem starts at the very beginning of the document with “reports of a growing number and variety of anti-Semitic incidents,” without describing what they are or, even more importantly, what anti-Semitism is understood to be by the report’s authors. Nor does the report mention that the Regents’ statement received significant criticism from scholars and professional organizations, both for its content and the fact that there was little evidence that Jewish members of the UC community are subject to any greater bias than other protected groups. In fact, the very question that this report seeks to address, namely “Is our campus commitment to inclusive excellence capacious enough to do more to improve the climate for all students, including Jewish students?” (our emphasis) betrays a biased concern with the experience of one single group, Jewish students, which is singled out for special consideration even while the report itself indicates that groups such as “African American males and transgender students” experienced an equal or even higher degree of disrespect from their peers, as evidenced by the 2013 Undergraduate Experience Survey. These biased premises undermine the legitimacy of this report; but the damage to its credibility is compounded by several of the specific claims it makes.

The UCI report alleges that “over three-quarters of Jewish students at UCI had heard negative or stereotypical views about religions from other students.” It also declares, that the number of students reporting that faculty and staff had “express[ed] negative views” about religion had almost doubled between 2010 and 2014. Compounded to the fact that the report does not specify at all what constitute a “stereotypical” or “negative” view about “religions” we are entirely at a loss in comprehending why the opinions of a specific group of students, Jewish students in this case, should bear on a question pertaining to the general category of religion as such and not to the particular one of Jewish religion that might have justified singling out this group for analysis.

Deriving from both the biased premises of your report and those of the “UC Regents Principles Against Intolerance,” which conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, are another set of very troubling statements. On p. 2 the report explains: “Far more complicated but no less real are the consequences arising from political disagreements regarding the relationship of Israel to Palestinians. For Jewish students who closely identify with Israel as a Jewish state, constitutionally protected events in which the policies of the state of Israel are vigorously criticized can be deeply offensive.”

If these are constitutionally protected views and opinions, then how and why should Jewish students be protected from them? What is the line between criticism of Israel, however upsetting, and anti-Jewish sentiments? Thus in the next sentence the report continues, “Invited speakers or sponsored exhibitions have made outrageous one-to-one comparisons between the policies of the state of Israel towards Palestinians to those of Nazi Germany which sought to liquidate European Jewry through genocidal violence.” To begin with, the report does not explain when and how often these comparisons have been made. Equally, it does not recognize that such comparisons are not just made by anti-Jewish speakers against Israel, but have also been made by Israeli and Diaspora Jewish critics, including Holocaust survivors, who also have supported BDS activities that are also considered potential evidence of anti-Jewish prejudice.

In the final section on proposed actions, the report calls for “develop[ing] and adopt[ing] an Inclusive Excellence Index” including “address[ing] anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment.” The term “anti-Israel” is never defined.  Are all criticisms of Israel to be banned? Here we see explicitly how difficult if not impossible it is even for well-meaning administrators to adjudicate debates about the Israeli occupation and the movements to seek social justice for Palestinians under that occupation.

We find troubling the total absence of any discussion about the fear and actual experiences of prejudice and bias by Arab and Muslim students, who have been singled out for monitoring, investigation and punishment even when they are acting within the law. We need look no further than the May 18, 2016 protests organized by a coalition of campus groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Black Lives Matter, against the sponsoring of a pro-IDF film, “Under the Helmets.” The next day, UCI Chancellor Gillman sent a strongly worded letter condemning the protests, accusing students of “crossing the line of civility” based entirely on hearsay and without any investigation of the events. The UCI police opened an investigation, which was ultimately forwarded to the Orange County DA, despite the police declaring repeatedly that they had seen no illegal behavior, and despite five monitors from the National Lawyers Guild being present to document the event and reaching the same conclusion. Troublingly, the Chancellor remained completely silent when the OC DA issued its finding that there was no evidence of wrong-doing and a final report was released from the Office of Student conduct that found no violations of UCI’s own rules of protest other than being too loud.

The recommendations section of your report betrays the same imbalance of attention as the rest of the document. It calls for developing “regular annual programming” that focuses “specifically” on anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism that “crosses the line” but nothing on anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bias that is experienced by students from these communities on a regular basis. Indeed, we could find no evidence to support the claim that Jewish students, faculty or staff at UCI suffer any significant bias or discrimination at UCI. Yearly reports from the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity do not offer any breakdown that includes Jewish, anti-Semitic, or Israel as categories, and the claims of bias or discrimination based on “religion,” the only category that seems relevant to this report, constitute only between 3-8% of the total number of complaints made each year, or about 2-5 students for the whole campus (judging by the data presented in the reports, most of those allegations were ultimately proved unfounded).

The system-wide UC Campus Climate Survey section on UCI similarly does not offer evidence of disproportionate bias or prejudice against Jewish students, faculty and staff as described in your report. Specifically, as documented on p. 64 of the report, 75 percent of Jewish students declared they were either comfortable or very comfortable with the environment on campus. The same holds for the comfort level of Jewish students, staff and faculty in their departments or other work, study and research units, as documented on p. 65-66 (see also p. 88).

The very end of the report betrays the clear conflation between criticisms of Israel and anti-Semitism. Point number 4 calls to “establish faculty chairs in academic units dedicated to: the study of Israel, understanding bigotry, religion and religious tolerance.” To begin with the call for an Israel Studies chair is linked directly and epistemologically to “understanding bigotry,” and religious “intolerance,” and not to the intellectual, academic and programmatic merits of such a chair as determined by members of the Academic Senate through their departments and schools.

As scholars devoted to the fullest enjoyment of academic freedom by all members of the University—students, professors, and staff, and members of every ethnicity, religion, political or other identifiable group—we support vigorous efforts by universities to ensure that all groups are treated equally and that all cases of bias and prejudice are thoroughly examined and addressed in the strongest possible measure. However, this report does not demonstrate a level of anti-Jewish sentiments at UCI that requires specific attention, while it ignores the clear cases of institutional bias and far greater attacks on campus against other groups, including groups whom the report puts into inherent conflict with Jewish students, such as Palestinian and Muslim students. Finally, we point out again that in light of the Trump victory and the documented rise in actions of hate and bias against a host of minority groups (Arabs and Muslims, Latinos and Mexicans, LGBTQ and Jews as well) it has encouraged, we strongly believe a report such as this, focused entirely on one group for which there is very little evidence of repeated bias, will exacerbate rather than heal tensions at the UCI and other campuses.

We therefore call on you to withdraw the report, pending a far more complete documentation of cases of bias and prejudice against Jews, and inclusion of other groups at UCI who face at least the same if not greater levels of discrimination.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Lisa Rofel,

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Professor Sondra Hale,

Research Professor and Professor Emerita, Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

Professor Rei Terada,

Department of Comparative Literature

Director of Graduate Studies, Comparative Literature

Core Faculty, Ph.D. Program in Culture & Theory

University of California, Irvine

terada@uci.edu

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR FREEDOM is a group of more than 200

academics who teach in 20 California institutions of higher education. The group formed as a response to rash violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the 9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violation and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neoconservatives. Many attacks were 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 and students 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.

Cc: Chancellor Howard Gillman <chancellor@uci.edu>

Exective Vice Chancellor Enrique Lavernia provost@uci.edu

Academic Senate Chair William Parker, Chair chair@uci.edu

December 1, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CS4AF Post-Election Position Statement

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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November 16, 2016 Press Release

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

POST-ELECTION POSITION STATEMENT

 

As part of our mission to defend the deep values and ethics of California institutions of higher education, especially academic freedom, free speech, and freedom of association, we members of California Scholars for Academic Freedom **–200 faculty from twenty universities and colleges– stand united against acts of hate, and bigotry which have already been directed at our students and colleagues in the wake of a polarizing presidential campaign.  Such acts threaten our mission as educators in institutions committed to the betterment of our global society through teaching, research, learning, and the dissemination of new knowledge. 

We will support and defend the rights of the most vulnerable among us. We have seen firsthand the anxiety and fear generated in those deliberately targeted by electioneering rhetoric and who are now victims of hate in its wake: members of our community who are undocumented, people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims and other religious minorities (the rise of anti-Semitism, for example), immigrants, the differently abled, women, and political activists on the Left. We will do everything in our power to lessen this climate of fear and mitigate its chilling effect on academic freedom both on and off campus. 

As activist educators, we commit ourselves to doing everything we can to nurture an environment that is inclusive and respectful of diversity in all its forms — in our classrooms, our offices, on campus, and in the scholarly community.  We will take action where and when necessary to defend the academic freedom, free speech and right of association of our students and colleagues. 

In Solidarity,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom 

Contact Persons:

Manzar Foroohar, Professor, History

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

mforooha@calpoly.edu 

 

Nancy Gallagher

Research Professor of History and Professor Emerita

University of California, Santa Barbara

negallagher9@gmail.com 

 Sondra Hale

Research Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies

         and Professor Emerita

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu 

 Katherine King, Professor of Comparative Literature and Classics 

University of California, Los Angeles

king@humnet.ucla.edu

 Lisa Rofel, Professor of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

lisarofel@gmail.com  

 

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (CS4AF) is a group of some 200 scholars from over 20 institutions of higher education who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

November 17, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CS4AF Press Release expresses its alarm over the deteriorating situation in Turkey for university governance, academics and students

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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November 6, 2016

URGENT: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

California Scholars for Academic Freedom expresses its alarm over the deteriorating situation in Turkey for university governance, academics and students.

 

The past week has witnessed the issuance of two emergency decrees that increasingly imperil academic personnel and the autonomy of universities. The first decree dismissed over 1200 academics from public universities across the country. The second ended the last remaining modicum of self-governance for public universities, transferring the authority to appoint university presidents (or rectors, as they are known in Turkey) to the executive branch. In addition, this week has also witnessed the issuing of detention warrants against 137 academics on allegations that amount to little more than guilt-by-association, tying them to a community that the government holds responsible for the failed coup attempt on July 15th of this year. Others targeted for arrest this week include elected members of parliament from the opposition party the HDP, continuing sweep arrests of municipal and regional elected officials from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces (where now over 28 provinces are under administrative government with their elected officials in prison) and the arrest of the editor-in-chief and twelve columnists and staff members of one of the oldest opposition newspapers in the country, Cumhuriyet.

While we recognize that the attempted coup represented a threat to Turkish national security, and that the government must take legitimate precautions in the aftermath of that violence, mass firings of university faculty and staff and centralized government control over university governance have no rational relationship to such legitimate measures. Similarly, national security threats emanating from the violent spillover of the Syrian conflict or the insurgency in the southeast of the country cannot justify either the measures taken against universities and academic personnel or the repression of independent media and political opposition.

 

Taken together, the mass arrests and purges of academics, journalists and elected officials from opposition parties mark a grim new turn in the assault on academic freedom, freedom of speech and association and political and civil rights in Turkey. Under the state of emergency, the government has decimated judicial independence, abrogated the rule of law, targeted for detention and arrest the majority of independent journalists, and eliminated the autonomy of universities from government control. Of the tens of thousands of academics and teachers dismissed or suspended from their positions, a significant number are known leftists, government critics and individuals who have been outspoken on Kurdish rights. For instance, 24 of the 1267 academics dismissed by decree on October 29th were signatories of the Peace Petition launched by the Academics for Peace Initiative, a group that has no connection to the community the government accuses of having supported the failed coup. The evidence of a mounting campaign to target and silence political opposition of all forms threatens any possibility of meaningful academic freedom or freedom of thought in the country.

We condemn the suspension of basic civil liberties and the rights to political and intellectual expression and academic freedom that have resulted from the actions taken by the Turkish government under the state of emergency. The repressive actions by the Turkish state constitute violations of international human rights obligations and have had a chilling effect on the most basic prerequisites of academic freedom, including freedom of speech. We write to express our serious concern that these measures have also contributed to a frightening degree of instability and escalating ethnic, political and religious polarization in Turkey. We issue an urgent call for solidarity with Turkish academic personnel and students who are directly threatened by the actions of the Turkish government.

Contact Persons:

Claudio Fogu,

Associate Professor, Department of French and Italian

University of California, Santa Barbara

cfogu@frit.ucsb.edu

Sondra Hale,

Research Professor and Professor Emerita, Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

Kamala Visweswaran, Professor of Ethnic Studies

University of California, San Diego

kvisweswaran@gmail.com

 

** CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment