California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Assembly Member Shirley Weber and Campus Climate Committee

August 1, 2014

Assembly Member Shirley Weber, Ph.D.

Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate hearings

State Capitol, Room 3126

Sacramento, CA  95814

To Assembly Member Shirley Weber and the Campus Climate Committee:

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom is writing to express our concern that your final hearings addressing racism on college campuses not be hijacked by false accusations that equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and that call for infringement of academic freedom.  California Scholars for Academic Freedom is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California.

We support and applaud the establishment of your committee in the wake of the blatant and shocking racism suffered by Mr. Williams that occurred on the San Jose State University campus when three white students placed a bike lock as a noose around Mr. Williams’s neck, after having bullied him for several weeks prior to that incident.

We are disturbed that the first hearings that were to address a broad range of racism on California college campuses were hijacked by Ms.Tammi Benjamin and her group, AMCHA.  Over the past ten years, Ms. Benjamin, in the name of her organization, has falsely accused both Arab and Jewish students and faculty of anti-Semitism whenever they address the Palestine/Israel conflict and whenever there are criticisms aired of Israel.  Ms. Benjamin, in the name of her organization, has brought three frivolous lawsuits against various California college campuses, accusing these campuses of having fostered anti-Semitism whenever they allow debates about the Palestine/Israel conflict to take place. AMCHA has wasted a great deal of taxpayers’ time and money with their relentless political cause that aims to silence and censor students and faculty rather than address true anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Indeed, Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students and faculty have experienced AMCHA’s attacks as themselves a form of racism.  One of Ms. Benjamin’s speeches, which appears online, reflects a clear and unequivocal racist attack on Muslims.

We urge you to prevent the misuse of claims of racism and protect students and faculty from this virulent targeting.  We do so with a profound consciousness, reinforced by repeated instances, of the long-lasting damage and injury that frivolous but attention-grabbing accusations made by AMCHA and similar small but fanatical and well-funded organizations do to faculty and students, both psychologically and in terms of their capacity to function as students or professionals.  It is not only that  such complaints, however frivolous or trivial they may be, necessitate investigation and waste significant amounts of time for all parties involved—time that could be better spent dealing with more substantial issues relating to campus climate. It is also that they have an impact on individuals that extends far beyond the investigative process that is undertaken and resolved on campus.  We are aware of numerous cases in which the accusations leveled by AMCHA and similar groups have been found groundless and yet the accused faculty member continues to be harassed, denigrated and, in alarmingly frequent cases, threatened with violence. Such threats, often explicitly racist in their nature, usually are delivered anonymously, on websites or by email, and have the tendency of all such media to proliferate and to have an afterlife that continues long after the issue appears to be resolved.   This is clearly very damaging psychologically and materially affects the capacity of faculty to teach, to lead a normal life on campus, and to fulfill the pedagogical mission to which they are dedicated.

Unfortunately, the understandable administrative desire to accommodate all parties in such accusations, and to proceed with fairness, can give credence to baseless charges whose end it is to create a climate of fear around issues that the accusers would prefer not to be discussed openly and freely.  In our experience, faculty are best protected from harassment of this kind when university administrators clearly and unambiguously repudiate the charges and robustly defend their faculty.  Failure to do so leaves faculty vulnerable to continuing abuse and to potentially life-threatening incitement and constitutes a serious undermining of the climate of safety and of open and critical  intellectual inquiry that ought to characterize campus life.

We urge you to return to the original intent of the committee hearings, which is to address the broad range of racism that has occurred on California college campuses and to reiterate the state legislature’s protection of the right to access education without explicit or implicit racism and support for academic freedom of speech.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Craig Reinarman

Department of Sociology

University of California, Santa Cruz

craigr@ucsc.edu

Professor Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor

Department of Psychiatry, and

Global Health Sciences

University of California, San Francisco

School of Medicine

Jess.ghannam@ucsf.edu

Professor and Chair James Quesada
Department of Anthropology
San Francisco State University

jquesada@sfsu.edu

Professor David Klein

Department of Mathematics

California State University, Northridge

david.klein@csun.edu

Professor Sondra Hale

Research Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

Edmund Burke III

Research Professor of History

University of California, Santa Cruz

eburke@ucsc.edu

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

On March 21, 2014, at the SJSU campus climate hearing convened in response to the hate crimes suffered by Mr. Williams, a right-wing funded off-campus group, the AMCHA Initiative, hijacked the proceedings. Attempting to silence legitimate on-campus criticism of Israeli government policies and undermine the hearing. Members of AMCHA falsely reported as anti-Semitic, peaceful pro-Palestinian student projects. As a result, the attention was taken from the virulent racism experienced by Black students on campus, Palestinian and Arab students who face racism and targeting were attacked and the very serious history of anti-Semitism was misused to silence opposition to today’s racism and state-sponsored massacres.

**California Scholars for Academic Freedom is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom.  and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California

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