CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
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.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Professor Lisa Rofel,
Department of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz
Professor Sondra Hale,
Research Professor and Professor Emerita, Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies
University of California, Los Angeles
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
**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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Exective Vice Chancellor Enrique Lavernia email@example.com
Academic Senate Chair William Parker, Chair firstname.lastname@example.org