California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to UCI Chancellor Gillman re disciplining UCI SJP



September 25, 2017

Chancellor Howard Gillman

Office of the Chancellor

510 Aldrich Hall

Irvine, CA 92697-1900


Dear Chancellor Gilman,

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)* to express our outrage at the August 22 decision to discipline members of UCI Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for alleged violations of the campus speech codes during an event featuring the Israeli soldier group “Reservists on Duty” and cosponsored by the Students Supporting Israel group. SJP received two years of probation, 12 mandatory meetings to discuss free speech, and a requirement to meet with administrators two weeks before hosting any event.

We have watched the video of the event in question and spoken at length with students representing SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (which was also involved in the event along with black, latinx, and other student organizations). We find the decision to punish SJP for “disruption” merely for spontaneously clapping and chanting, after members of the soldiers’ entourage assaulted a student physically, to be completely out of proportion both to the amount of clapping and chanting and to the reality that they were responding to a physical attack on one of their members after administration representatives and police refused to intervene.

We note moreover that this is not the first time your administration has responded by punishing SJP and other students engaged in speech supportive of Palestinian rights. We remind you of the decision to put SJP on probation last year, after a May 18, 2016 showing of an Israeli military film that was protested by SJP and other campus groups, in which only SJP was found to be guilty of intentionally obstructing the gathering. This despite the fact they had several monitors from the National Lawyers’ Guild present who were in regular discussions with the UCI police during the event, and by all accounts the protesters obeyed all police requests and did not prevent anyone from viewing or hearing the film.

Indeed, we further remind you that you wrote an open letter to the campus and surrounding community the day after the event in which you accused SJP of “crossing the line of civility” based on allegations of harassment that you had not investigated and that turned out to be completely unsubstantiated. Yet to this day you have not offered a clarification or apology for the accusation, despite the fact that right-wing groups still cite your letter as “proof” of the dangerous and anti-Semitic climate at UCI.

As bad, after the latest incident, neither you nor any member of your administration has publicly criticized the Israeli Reservists on Duty for its continual surveillance, provocations, religious insults and even physical assaults on Palestinian, Jewish and other students who were engaged in protected speech. How is it that chanting in response to an attack merits punishment but an outside group coming in and harassing and even attacking UCI students doesn’t merit even the faintest comment? You have also refused to explain why you have allowed a foreign military onto your campus.

Your unwillingness to accept responsibility for spreading false rumors, to support UCI students when they are attacked physically and verbally harassed (no mention of which was made in the decision that announced the punishment of SJP), and your refusal to defend pro-Palestine students’ constitutionally protected free speech rights belie your claims to support free speech on campus. Your actions strongly suggest that you seek to foster such an uncomfortable environment for pro-Palestine students on campus (who encompass Jewish as well as Muslim, Arab, black and latinx students) that they simply leave UCI. This is the ultimate goal of the right wing pro-Israel groups that have continuously attacked the campus and its students for being anti-Jewish. This is a clear violation of UCI students’ civil rights and academic freedom.

We therefore call upon you to rescind the punishment of SJP, speak out forcefully for the rights and safety of students engaged in speech criticizing Israeli policies and in support of Palestinian rights, and take sufficient measures to ensure students’ rights and safety are protected, not just in future events but broadly across the UCI campus.

We look forward to the courtesy of a response from you (which you have refused in the past).

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

Professor Richard Falk,

Albert G. Professor of International Law

University of California, Santa Barbara

Professor Dennis Kortheuer

California State University, Long Beach

(UCI Alumni)

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of more than 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.

Cc: President Janet Napolitano, University of California, Office of the President


September 25, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment