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Outrage grows over UCLA discrimination case

Numerous major community organizations have joined the attorney of former UCLA Graduate Student Association (GSA) president Milan Chatterjee in denouncing a June 29 UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) finding that Chatterjee violated university policy by saying that he would not approve using organizational funds for an event that engaged with the divest-from-Israel issue.

An Aug. 15 letter, co-signed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Israeli American Council, StandWithUs and other groups, demanded that the university apologize to Chatterjee. It was addressed to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and copied to several elected officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

“We urge you to intervene immediately and put a stop to these activities,” the six-page letter states. “Mr. Chatterjee should be exonerated, apologized to, and permitted to finish law school in peace and to pursue his personal and professional goals without any unjust and undeserved blemishes on his academic record.”

Chatterjee’s attorney, Peter Weil, managing partner at the Los Angeles law firm Glaser Weil, expressed opposition to the DPO’s investigation in an earlier letter, dated July 28, that was addressed to UCLA Discrimination Prevention Officer Dion Raymond.

“The UCLA Administration has engaged in flawed and unfair investigative processes which, not surprisingly, has resulted in a flawed and erroneous conclusion,” Weil’s 15-page letter says. 

University officials responded in a statement saying, “The Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) conducted a thorough and impartial fact-finding investigation that included exhaustive interviews as well as careful reviews of meeting minutes and related documents, email correspondence, and applicable university regulations. All parties were able to provide evidence and no evidence offered by the parties was excluded.

The investigation found that the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy was violated. The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether a policy violation occurred.  The investigation did not examine or make findings about whether the former president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) purposefully or knowingly violated policies. The university reaffirms its commitment to freedom of expression, association and debate. Given that student governments are learning environments where students are just beginning to exercise leadership and interpret regulations, the university has already committed to providing additional guidance for student government representatives on applicable university policies.”

Weil outlined numerous reasons in denouncing the findings, including that the University of California policy that Chatterjee was found to have violated — one requiring viewpoint neutral allocation of mandatory student fees — was unclear and not easily accessible to the student, nor were the workings of the DPO until it finally published a factsheet about itself midway through the investigation into Chatterjee, who is Hindu.

Provided to the Journal, Weil’s letter demands UCLA publicly rescind the “dangerous and fallacious” findings of the investigation, for the DPO to apologize to Chatterjee and for a “written acknowledgement … that he will not be subject to any disciplinary action in connection with the Stipulation.” 

Though the DPO report does not call for Chatterjee to face any disciplinary action, it has caused damage to Chatterjee, a rising third-year law student, Weil said.

“Mr. Chatterjee has experienced grave reputational harm as a result of the DPO’s actions … and will impact Mr. Chatterjee’s future career prospects as a California lawyer,” the letter says.

The letter follows the publication of a DPO investigation this summer concerning an incident that occurred during the 2015-16 academic school year, when the Diversity Caucus requested $2,000 from the GSA to offset the catering bill of a Nov. 5 town hall event. Chatterjee, then the president of the GSA, stipulated that the event, if it were to be sponsored by GSA, be free of associations with Israel divestment.

The caucus accepted the money and held the town hall event, with the GSA as a sponsor, and the event went off without incident. But the caucus contacted university officials to find out if Chatterjee’s stipulation violated university policy, and eventually filed a complaint with the DPO. 

Ultimately, the DPO determined that Chatterjee violated a University of California policy requiring student government organizations to provide support to campus organizations without regard to the viewpoints of the involved organizations. His actions amounted to viewpoint discrimination, the investigation concluded.

Jerry Kang, vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion at UCLA and a speaker at the November town hall, reaffirmed the finding of the DPO report, in a July 19 post appearing on the website of the office of UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion titled “Viewpoint Neutrality.”

“The first Amendment frowns upon viewpoint discrimination when public actors distribute public monies,” Kang said. “Moreover, there’s clear UC Policy on point.” Kang said that he wanted to discuss this out of an interest in “transparency” and in tackling “challenges head-on.” He described divestment from Israel as a “hot button issue.” 

Also involved in the controversy has been the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which supports divestment from Israel. The organization published the DPO’s confidential report on its website. Additionally, The Daily Bruin linked to the report in an article about the DPO finding.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Journal that the UCLA office’s finding sends a disturbing message: “You defend Israel today, you get in trouble.”


UPDATE: This story was changed to reflect a statement from UCLA that was not available for the print edition.

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