January 18, 2019

Alumni seek action on UC course content

Nearly 600 University of California (UC) alumni have signed a Nov. 2 letter addressed to UC President Janet Napolitano denouncing courses being taught at UC campuses that are perceived as anti-Israel.

“The Board of Regents under your leadership has shown commendable concern for the welfare of Jewish students and other victims of bigotry, including by issuing its Principles Against Intolerance,” the letter to Napolitano states. “However, the alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents plaguing our alma maters is directly proportionate to the campaign being waged against Israel by certain faculty and students.”

The letter, by Alums for Campus Fairness, a national network that aims to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias, spotlights two courses — “Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis,” offered this year at UC Berkeley, and “Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid,” at UC Riverside during the previous academic school year — as examples of “student-led courses with one-sided reading lists.”

Local signatories include Bob Waldorf, a 1960 UCLA graduate and the namesake of Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, and Rabbi Emerita Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a 1973 UCLA graduate.

In signing the document, the alumni lent their support to a similar letter dated Nov. 1 from 47 organizations — including StandWithUs, the Israeli American Council, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and AMCHA Initiative — and 176 faculty members from across the country.

The letters come on the heels of the March 2016 adoption by the UC Board of Regents of the UC Principles Against Intolerance, which says, “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” will not be tolerated at UC campuses. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is always a hot-button issue on college campuses and numerous incidents have taken place that have angered both sides of the debate.

UC Berkeley suspended the fall 2016 student-led course “Palestine:  A Settler-Colonial Analysis” in September before reinstating it after minor revisions to its course syllabus were made. Pro-Israel organization StandWithUs was among the groups that said the changes to the syllabus did not amount to the course no longer being anti-Semitic.

The alumni letter cites the UC Board of Regents’ “Policy 2301: Policy on Course Content,” which states the university must “remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.” 

It calls on Napolitano to issue a statement regarding how the “course content” policy works in conjunction with a UC policy on academic freedom and to clarify when “political indoctrination” in the classroom becomes unacceptable. It also asks the UC leader to make an effort toward ensuring UC courses are in line with the campus policy on course content.

Claire Doan, a media specialist in the University of California Office of the President, said Napolitano plans to respond. 

 “President Napolitano will send a response to those who wrote the letter,” Doan said in a Nov. 8 email. “In the meantime, I can say the following: The University of California takes allegations of intolerance extremely seriously.”