UC Berkeley’s reinstatement of Palestine course is ‘not sufficient’
University of California Berkeley reinstated a student-led course on Palestine less than a week after its suspension. Executive Dean of the College of Letters and Science, Carla Hesse rescinded the suspension of the class in a statement written on September 19.
“Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis” is part of UC Berkeley’s Democratic Education at Cal Program (DeCal) which allows students to create and facilitate courses under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Palestinian-American Paul Hadweh is the student facilitator of the course, and the faculty sponsor is Dr. Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies.
The University’s decision to suspend the course came under fire from academic freedom activists, who allege that the suspension was the result of pressure from Israel advocacy groups. UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks claimed that the course was suspended because “policies and procedures governing the review and approval of proposed courses for the DeCal program were not complied with.”
Dean Hesse reiterated in her statement reinstating the class was due to procedural issues.
“On Tuesday, September 13, 2016, I made the decision to suspend ES198: Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis, until it could be further reviewed. I did so because it became apparent that neither the Chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies, nor I had been made aware formally of this DeCal class offering, nor seen the syllabus,” the statement reads.
Liz Jackson, an attorney from Palestine Legal, said that Dean Hesse’s justification does not hold water because according to the DeCal website, student-led courses in the College of Letters & Science do not need the dean’s approval. Jackson also argued that the review of “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis” was discriminatory because no other DeCal courses was reviewed by the Dean.
According to Jackson, Hadweh and Bazian followed all the requirements for creating the course.
“The student and the faculty advisor and the chair of the ethnic studies department went through every required procedural action,” Jackson said. “They complied 100 percent with all the procedures and the, in fact Paul the facilitator went beyond what was required and took extra steps to even what was recommended in terms of taking a course in advance to prepare himself to facilitate.”
Jackson believes that the course was suspended because of pressure from pro-Israel groups.
“The university is under pressure from Israel advocacy organizations and the Israeli government itself, to censor, punish, and restrict speech critical of Israel or favorable to Palestinian human rights. All the facts make that very clear,” Jackson said.
A letter signed by 43 “Jewish, civil rights and education advocacy organizations” was sent to Chancellor Dirks by the AMCHA Initiative expressing concern about the course on September 13.
“A review of the syllabus of “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis” reveals that the course’s objectives, reading materials and guest speakers are politically motivated, meet our government’s criteria for antisemitism, and are intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it,” theletter states.
Chancellor Dirks responded to the letter the same day stating that the course would be suspended. In his response, Dirks expressed concern about offering courses that “espouses a single political viewpoint and/or appears to offer a forum for political organizing rather than an opportunity for the kind of open academic inquiry that Berkeley is known for.”
Jackson argued that the idea that a course can be either political or academic is a false dichotomy.
“This idea that you can’t do both, that just because people are engaged in activism means that the classes are somehow not academically legitimate, is untenable legally because that violates the university’s academic freedom obligation. And it’s also just ridiculous from an educator’s perspective. Lots of classes are both political and academic,” Jackson said.
The Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate recently criticized university’s handling of the course and called for further action from the administration.
“While we appreciate that the course has now been reinstated, this is not sufficient. One of our students has been publicly blamed for not following proper procedures. This is contrary to all that we stand for as educators, and represents a serious violation of the student’s academic freedom and of our values as an academic community. We therefore call on campus administration to publicly retract the false accusation that the student facilitator did not comply with policies and procedures that govern the normal academic review and apologize to the student-facilitator,” the statement from the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate reads.
University of California Berkeley administration did not respond to PiA’s request for comment, as of press time.