You may not have heard about this in the press, but within the University of California, the good guys have just won an important victory against radical professors who use their classes as soapboxes to spout their personal views of the world.
The AMCHA Initiative is a pro-Jewish interest group founded by UC Santa Cruz Professor of Hebrew, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and UCLA Professor Emeritus, Leila Beckwith. In the interest of full disclosure, I am proud to count both of them as friends and colleagues. I regularly post their news bulletins and letters on my blog, Fousesquawk.
For the past few years, the AMCHA Initiative has been very active in complaining to the University of California and California State University about professors who have been using their classrooms to promote the boycott, divest and sanctions movement against the Jewish state of Israel and voice their condemnations of Israel in general. In most cases, the universities have begrudgingly answered their letters but taken no action using academic freedom as their reasoning-even when one professor used-and still uses- a California State University Northridge web server to spread his own propaganda against Israel-a clear abuse of university resources.
In another recent case, AMCHA complained about expressions advocating murder of Israeli soldiers at San Francisco State University.
In addition to writing letters to university officials, AMCHA has written letters to state and local politicians bringing their concerns to their attention as well. Recently, California Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D) wrote his own letter of concern to UC President Janet Napolitano.
One of the unfortunate results of this never ending campaign of hate and propaganda against Israel has been a rise of anti-Semitism on campuses in which Jewish students who support Israel have found themselves being intimidated by the pro-Palestinian forces on campus as well as by teachers in the classroom. Pro-Palestinian speakers regularly appear on California campuses and often use anti-Jewish language that goes far beyond opposing Israel.
Recently, AMCHA scored an important victory when the University of California decided that it was not proper for graduate teaching assistants to use the classroom to demonize Israel and advocate for the BDS movement. Subsequently, AMCHA asked for a clarification. Did that policy also apply to full-time professors?
This week, AMCHA received an affirmative response from UC Provost Aimee Dorr. The policy indeed applies to all professors per the Regents Policy on Course Content. Here is the announcement from the AMCHA Initiative, which contains Provost Dorr's response.
The obvious question is-does this policy apply only to the Israel issue because of the anti-Semitic concerns? Here is the actual UC Course Content policy (2301).
So as I read this, professors in the UC system are now on notice that their job is not to shove their personal worldview down the throats of their students. There are other acceptable on-campus venues where they can express their own beliefs about a variety of subjects (seminars, panels, speaking events, etc.) The classroom is not one of them. To be sure, the howls of protest are coming. Radical professors will scream that their freedom of speech and academic freedom are being violated. No doubt, many will try to get around it or ignore it. It will be up to the students to complain to the appropriate department if they feel they are being indoctrinated or forced to accept a professor's opinions. In short, it will take a lot of work and a lot of courageous students to hold the professors and the universities' feet to the fire.
I would also hope that this model can spread around the country and be used to bring reform to all our universities.
We owe the AMCHA Initiative a huge debt of gratitude for the work they have done.