After UC Berkeley suspended a course that civil rights groups say promoted anti-Semitic viewpoints, a letter signed by "Every Student of Ethnic Studies 198" and published online stated that the decision to suspend the class was a "violation of our academic freedom."
The letter, posted on the blogging website Medium on Thursday, was addressed to "Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Executive Dean of Letters and Sciences Carla Hesse, et al." In it, students wrote that the claims against the course, "Ethnic Studies 198: Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis," are "wholly unfounded, and do not reflect the views and opinions of those of us who were excited to engage with this material, and one another, in open academic inquiry."
The suspension of the course comes after 43 Jewish and civil rights groups wrote a letter addressed to Dirks, saying the course objectives are politically motivated, anti-Semitic and "are intended to indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action to eliminate it."
Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof told the Daily Californian that the suspension was a result of missteps in the courses' approval process, not the content. Mogulof told the paper that the acting chair of the ethnic studies department approved the course despite not having the authority to do so.
The class was one of the DeCal courses offered at UC Berkeley — classes facilitated by students. DeCal courses do not count toward major requirements, and are typically taken to help students meet minimum workload requirements.
Mogulof told KQED that Executive Dean of Letters and Sciences Carla Hesse has seen the students' letter and is reviewing the course in accordance with the DeCal approval process.
The Daily Californian asked Mogulof about instructions on the official DeCal website, which state that DeCal proposals in the College of Letters & Sciences do not need to be submitted to the dean. Mogulof said Hesse was unaware of this exemption on the site, and that she has continued to ask to see the proposals.
Hesse is expected to make a decision about the fate of the course early next week.
According to the class syllabus, the course, taught by undergraduate student Paul Hadweh, would examine historical developments in Palestine from the 1800s to present "through the lens of settler colonialism." The syllabus also said the course would explore "the connection between Zionism and settler colonialism, and the ways in which it has manifested, and continues to manifest, in Palestine."
In a statement published on Palestine Legal's website, Hadweh said he complied with policies and procedures for DeCal courses. He added that the course was designed to provide students the opportunity to "critically engage" with Palestine's colonial past.
"Thirty-one students showed up to a class limited to 24," said Hadweh in the statement. "We expanded the limit and 26 enrolled. Now UC Berkeley has censored the class before we could even have one discussion. That's not the education we signed up for."
Students enrolled in the course demanded that the class be reinstated. Here's more from the letter:
This is an alarming development to have transpire on the same campus that not only hosted the Free Speech Movement, but which also routinely claims and utilizes the same Movement's legacy to market itself as a world-class institution, a bastion of tolerance and diversity, and the site of intellectual inquiry — inquiry that is sometimes discomforting, but always enriching. Your decision constitutes nothing less than an act of discrimination against students who wanted to debate and discuss this contentious issue in a spirit of genuine sincerity, mutual respect, and open-minded curiosity.
Again: the decision to suspend our course is both discriminatory and a violation of our academic freedom. We demand the reinstatement of the course.
In March, the University of California's Board of Regents unanimously adopted a policy against intolerance after growing concern over a reported increase in incidents reflecting anti-Semitism on UC campuses.