UC Berkeley reinstated a student-led course on Palestine on Monday, after faculty members and students accused the university of interfering with academic freedom to appease pro-Israel activists.
"I fully support and defend the principles and policies of our campus that protect the academic freedom of all members of our community," Carla Hesse, dean of the College of Letters and Science, wrote to faculty members Monday in a letter announcing the reinstatement less than a week after she suspended Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.
The one-credit course with 26 students is taught Tuesday evenings by an undergraduate, Paul Hadweh. It examines the history of Palestine "from the 1880s to the present, through the lens of settler colonialism," according to its syllabus. "Settler colonialism" is generally described as the takeover of a region by outsiders.
Hesse took the rare step of suspending the course after 43 Jewish groups complained to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks that the student instructor offered only a single political viewpoint. The groups pointed to a UC regents policy prohibiting using courses for "political indoctrination."
Without mentioning those groups, Hesse's letter said she had suspended the class because neither she nor the chair of the ethnic studies department, which offered the course, had seen its syllabus.
The suspension angered a number of faculty members and students, who wrote petitions and letters urging reinstatement. Several pointed out that the course had been approved by the Academic Senate's Committee on Courses and Instruction.
In her letter, Hesse said she and the department chair met over the weekend with Hadweh and his faculty sponsor, Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in the department of Near Eastern studies. She said she had asked them to assess whether the course promoted a political agenda and whether its objective, to "explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine" — which Jewish groups interpreted as calling for an end to the state of Israel — violated the regents' policy. As dean, Hesse said, she has no power to revise course content.
The Palestine course is among 194 student-taught classes this semester at UC Berkeley. Although they carry credits, they may not be used to satisfy requirements for majors, said Wendy Brown, a political science professor who was active in trying to reinstate the course.
Brown said many of the courses are taught by students who feel passionately about an issue.
"I'm sponsoring one now in political science called Women in Politics," Brown said. The student instructors "are not going to be teaching this from a balanced, cautious perspective — they're impassioned," she said.
"It's as if I were to say, 'Let's consider U.S. history through the perspective of Native American genocide,'" Brown said. "There are people who'd say, 'What about George Washington?' Well, they can teach that course, too."
Ultimately, the reinstated course on Palestine contains small changes to its description but no changes to its syllabus, book list or speakers.
Among the changes is the addition of the sentence, "It is crucial that our classroom remains a place for open scholarly inquiry and debate, and that we respectfully engage in diverse points of view."
The new version now goes to the Academic Senate's course committee for consideration.