Over the past week, the University of California at Berkeley has garnered much attention for their removal and subsequent reinstatement of a controversial class. The course, a student-run class entitled "Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis," which was originally planned to begin at the start of the semester, was suspended after the released syllabus raised concerns that the course would spread anti-Semitic views. On Monday, September 20, the class was reinstated to the university.
While the UC Berkeley staff claim that the only reason for the suspension was a lack of proper administrative approval of the course, many students feel that the school was attempting to take away their freedom of speech by not allowing the class to be held. Paul Hadweh, the student facilitator and creator of the class, claimed in an article from academeblog.org that his course had been "vetted and fully supported by the faculty advisor, the department chair, and the Academic Senate's Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI)," meaning that there should have been no supervisory flaw in the class as the school claimed. When a concern was eventually filed, Hadweh was not even contacted or asked to amend his syllabus; the class was simply suspended without his knowledge.
Students immediately resisted this decision and took action to support their right to an education. According to a letter written by those enrolled in the course to the UC Berkeley administration, the students felt that, "The decision to suspend 'Ethnic Studies 198: Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis' is a violation of our academic freedom." The students go on to to speak about how UC Berkeley is known for being one of the most tolerant and diverse universities in the country, and that despite the discomfort certain topics might bring, they are worth teaching for the expansion of knowledge in world scholars.
While UC Berkeley has a right to be knowledgeable about the content of the classes taught to their students, they have no right to suspend a class and give only a false explanation in defense. Their students deserve better than this. College is a time to expand one's knowledge and open new doors. By taking away contentious subjects, the university is slamming the doors shut and not allowing their students to learn about history and cultures that differ from their own. This class may be seen as handling a sensitive and controversial topic, but that is why it should be embraced rather than rejected. Without diversifying our knowledge and challenging our typical belief system, where would we be as a country today?
While critics of the course may still claim that there is an intolerance being taught, this is not the view that the students intended to have with this class. The concerns raised about this class were not made by an impartial judge. The complaints, in fact, came mainly from Jewish organizations who felt that the course was focusing on anti-Israeli views and had a political motivation toward pro-Palestinian groups. The students, however, who identify themselves as a diverse population in their letter, claim that there are a multitude of reasons why they joined the class, and none of them were to spread hatred.
Many students simply wanted to learn about a topic that was relevant in the world today, and hear different perspectives regarding a sometimes one-sided discussion. According to an article from Al Jazeera, "they established collaborative community agreements on the first day of class in order to ensure respectful classroom engagement, and rejected claims that the course 'would only tolerate a single or particular view'."
The suspension of this class by the UC Berkeley administration was handled in a wildly unprofessional manner. Not only was this decision a breach of freedom of speech and a student's right to academic freedom, but the school merely brushed it off and tried to bury it as a purely organizational issue. While it is wonderful that the class has been reinstated and will resume with minor changes, it is unfortunate that Berkeley could not see the flaws in its logic to begin with. But we must continue to advance and stand up for our freedoms and knowledge, for if we don't, we will never advance our country and world.