Friday, September 16, 2016

UC Berkeley Suspends Controversial Israel-Palestine Course Amid Complaints

By H. Graph Massara
Fri, Sep 16, 2016 at 3:27 PM

click to enlarge A flier used to promote a contentious course on Palestine, which administrators suspended this week.
  • A flier used to promote a contentious course on Palestine, which administrators suspended this week.

UC Berkeley administrators suspended a student-run course on Palestine this week amid accusations that it was politically one-sided and inappropriate.

But its removal led some students to question the campus’ commitment to academic freedom within the student-led course program known as DeCal.

The one-unit course, led by student Paul Hadweh and sponsored by Ethnic Studies professor Hatem Bazian, was titled "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis."

An online description said it would have focused on “key historical developments that have taken place in Palestine from the 1880s to the present, through the lens of settler colonialism." A flier advertising the class (see above) also stated that the course would "explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine."

Forty-three organizations submitted a letter of complaint to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks this past Tuesday, alleging that course materials included anti-Israel bias and violated the university’s ban on classes promoting “political indoctrination.” The course was suspended that same day.

The university says that the course didn't meet academic standards and didn't comply with review procedures.

Josh Woznica is president of Bears for Israel, one of the groups who signed the complaint. He said there are places for this type of discussion. “But when it’s this extreme and comes in an academic context … it’s not an appropriate thing for [UC Berkeley] to officially offer for academic credit,” he said. 

Hadweh’s course, however, had generated significant student interest. He said that 31 students showed up for what was originally a 24-seat class.

Those who did manage to get in published an open letter on Thursday, which decried the suspension, calling it “discriminatory and a violation of (their) academic freedom.”

Jewish Voice for Peace, an Israel-Palestine peace advocacy group, has also begun circulating an online petition to reinstate the course. It has been signed by several prominent UC Berkeley faculty members, among others.

Cristian Alejandre, who had enrolled in the class, said he felt there is a broader “attempt to censor or erase Palestine within academia,” and found the idea of taking a UC Berkeley class on the subject “spectacular.”

“(But it) was a very short-lived opportunity,” he added.

Hadweh rejected criticisms that his class curriculum and materials amounted to “indoctrination,” or were inappropriate because they were critical of the state of Israel.

He said he hopes to reinstate the class — and to receive an apology from the university.

“This course is more about asking questions than providing answers,” Hadweh said in a statement released by he and an attorney on Wednesday. “I think it would be valuable to study this and clearly many of my peers at UC Berkeley do too.”

There are specific requirements for a student-run course at UC Berkeley to receive approval. Each DeCal course must be sponsored by a member of faculty, and green-lit by both the relevant campus department chairperson and also an Academic Senate committee.

Hadweh maintains that these requirements were satisfied. He added that administrators did not discuss any concerns with him before pulling the course.

But campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said that the course needed to be vetted by a dean, as well. 

But based on DeCal's website, it is unclear as to whether dean approval is actually needed for all classes.

Carla Hesse, executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, wrote in an email, which Mogulof shared with the Express, that Hadweh’s class “did not undergo required academic review.”

According to its website, the DeCal program is meant to allow students to teach their peers about a wide variety of subjects, “many of which are not addressed in the traditional curriculum.” Popular selections include classes on everything from female sexuality to Pokemon. Others touch on more topical or political themes, such as prison reform.

Other UC campuses have comparable student-led educational programs. Last year, UC Riverside officials received similar complaints about a student-led class at that campus, originally titled "Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid." After administrators reviewed the class, it was given a revised title, "Palestine Voices," and allowed to proceed.

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