Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Letter for Regents' Meeting on Recent Campus Events

March 1, 2010

To:  UC President Mark G. Yudof and Chancellors of the ten UC campuses, and the Chair and Vice Chair of the University-wide Academic Senate

From:  California Scholars for Academic Freedom***

Re: These administrators’ statement of February 26, 2010, on recent UC campus events

In your statement to the University of California community, you express your “deep disturbance” at recent events on a few UC campuses.  You condemn “all acts of racism, intolerance and incivility.”  Although you do not name the specific events to which you allude it is clear that you are referring to the disruption of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at Irvine on February 8, 2010, and the recent racist actions at UCSD, including a fraternity’s “Compton Cookout” event, the encouraging of students to come dressed as racist caricatures, a comment made on student television calling black students “ungrateful n—-s,” and the hanging of a noose in the library.

Your conflation of these two incidents is profoundly disturbing, and could easily be construed as a deeper indicator of the structured racism that pervades the UC system.  The students who interrupted Ambassador Oren’s speech were exercising their right of non-violent protest at the representative of a nation that has been charged with war crimes by the United Nations’ special investigator, Richard Goldstone, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.  The students’ interruptions were directed at these facts and at the ongoing destruction of Palestinian culture and national life. They caused no threat or harm to the speaker or the audience. Indeed, they left the hall quietly after delivering their prepared remarks.  One may or may not agree that the charges they made are accurate, but the protesters certainly made no reference to the race of the speaker, and were at no point anti-Semitic in tone or content.  In this country, and on UC’s own campuses, the space for effective critique of Israeli policies is often gravely hampered or silenced, leaving few avenues for protest of its actions or of the one-sided presentations of its representatives that would not be deemed disruptive. While campus events that present Palestinian viewpoints do frequently take place on UC campuses, there have been several instances wherein such events were pressured to include counter-speakers or were subject to strident and threatening criticisms when they did not.  Historically and more recently such pressure has been exerted at UCLA.

The current threat of draconian sanctions against UCI students, sanctions that have not been applied to those who have frequently disrupted Muslim speakers or pro-Palestinian speakers, and the imputation of guilt by association against the Muslim Student Union, suggest a remarkably biased application of disciplinary procedures – as does the failure to discipline those faculty and students who have issued academic and personal threats to the students who protested Oren’s talk.

We also want to make clear that we condemn any acts of intimidation against Jewish students such as the repugnance of the appearance of a swastika drawn on a student’s private property at UC Davis.  We urge the university to denounce all acts of discrimination or bias against students based on their racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, or gender identities.  We feel that it is particularly important to underscore this condemnation, in light of recent efforts to link our legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.  In this vein, we reject the endeavor to equate our support for Palestinian self-determination and security with any kind of support for bigotry, intolerance, or discrimination against Jewish people or culture.

We also maintain that it is critical to underscore the distinction between students who call attention to state militaristic practices and the violence of an occupying force (e.g., UCI), and students who plan an event around racist themes and degrading characterizations of a particular cultural group (e.g., UCSD).  In contrast to the events at UCI, the incidents at UCSD were expressly directed at one racial group, in terms that have historically been used to humiliate and discriminate against African Americans.  In so doing, the UCSD students deployed symbols that have been associated with the worst and most terrorizing racial violence.   It is appalling that until student action forced the university to take definite steps and suspend one student responsible for the most egregious act--the hanging of a noose- these acts of explicit and intimidating racism were met only with a teach-in on racism.  Such tepid responses speak directly to the unbalanced application of disciplinary procedures. The UC’s unequal response to these and other incidents at the UC campuses sends a very strong message to students and the wider community.  It suggests that racism against African American and Muslim students is tolerable, a mere breach of courtesy (or “incivility”), while political protest of a state that has been condemned by impartial observers for war crimes and practices is unacceptable and subject to the severest sanctions.
As we write, additional incidents have come to light which clearly indicate a climate of racial hostility at UCSD, including “a student…[having] trash thrown on her in the residence hall,” “students [being] intimidated in large lecture courses” that count one or two African American students amidst four or five hundred, and “off-campus incidents in restaurants and other public spaces.”  [Reported by Daniel Widener, professor of history at UCSD in a press interview:].  As Widener aptly states, the university has recognized that there [is] a problem, but it has yet to commit itself fully to implementing the kinds of solutions that have been laid out” by repeated efforts of students and faculty.
The racist incidents at UC San Diego took place on a campus where the enrollment of African American students has declined to 1.3% of the student body and in a state-wide university where the total number of African American students amounts to a mere 3.34%.  These numbers are not accidental, but arise from a long-standing failure on the part of the administration to engage in desegregation of California’s higher education.  Thus, in addition to addressing appropriately the aforementioned incidents, we urge the UC system to fulfill its expressed mission of diversity (, and to follow the suggestions provided by Widener and others:  to “commit itself to allocating resources, funding students, scholarships for students, outreach and yield, and the kinds of things that would produce a student body, a population, reflective of our state, reflective of the diversity of our state, and where the students would not feel outnumbered.”
                                                                                                                                                      The replacement of the language of desegregation with “affirmative action” and then “excellence and diversity” has consistently sent the message that it is normal for white students to be at the UC campuses, whereas Black, Latino, and Native students must be there by special permission.  The language of “ungrateful n—-s” merely vocalizes in a more explicit and ugly way the attitude that is in fact materialized in the UC’s admissions policies.  In face of such facts, the attempt to confront such acts of racist intimidation with an appeal to the civilized “principles and values of this University” becomes risible.  By the same token, the imputation that protest against the state of Israel, which maintains a highly segregated society and which has placed all possible obstacles in the way of Palestinian education, is tantamount to anti-Semitism constitutes no less a double standard. The accusation pretends to promote tolerance but in fact discriminates against the feelings, opinions and right to expression not only of Muslim students but equally of many who are outraged by the actions of a state and do not conflate them with an ethnic or religious group.  That the Muslim Student Union at UCI is coming under sustained attack both from within and from without the university again merely vocalizes a set of prejudices that the UC’s own administrative actions and statements implicitly endorse.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom condemn this double standard on the part of the administration of the UC system.   Rather than condemn a handful of students on the prejudicial grounds of “incivility”, the UC’s administration must face up to its own delinquencies on the matter of racial justice and equal access to higher education.  We thus call for the University of California as a whole to investigate the ways in which its recent responses have been complicit with larger forces of structural racism in the state of California and the nation at large.  We believe the UC system must be held accountable as an institution in whose academic cultures racism is erupting precisely because it has not adequately responded to calls for racial and social justice. 

Sincerely yours,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom***

Contact Information: 

George Lakoff, Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics UC Berkeley

Nancy Gallagher, Chair, Middle East Studies Program, Professor of History, UC Santa Barbara  Phone:  805-893-20991.

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a three-year-old group of  more than 150 academics who teach in over 20 California educational institutions. The group formed as a response to a rash of violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of  civil rights violations and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching  and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic  freedom everywhere.
P.S.  Below we have included only a few websites which contain articulate and thoughtful statements about the recent UC campus events.  We invite you to read them.****

**** [UCI’s  Henry Yang]  [UCLA’s Michael Meranze]
January 27, 2010, when students disrupted the talk of Lord Goldstone at Yale, they were not arrested or expelled.  And they even followed him to the wine and cheese reception and were allowed to keep hounding him to his face.
See article:!/group.php?gid=296764351034 [letter by UCI’s Rei Terada]  [The analysis in this piece keenly diagnoses the institutional problem]

The UC Center for New Racial Studies has posted a statement about UC racism and educational justice:

L.A. Times Editorial:,0,4102439.story


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