I just received the following email from Tammi Benjamin of the AMCHA Initiative:
In response to a multi-group effort coordinated by AMCHA Initiative, the University of California has taken a very important step in publicly acknowledging, for the first time, that university policy prohibits graduate student instructors from bringing political propaganda and advocacy, including the promotion of a boycott of Israel, into UC classrooms.
Below are an article and editorial in Thursday's J Weekly about this important development.
U.C. takes stand against BDS advocacy in classroom
Thursday, October 9, 2014
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Zionist Organization of America and 10 other Jewish advocacy groups are applauding a letter from a high-ranking University of California official that they say protects the well-being of Jewish students.
The letter to U.C. chancellors from provost Aimée Dorr, executive vice president for academic affairs, affirms that university policy prohibits graduate student instructors from using the classroom to support a cause such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).
In August, the Joint Council of UAW 2865 — a body of 83 elected officers that oversees some 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and others student workers in the U.C. system — issued an open letter outlining the union’s intent to support the BDS movement and to seek a full membership vote.
Shortly thereafter, a dozen Jewish groups, including the campus watchdog group Amcha Initiative, wrote a letter to U.C. President Janet Napolitano expressing concern that pro-BDS members in the student-workers union would bring “their unscholarly, politically-motivated and anti-Semitic propaganda and advocacy into U.C. classrooms, where it certainly does not belong.”
Dorr, on behalf of Napolitano, wrote in her letter to the chancellors that U.C. policies prohibit an academic student employee (ASE) from using his or her instructional positions to promote political propaganda or advocacy, including the promotion of a boycott of Israel.
Dorr noted that in recent weeks “we have received over a hundred emails” expressing concern about ASEs bringing their political advocacy into classrooms. Her letter cited a U.C. Regents policy on course conduct and noted that “the ASE contract requires ASEs to observe university rules and regulations.”
In a separate letter to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of Amcha, Dorr stated that all ASEs will be reminded of the policies and their obligation to adhere to them.
According to an Amcha spokesperson, it marked the first time the U.C. administration has publicly acknowledged such policies and its intention to enforce them.
In their August letter to Napolitano the Jewish groups stated they “support the right of every member of UAW 2865 to exercise his or her freedom of speech outside of the instructional setting.”
In their reply this week to Dorr’s letters, they wrote, “Your actions will go a long way towards ensuring that all students experience a safe and effective learning environment consistent with the high academic standards of the University of California.”
Other Jewish groups that signed the letter included Americans for Peace and Tolerance, the Brandeis Center, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, StandWithUs and several other groups. — j. staff
Keeping political bias out of U.C. classrooms is good policy
Thursday, October 9, 2014
There’s no such thing as objective history, just as there’s no such thing as objective journalism. Simply deciding what aspects of history to teach, or what stories to put on the front page, indicates one’s values and priorities. The important thing is to ensure balance, clear analysis and appropriate discussion.
Those strictures apply to educational institutions, as well. Teachers in a classroom, particularly those teaching politically sensitive topics about which they themselves might have strong opinions, must constantly strive to present students with a fair and balanced view of the facts, preserving intellectual integrity and promoting critical thinking skills.
That is why it is right that the University of California prohibits graduate student instructors from using their classroom positions to promote politically charged causes such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).
This is not new policy. But it bears remembering, particularly when others — for example, the union representing those instructors — forget.
That is why we applaud this week’s letter from U.C. Provost Aimée Dorr to the U.C. chancellors. As described in our story on page 4a, it affirms in no uncertain terms that this policy exists, and for good reason. Poisoning the classroom with this kind of biased instruction is wrong and dangerous.
In August, the leadership of the union that oversees some 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and student workers throughout the U.C. system announced its support of the BDS movement, and its intention of seeking a full membership vote to make that position the union’s policy.
In response, a number of Jewish groups wrote to U.C. President Janet Napolitano expressing concern that classrooms not become hotbeds of political incitement against Israel, in violation of both university policy and academic norms. Dorr wrote her letter on Napolitano’s behalf.
A union seeking to enact a BDS policy — however misguided — is one thing. So is the right of union members to express their freedom of speech in the public square.
But a classroom is not the public square. It is a place of learning, a place where young people are nurtured and given the information and the skills they need to succeed in life and contribute to the betterment of society.
You want to support BDS? Step outside. That’s where political speech belongs. Both forums — the public square and the classroom — must be protected.