A group of UCLA professors are asking University of California President Michael Drake to condemn a May anti-Israel statement from the school’s Asian American Studies Department referring to the fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Calling themselves the “Ad hoc Faculty Committee for Academic Integrity,” the nine academics expressed “outrage at a hateful and offensive statement” that was posted by the Asian American Studies Department on May 21, 2021.
“Individual University faculty members are, of course, free to take public stands on political controversies. But for an academic department to do so is certainly ethically wrong, and almost certainly a violation of university policy and California law,” they wrote.
The statement from the Asian American Studies Department accused Israel of using the escalation of the conflict with Hamas “to terrorize and displace Palestinians.” The department alleged that “media distortion and censorship has further suppressed Palestinian narratives, and threatened freedom of speech and academic freedom.”
“We understand that such violence and intimidation are but the latest manifestation of seventy-three years of settler colonialism, racial apartheid, and occupation,” wrote the department.
They called for an end to “financial support between the United States and Israel” and claimed that “Israel has too often upheld its support of Asian and Asian American individuals as proof of multicultural democracy, over and against the ethnic cleansing of Palestine via a process of “yellow-washing.”
The Ad hoc Faculty Committee noted that university laws forbid faculty from using “University Assets or their affiliation with the University in any manner that suggests or implies University support, endorsement or advancement of, or opposition to, any issue, activity or program, whether political, religious, economic or otherwise” without completing a prior approval process.
Adding that the statement violates a statute of the California education code that forbids using the name “University of California” for “any meeting, assembly, or demonstration, or any propaganda, advertising, or promotional activity of any kind which has for its purpose or any part of its purpose the support, endorsement, advancement, opposition, or defeat of any strike, lockout, or boycott or of any political, religious, sociological, or economic movement, activity, or program."
Noting that neither academic freedom or first amendment rights are at stake because the statement was written on behalf of a department, not an individual person, the committee said that regardless of the legality of the statement, “it does harm to students and to the environment of mutual respect, diversity and inclusion that should characterize all academic programs.”
“Proclamations of official departmental political positions create an unwelcoming, even toxic, atmosphere for students who disagree with them,” they said.
“This is particularly troubling in the present case, in which political disagreement is entangled with ethnic identity. Jewish students who identify with Israel and who are Asian-American studies majors, or even enrolled in one of the department's classes, can now expect, quite reasonably, that their academic careers will suffer because of their beliefs or identity.”
They remarked that the statement “contains extreme, indeed fabricated, claims that criminalize the very creation of Israel, and, by implication, indict all its citizens and supporters, including us.”
They concluded, “Prospective UCLA students and faculty who see themselves condemned, by the university itself, as complicit in ‘seventy-three years of settler colonialism, racial apartheid, and occupation’ will be unlikely to choose UCLA.”
One of the letter’s signatories, Judea Pearl, Chancellor Professor of Computer Science at UCLA and Daniel Pearl Foundation President, tweeted, “When a student union is hijacked by BDS cronies, students suffer but the university continues to function. When an academic department is hijacked, the university is dismembered, marking the end of higher education. A group of us decided enough is enough.”