Berkeley Suspends Palestine Course

Critics said one-credit, student-led course was anti-Zionist. The university said it acted on procedural grounds.

September 14, 2016

The University of California, Berkeley, suspended a student-run course called Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis Tuesday after members of Jewish and pro-Israel groups complained that the course had an “anti-Israel bias.”

The one-credit course was part of Berkeley’s DeCal program, which allows students to propose and lead classes for their peers. According to the syllabus, the purpose of the course was to “examine key historical events that have taken place in Palestine … through the lens of settler colonialism.”

A statement from Berkeley said, "It has been determined that the facilitator for the course in question did not comply with policies and procedures that govern the review and approval of proposed courses for the DeCal program. As a result, the proposed course did not receive a sufficient degree of scrutiny to ensure that the syllabus met Berkeley’s academic standards. For that reason, approval for the course has been suspended pending completion of the mandated review and approval process. It should also be noted that the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences was very concerned about a course, even a student-run course, that espoused a single political viewpoint and appeared to offer a forum for political organizing rather than the sort of open inquiry and investigation that Berkeley is known for."

An undergraduate, Paul Hadweh, was planning to run the course; neither Hadweh nor the course’s faculty sponsor, Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in ethnic studies, responded to request for comment.

The university suspended the course because its proposal was never submitted to Dean Carla Hesse of the College of Letters and Sciences, said Dan Mogulof, executive director for communications and public affairs at Berkeley.

Although the dean is not required to approve the course, students must still send her a copy of the proposal. That way, she can review the course and speak to colleagues or the department chair -- who is required to sign off on the course -- before it is taught.

“When the dean was made aware of the course, she had serious concerns,” Mogulof said. “And she was surprised because she had not previously heard about it.”

Tuesday morning, a group of 43 Jewish, pro-Israel and other advocacy organizations sent an email to Berkeley administrators conveying their unhappiness about the course. They specifically pointed to the Regents Policy on Course Content and asserted that the course is a vehicle for political indoctrination, therefore violating the policy.

However, the public clamor was not the tipping point for Hesse’s decision, Mogulof said. She began her inquiries into the course last week, after a colleague raised concerns about the course to the dean internally. This occurred before public criticism began.

The dean will now work with the Berkeley Academic Senate to review the course and examine whether it meets the university’s academic standards. The review process will also determine whether it complies with Berkeley’s intolerance policy, which was revised in March to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Even though the dean never gave the course her stamp of approval, students were enrolled for the fall semester. Instruction at Berkeley began three weeks before the course was suspended, and according to the DeCal website, the course had started.

It’s unclear to administrators exactly how the course was running even though it hadn't fully followed the application procedure, according to Mogulof.


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