An Open Letter to the UC Berkeley Administration Regarding Academic Freedom
September 14th, 2016
To: Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Executive Dean of Letters and Sciences Carla Hesse, et al.,
We, the undersigned, are the students of Ethnic Studies 198: Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis, the student-designed Decal course that was suspended yesterday, Tuesday, September 13th.
We are a diverse group of students that includes Christians, Muslims, and Jews; we are white, Black, Latin@, Asian, North American indigenous, Middle Eastern, and more; we study Peace and Conflict Studies, Ethnic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, Media Studies, Economics and Engineering. In short, we are a sample of some of the wide and varied backgrounds, beliefs, and interests that compose the campus community. One characteristic we all possess in common, however, is a genuine interest in the academic discussion surrounding Israel and Palestine.
For some of us, this course was an opportunity to learn more about an issue we previously knew little about; for others, it was a chance to engage in discussion and debate with individuals whose views on the issue differ from our own. For still others of us, this class also fulfilled unit requirements for financial aid and other considerations. Regardless, these opportunities have been, suddenly and without warning, torn from us by your decision to suspend the class.
We hold any claims made by campus administration or by outside organizations against the course to be blatantly false, especially any claims or concerns that the course would only tolerate a single or particular view. We the students collaboratively designed and established community agreements to ensure that we would engage with course content and each other in a mature and respectful manner. Any and all participants were welcome to attend the course, irrespective of background or preconceived perspectives on the subject matter. Therefore, criticisms of the course from outside its attendants are wholly unfounded, and do not reflect the views and opinions of those of us who were excited to engage with this material, and one another, in open academic inquiry.
The decision to suspend Ethnic Studies 198: Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis is a violation of our academic freedom. This is an alarming development to have transpire on the same campus that not only hosted the Free Speech Movement, but which also routinely claims and utilizes the same Movement’s legacy to market itself as a world-class institution, a bastion of tolerance and diversity, and the site of intellectual inquiry — inquiry that is sometimes discomforting, but always enriching. Your decision constitutes nothing less than an act of discrimination against students who wanted to debate and discuss this contentious issue in a spirit of genuine sincerity, mutual respect, and open-minded curiosity.
Again: the decision to suspend our course is both discriminatory and a violation of our academic freedom. We demand the reinstatement of the course.
Thank you for your time.
Every Student of Ethnic Studies 198