It is a great day for academic freedom and free speech at the University of California, Berkeley now that the university’s administration has officially lifted the “suspension” on the Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis course. The administration’s reversal should be seen as a direct result of the massive academic and community response to the highly political decision that censored academic inquiry.
I am happy for student facilitator Paul Hadweh and the students enrolled in the class, who worked diligently and under duress to counter the misrepresentations and false information disseminated about the course. As the faculty sponsor I celebrate this victory, but I also believe that the university administration owes all of us—Paul, the students in the class, the campus community, and the public at large—an apology for taking part in the negative campaign directed at the course, furthering political distortions related to it, and tarnishing the good name and standing of a student and his faculty sponsor.
During our meeting with Dean Carla Hesse, she asked for changes to the content and said she considered the course one sided and a type of “political indoctrination”; she even displayed the course poster to point at Israel’s exclusion from it. Paul Hadweh directed the Dean’s attention to the text on the poster, which actually mentioned Israel and described in detail the shifts in land and territory held by Israel. I then asked Dean Hesse to point out Israel’s borders on the map depicted in the poster since she wanted us to demarcate them. At that point, the Dean put the poster away, evidently realizing the poster was not inaccurate.
The discussion in our meeting with Dean Hesse was not about procedural matters but rather about the content of the course and the claims based on the letter that originated from the 43 external ideologically committed groups. The Dean’s letter reversing the decision adds insult to injury by continuing to push the distorted narrative that the university action was merely procedural and not political.
The unstated reason the course was suspended is because it was titled “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis” and because it approached the subject through a de-colonial lens. Had the course been titled “America: A Settler Colonial Analysis” and used a de-colonial approach, no one from the Regents to the Dean’s office would have suspended the course. Neither would they have thrown the student facilitator, the sponsoring faculty, and campus academic policies collectively under the bus. We should be clear that the cause for this travesty was the result of external political pressure, and yet the Dean’s letter continues to spin-doctor the facts.
What we need is an apology, not more spin-doctoring!