UC Berkeley Censors Course on Palestine and Settler Colonialism

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UC Berkeley Censors Course on Palestine and Settler Colonialism

UC Berkeley’s move to suspend a student-led course titled “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis” is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. The suspension raises serious concern that the university places the interests of outside political groups above its duty to provide equal educational opportunity to all students.

Palestine Legal is investigating the suspension and considering all avenues to ensure the university abides by its legal obligations.

Within hours of receiving complaints from off-campus Israel advocacy organizations, UC Berkeley suspended the course that set out to examine key historical developments in Palestine through the lens of settler colonialism. The course syllabus stated its intent to “explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine, one in which justice is realized for all its peoples and equality is not only espoused, but practiced.”

Statement from Paul Hadweh, the student facilitator:

“I complied with all policies and procedures required for creating the course. The course was vetted and fully supported by the faculty advisor, the department chair, and the Academic Senate’s Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI).
The university suspended the course without consulting me, the faculty sponsor, the chair of the department, or the Academic Senate’s COCI, which is responsible for approving all UC Berkeley Courses. The university did not contact us to discuss concerns prior to suspending our course.
I first learned that our course was under scrutiny from a report in the Israeli media that describes the involvement of an Israeli government minister in efforts to cancel the course. Two hours later, I received an email from the university notifying us of the suspension.
This course is designed to provide students with the opportunity to critically engage with scholarship that examines Palestine’s past and present through the lens of settler colonialism. In doing so, we hope to explore durable and just political solutions. It’s more about asking questions than providing answers. I think it would be valuable to study this and clearly many of my peers at UC Berkeley do too. Thirty-one students showed up to a class limited to 24. We expanded the limit and 26 enrolled. Now UC Berkeley has censored the class before we could even have one discussion. That’s not the education we signed up for.”

This incident comes amidst a nationwide effort to stifle speech that expresses support for Palestinian rights. The suspension of this course exemplifies the well-documented “Palestine exception to free speech.” Pro-Israel advocacy groups seeking to silence speech critical of Israel on campuses across the country routinely make demands that content featuring Palestinian perspectives be restricted. Too often, administrators bow to these demands, violating their legal obligations under the First Amendment.

In the spring of 2015, the same Israel advocacy organizations that complained about the UC Berkeley course also complained about a student-led course at UC Riverside titled “Palestinian Voices.” The Chief Compliance Officer and Associate Vice Chancellor for UC Riverside issued a thorough report, available here, finding the course to be fully in compliance with all university policies and emphasizing the paramount importance of academic freedom, which requires administrators to rely on the professional expertise of faculty. We expect UC Berkeley will come to the same principled conclusion here.