Campus Watchdog Says It Got ‘Completely Inadequate’ Response From UC-Irvine on Anti-Israel Group’s Repeated Violations of Free Speech
The founder of a campus watchdog group said the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has offered a “completely inadequate” response to a letter sent to the chancellor demanding serious action after a student disruption of a pro-Israel event last month.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the AMCHA Initiative told The Algemeiner she received the following email on Wednesday from the UCI Chancellor’s office, after her group organized and sent a letter signed by 50 Jewish, Christian education and civil rights organizations:
As you are well aware, the university is conducting an investigation of possible violations of the code of student conduct arising from the May 10 event. The investigation will be conducted according to our regular procedures and will protect the due process rights of all involved. We know that you would agree that it would be inappropriate for the university to interrupt the investigation or to announce a conclusion before all the facts are collected and assessed and due process procedures have been followed.
This exchange followed the protest led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) of an on-campus program featuring Israeli reservists, which ended in a police escort leading program attendees out of the building. The incident came almost exactly a year after an extreme SJP demonstration during a screening of a film about the Israeli military resulted only in a written warning to the group. That warning expired in March.
Rossman-Benjamin said that while “of course, we welcome an investigation,” the school has “failed its first test to implement the Regents’ Principles Against Intolerance,” a policy introduced in 2016 that included calls on university administrators to “actively…challenge anti-Semitism…when and wherever they emerge within the University community,” and to “vigorously defend the principles of the First Amendment and academic freedom against any efforts to subvert or abridge them.”
By UCI not making any public statement over a month after the incident, and by the university not responding to other organization’s letters — including one from Hillel International concerned by the “unacceptably slow” nature of the investigation — Rossman-Benjamin said UCI lost the chance “impact the campus culture.”
“For an intolerance policy to have any effect on campus climate, in order for it to seep into the consciousness of the community, intolerant action has to be immediately and publicly identified as such,” she said.
According to the dozens of organizations that signed on to AMCHA’s letter, anti-Israel students have been permitted to repeatedly, intentionally and successfully “disrupt a student-organized, pro-Israel event,” in violation of the academic principle of open exchange of ideas.
Four previous incidents, one a year since 2014, were listed in the letter.
“History is repeating itself with yet another disruption, another lack of public condemnation by the administration, and another painfully slow investigation,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “The students responsible need to be appropriately disciplined and an effective plan for addressing intolerant behavior put in place, so that this doesn’t happen for a fifth year in a row. Enough is enough.”
Groups that signed AMCHA’s letter included the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, the California Association of Scholars, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Zionist Organization of America.