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July 26, 2021 5:32 pm
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UC Davis Faculty Group Argues Departments Condemning Israel Violates School, State Policy

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Hart Hall at the University of California-Davis. Photo: Flickr / Wayne Hsieh

A group of faculty at University of California-Davis (UC Davis) have criticized the administration’s response to statements issued by several academic departments during the Gaza conflict, arguing that their positions violated school policy.

The letter — publicized on Wednesday by the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), a pro-Israel education nonprofit — came after a May 16 message denouncing Israel as an “apartheid state” and perpetrator of “settler colonialism” and “systemic racism.”

The latter was supported by the departments of Asian American Studies, African and African American Studies, American Studies, French and Italian Studies, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, among other faculty members and campus programs.

“These anti-Israel statements misleadingly purport to be made in the name of the university,” argued Professor of Mathematics Joel Hass, chair of the Davis Faculty for Israel (DFI) group, which penned the letter.

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“They are in clear conflict with both University of California policies and California law. We hope that the university will take steps to address this,” Hass told The Algemeiner on Friday. “Academics are entitled to make comments, however ignorant, bigoted or hateful, in their own names. It is a completely different matter when they speak in the name of the institution that employs them.”

Citing Section 92000 of the California Education Code, a law prohibiting the use of the University of California’s name or likeness to endorse or oppose a political movement or group, DFI argued that the act was “blatant political advocacy and a misuse of state-funded University of California resources.”

“By no means can such public statements be considered the expression of First Amendment Rights,” the group wrote. “That would be the case if faculty, individually, or in groups, express their personal opinions through their own outlets or through external outlets independent of University-provided vehicles.”

Referring to an earlier exchange with UC Davis counsel, the group said the university’s response to the incident has so far neglected to “convey the degree of seriousness which the problem demands” and that the “steps taken by the campus to resolve this issue are inadequate.”

A UC Davis spokesperson told The Algemeiner that the school “is committed to ensuring that all persons may exercise their constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly and worship, even in instances in which the positions expressed may be viewed by some as controversial or unpopular.”

The departmental statements do not violate state law, the university concluded, provided they do not engage in electioneering.

“Current university policies do not make clear who may speak for a department and what may be posted on academic websites,” the spokesperson said. “Given this lack of clarity, campus leadership will not engage in censorship of existing speech, but is consulting with campus stakeholders about whether there needs to be more regulation in this area, and, if so, what that policy should look like.”

Miriam F. Elman — executive director of AEN, which advised DFI and has been outspoken on department-issued position statements on Israel at other institutions — commended the letter’s signatories.

“UC Davis professors are joining faculty in our network around the country who are now pushing back and lodging formal complaints regarding recent statements issued by university departments during the recent Gaza war,” she told The Algemeiner. “So many Jewish students on campus are hurting and feel incredibly vulnerable and worried about what the Fall semester will bring. It’s heartening to see that there are many faculty now speaking out to support them.”

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