Allowed Again, But Questions Remain about Suspension of Berkeley Class

BY JOHN K. WILSON

Earlier today, UC-Berkeley Dean Carla Hesse rescinded her Sept. 13 suspension of the DeCal course on Palestine. But the controversy over her original suspension remains a hotly contested debate.

Dean Hesse writes, “I did not request or require any revisions of the content of the course,” a claim questioned by some of the people at the Sept. 13 meeting with her. Hesse’s letter today states: “The Department has now responded to my questions and concerns. The Student Facilitator, the Chair and the Executive Committee of the Department of Ethnic Studies determined that revisions of the course in light of these concerns were necessary and appropriate.” If Hesse wasn’t requesting changes, why would the department be responding to her concerns by revising the course?

Paul Hadweh, the student facilitator, denied that he or anyone else determined that changes in the course were necessary and appropriate: “That’s not the case.” According to Hadweh, he made “cosmetic changes” that clarified things, but “the course itself is not changing.” He says “the substance of the course” remains exactly the same. And that seems to be the case: the readings and schedule in the new syllabus are almost exactly the same, with no new authors added. The course description and objectives have some small changes, but include virtually the same language as before, which raises the question of why a suspension was ever necessary to make minor changes, and whether those changes were really even necessary.

Shari Huhndorf, Chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies, noted: “After meeting with the Dean, I understood that there were questions about whether the course complied with relevant University policies. The student facilitator, his faculty supervisor and I worked together to revise the syllabus to ensure that there is no ambiguity surrounding issues of compliance. The content remains unchanged. The revisions simply clarify that the course does indeed comply with relevant University policies.”

Huhndorf argues about what Hesse claimed, “This is true. I did understand that our department would need to address the administration’s questions with regard to compliance with University policies, that that is different from revising the content of the course.”

However, Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian reported, “The discussion in the meeting was not about procedure but rather the content of the course and claims made directly based on the letter that came from the 43 external groups.”

But a bigger question is whether Hesse required any changes. Prof. Bazian said about Hesse, “She did demand the changes and I did ask if she would be convinced with the changes once made and she actually said that it will be very hard to convince her otherwise, which was basically a statement to preclude the possibility of reinstating the course. Yes, she said changes have to be made before she would approve the course and all in the meeting had the same understanding.”

Hadweh recalled being told by Dean Hesse that if he made the all changes “only then, may I consider reinstating” the course. He said, “I thought there’s zero percent chance” of her reinstating the course.

Bazian was also pessimistic: “I left the meeting believing that it is a remote possibility that the course would be permitted to resume and that the Dean had made her political decision before we even arrived at the meeting.”

Bazian credited the change in the past week to “around the clock organizing, meeting, and contacting every person inside and outside the campus to get the pressure on the university to change its decision.” Students in the class wrote to protest the ban.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that Dean Hesse may not have had the authority to suspend the course at all. Her letter admits, “Deans review, but do not approve the academic content of DeCal courses.” If she couldn’t approve the content of the course, what gave her the authority to suspend it? The administration has not pointed to any policy giving Dean Hesse power to suspend courses, and the standing orders of the Board of Regents declare, “The Academic Senate shall authorize and supervise all courses and curricula offered…”

When Hesse’s procedural grounds for suspension (that the dean must be informed about the class) proved shaky, it left her in a difficult position.

Bazian noted, “The academic senate had approved the course and not a single rejection on anything related to the course can be found institutionally.”

Hadweh reported that no one in the department or the Academic Senate had ever demanded any changes for approval of the course: “The revisions were made to appease Hesse and no one else.”

Bazian argued, “The Dean’s letter adds insult to injury and attempts to continue to push this distorted narrative that the university action was merely procedural and had nothing to do with politics and course content. The reason for the suspension is the course use of the following terms: Palestine, settler colonialism analysis and approaching the subject through a de-colonial lens.”

Hadweh said, “I think everything the dean has done and said was unnecessary and inappropriate.” He believes she “responded to outside pressure to suspend the course.” Bazian said, “The cause of university action is Palestine and came about as a result of external political pressure and no one can spin-doctor this otherwise.”

9 thoughts on “Allowed Again, But Questions Remain about Suspension of Berkeley Class

  1. It’s pretty clear these “changes” which Dean Hesse says were not required (“I did not request or require any revisions of the content of the course…”) were a condition for reinstating the course. According to Dr Bazian “…she said changes have to be made before she would approve the course and all in the meeting had the same understanding.”

    Hesse can’t admit it was a mistake to suspend the class, and clearly the University could find nothing wrong with the original syllabus, so to cover Dr Hesse’s embarrassment we are now expected to believe she did the right thing then and is doing the right thing now only because Dean Hesse was able to force Dr Bazian and Paul Hadweh to make changes Dr Hesse never required or requested.

    OK I think I got it.

  2. Dean Hesse should be relieved of her responsibilities by the University on the grounds of incompetence and dishonesty. This was a political decision on her part from day one.

  3. Thanks to John Wilson for the detailed coverage of the course of these events (see his previous post). Kudos to Dean Hesse for getting past her pro-Zionist leanings sufficiently to accept that this is an academic freedom issue. Yes, she still is attempting to deflect blame, but don’t we all, especially when our asses may be on the line. For those of you opposed to the course, please note that the faculty supervisor seems to be at least as pro-Palestinian as the student instructor; so it is unlikely that there is anything different about the course in question than what was already being taught by the prof.

  4. Pingback: Berkeley Bans a Palestine Class | ACADEME BLOG

  5. Pingback: UC Berkeley | BDS | Academic Freedom | antisemitism |

  6. The colonial settler invention allows complaining about immigrants and refugees the way the early 20th Century KKK did but only when they were Jewish. Jews fled to where they could and a place where Jews lived and had lived in as long as there were Jews was nearby. The actual colonial idea was a country placing its own nationals in a country they colonized. And some are furious with the Jewish community for saying the colonial settler idea is not true and is a biased political point.

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