Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The University of California's Antisemitism Problem Deepens

America's most renowned public university system is sinking deeper into a scandal over its treatment of antisemitism and even terror groups.

The Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) at the University of California Irvine (UCI) is a fig leaf, a token gesture, used by the UC administration to cover up the shame of the existence of antisemitism at UCI and the administration's lack of resolve in identifying, condemning, and combatting it. But now the cover is blown. A letter, dated 10/08/2009, obtained recently under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals the moral confusion of the OTI ideology and its staff. The letter indicates that the OTI is part of the problem of antisemitism at UCI and not the esteemed solution as proclaimed by the UCI administration.

Chancellor Michael V. Drake has been silent for years as his campus has been the scene of physical and verbal harassment of Jewish students, inversion of Holocaust imagery, in which Jews are the new Nazis, sponsorship of public speakers who accuse Jews of not being able to exist equally with other human beings, as well as accusations that Jews deliberately kill non-Jewish children for nefarious purposes. He was even silent when more than 60 UCI faculty issued a public statement, May 2010, stating that they "are deeply disturbed about activities on campus that foment hatred against Jews and Israelis. Some community members, students, and faculty indeed feel intimidated and at times even unsafe."

Instead of addressing the problem, Mark Yudof, President of the University of California, and Chancellor Drake have promoted the Olive Tree Initiative(OTI) at UCI as a sterling example of their efforts to combat bigotry. President Yudof in May 2010 gave the first-ever President's Award for Outstanding Leadership to the OTI student leaders, and Chancellor Drake awarded its founders as "Living Our Values." Moreover, on March 24, 2010, when asked to speak at a special meeting of the Regents of the University of California called specifically in response to an outbreak of bigotry at various University of California campuses, including UCI where the Muslim Student Union had disrupted an invited lecture from Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Chancellor Drake touted the OTI as evidence that students on his campus "live and practice tolerance."

The Olive Tree Initiative, begun by a group of UCI students of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, has as its mission to promote dialogue and discussion about the Israeli Arab conflict. The OTI is now an official part of the UCI Center for Citizen Peacebuilding and International Studies Program with salaried faculty, director, and staff. Three trips by students to Israel and the West Bank have been organized as part of the program, as well as more than 70 lectures off and on campus. There are efforts on other UC campuses to replicate the program.

Yet, the moral bankruptcy of the OTI as a solution for antisemitism in academia is revealed by the letter. Addressed to Michael V. Drake, Chancellor of UCI, written by the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the letter divulges that UCI faculty and staff under OTI auspices, during the second trip to Israel in the fall of 2009, secretly arranged for students to meet with Hamas leader Aziz Duwaik. Hamas is virulently anti-Semitic; it is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.; its charter calls for the destruction of Israel (Article 15) and the murder of Jews (article 7). It is responsible for suicide terror attacks that murder Israeli civilians, and the firing of thousands of missiles into Israeli territory.

Combatting bigotry and promoting peacebuilding by meeting with Hamas is Orwellian. Would the University of California take students to meet and dialogue with the head of the Ku Klux Klan as a way to combat murderous racism? It would not.

Even the OTI faculty and staff realized that something was amiss in their plan. As exposed by the letter, Daniel Brunstetter, the faculty advisor, and Daniel Wehrenfennig , Ph.D candidate, who were the organizers on the ground, told students to conceal the fact of the meeting in order to thwart Israeli authorities, the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the chief funding organization, and the UCI administration itself.

How high up did their cover-up go? Once he was notified by the Jewish Federation of Orange County in October, 2009, it clearly included Chancellor Drake. He made no public statement about the event, nor any public condemnation of Brunstetter or Wehrenfennig. Brunstetter is still Assistant Professor of Political Science. Wehrenfennig now directs OTI as well as a new undergraduate certificate program in conflict analysis and resolution. Rather than rebuke or punishment, Chancellor Drake colluded in awarding Wehrefennig a precious staff position.

Equally reprehensible, given that Chancellor Drake knew in the fall of 2009 about the infamous incident and its cover up, he glowingly advertised it six months later as the way in which he was combating antisemitismand protecting Jewish students on his campus.

Did the cover-up go further than Chancellor Drake? Is it possible that President Yudof was informed, but 6 months later, he gave a first-ever commendation to OTI, implicating himself in the cover-up? Or is it possible that Chancellor Drake did not notify President Yudof that UCI had involved students with a U.S. designated terrorist group, an incident that would at best deeply embarrass UC? Now that President Yudof has been apprised, what actions is he taking in regard to Chancellor Drake and the OTI?

After years of trying to get the University of California administration to take action, Jews have had to turn to federal law to combat antisemitism at UC. Jessica Felber, in a suit against President Yudof and the Regents of UC, charges that as a student at UC Berkeley she was physically assaulted by a member of the student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, an assault for which UC officials are partly responsible for ignoring the mounting evidence of anti-Jewish animus at their campus.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, has filed a Title VI complaint against UC Santa Cruz, presently being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint charges that "professors, academic departments and residential colleges at UC Santa Cruz promote and encourage anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views and behavior" creating a hostile environment for Jewish students.

Although the OCR previously denied a complaint of the Zionist Organization of America against UCI, claiming that Jews were not a protected group under Title VI, that position is now changed. Jewish students, under federal law, must now receive the same civil rights protection in higher education as do other protected ethnic groups.

The legal suit and Title VI complaints charge that the University of California administration discriminates against Jewish students by allowing a hostile, antisemitic environment. President Yudof and Chancellor Drake can no longer hide under a fig leaf. That fig leaf, itself tainted, does not provide cover for such an abuse of decency and of the law.


Caution: This Column Now Protected by the First Amendment

Mike Adams

Some told us we should just give up. Others told us we should simply accept the federal judge’s decision and resign ourselves to the fact that the First Amendment is now dead on our college campuses. But the Alliance Defense Fund took my case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in January. And, last week, they issued a landmark defense of First Amendment rights for faculty at public colleges and universities. For the first time in years, I’m getting love mail from liberals.

In my original complaint filed against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2007, my attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund alleged that my application for promotion had been denied in part due to the conservative political viewpoints expressed through my work as a columnist. In a ruling issued in March of 2010, the federal district court rejected our claims. With respect to my First Amendment retaliation charge, the district court found that because I had included the conservative columns in my application for promotion, the content of the columns became speech "made pursuant to (my) official duties"—and thus not protected by the First Amendment.

In support of the holding, the district court cited the Supreme Court's ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U. S. 410 (2006), in which the Court ruled that public employees do not enjoy First Amendment protections when engaging in speech pursuant to their official duties. Under Garcetti, the district court determined that the columns could not be cited as grounds for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.

The district court's reliance on Garcetti was particularly disturbing because it was not an isolated event. It was just the latest in a series of Garcetti-based rulings for public university faculty members. The problem with Garcetti is that in lessening First Amendment protections for public employees generally it has a far greater impact on faculty members.

Put simply, faculty members are required to speak regularly on a broad range of issues in order to fulfill service and research requirements. It should go without saying that our duties differ greatly from those of police officers, fire fighters, and employees for the Department of Motor Vehicles. That is probably why Justice Anthony Kennedy inserted a crucial caveat into the majority opinion he penned in Garcetti, writing:

There is some argument that expression related to academic scholarship or classroom instruction implicates additional constitutional interests that are not fully accounted for by this Court's customary employee-speech jurisprudence. We need not, and for that reason do not, decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.

Before my case, Justice Kennedy's warning had been largely disregarded by courts. So my old friends at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) joined with The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression to file a brief urging the Fourth Circuit to reverse the lower court's decision to throw out my case. And the panel of three judges did just that.

The landmark ruling from the Fourth Circuit was welcome news for conservatives, liberals, and non-partisan supporters of the First Amendment alike. In reversing the district court's First Amendment holding, the Fourth Circuit panel made several key points.

First, the Fourth Circuit pointed out that the district court hadn't even acknowledged Justice Kennedy's carve-out for public faculty speech.

Second, the Fourth Circuit pointed out that just because I had included my columns in my application for promotion, that act alone did not transform them into speech made pursuant to my duties as a government employee. The court observed that "[n]othing about listing the speech on Adams' promotion application changed Adams' status when he spoke or the content of the speech when made."

Third, the court noted that while Garcetti may apply to public university faculty when their duties include "a specific role in declaring or administering university policy, as opposed to scholarship or teaching," the facts presented by my case don't merit such an application. Indeed, the court found that my case involved speech that was "intended for and directed at a national or international audience on issues of public importance” unrelated to any of my assigned teaching duties at UNCW or any other terms of my employment.

Fourth, the court noted that even though the speech was "unrelated to any of Adams' assigned teaching duties" and "was clearly that of a citizen speaking on a matter of public concern," it nevertheless implicated my right to academic freedom simply because it is understood that professors will provide such commentary as a function of their role as academics. The court addressed the intent of Garcetti in very clear language:

Applying Garcetti to the academic work of a public university faculty member under the facts of this case could place beyond the reach of First Amendment protection many forms of public speech or service a professor engaged in during his employment. That would not appear to be what Garcetti intended, nor is it consistent with our long-standing recognition that no individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.

Fifth, and perhaps most surprising to me, the Fourth Circuit commented on the district court's denial of the defense of qualified immunity to the university administrators named as defendants in my case. In that portion of the opinion, the judges rejected the argument that the impact of Garcetti was to so fundamentally alter the law that reasonable university administrators can't possibly know that faculty members continue to enjoy a First Amendment right to speak out about matters of public concern:

(T)he underlying right Adams asserts the Defendants violated - that of a public employee to speak as a citizen on matters of public concern - is clearly established and something a reasonable person in the Defendants' position should have known was protected.

This all means that soon my lawyers with the ADF will go back to court to argue for a trial on the facts of my First Amendment retaliation claim. But thousands of professors in the Fourth Circuit – most of whom do not share my views - have already won a major victory. Their free speech rights once again belong to them as individuals – and not to the state that employs them.

You’re welcome.


British PM locks horns with Oxford U over racism, as dons demand he withdraw 'one black student' claim

David Cameron was locked in a bitter row with Oxford University last night after accusing it of racism. The Prime Minister – who studied at Oxford – denounced the institution as ‘disgraceful’ for admitting only one black student in an academic year.

But the university accused Mr Cameron of failing to get his facts straight, pointing out that 41 students from black and ethnic minority backgrounds were admitted that year.

Mr Cameron spoke out during a local election campaign visit to Harrogate, North Yorkshire. He said: ‘I saw figures the other day that showed that only one black person went to Oxford last year. I think that is disgraceful, we have got to do better than that.’

The Prime Minister, who read philosophy, politics and economics at Brasenose College after attending Eton, also said the top universities had a ‘terrible’ record when it came to admitting students from state schools. He said the numbers had gone down in the last 20 years.

The Coalition has pledged to avoid meddling in university admissions. And although it has told universities to improve support for poorer pupils if they wish to charge the new £9,000 annual maximum for tuition fees, it has made no provision for raising the number of ethnic minority applicants.

In 2009 – the year Mr Cameron was referring to – 27 black British students gained undergraduate places at Oxford, as well as 14 students of mixed race. Of the 27 black students, one was of black Caribbean origin, 23 were black African and three were listed as black ‘other’.

An Oxford University spokesman said: ‘The figure quoted by the Prime Minister is incorrect and highly misleading – it only refers to UK undergraduates of black Caribbean origin for a single year of entry, when in fact that year Oxford admitted 41 UK undergraduates with black backgrounds. ‘In that year a full 22 per cent of Oxford’s total student population came from ethnic minority background.’

That figure is double the rate in Britain as a whole – but many of these students are from overseas. And Oxford has just 99 black undergraduates from all over the world in all years, out of a student population of more than 11,000. With postgraduate students included, this figure rises to 245.

The spokesman pointed out that in 2009, 26,000 white students got the three A grades at A-level necessary to be considered by Oxford, but just 542 black pupils managed to do so. Of those straight-A students, 8.9 per cent of white pupils got places at Oxford compared with 7.5 per cent of black students.

Oxford also pointed out that black students apply in disproportionately high numbers for the most heavily oversubscribed courses, such as medicine, making it less likely that they will win places.

Last night Downing Street refused to back down, saying Mr Cameron was making a valid point about the failure to help some ethnic minority pupils. A spokesman said: ‘The wider point he was making was that it was not acceptable for universities such as Oxford to have so few students coming from black and ethnic minority groups.’

Aides expressed incredulity that Oxford was defending the admission of just 41 black students in a year. One said: ‘People will be pretty shocked by that figure. It’s nothing to write home about.’

But Mr Cameron’s intervention fuelled concerns among some Tories that he is under-briefed and overly-keen to let his mouth run away with him. Former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit yesterday criticised the failure of the Downing Street machine to get the correct facts into his hands. He said: ‘What worries me is that the Prime Minister’s briefings for these sort of occasions seem to be so poor. This sort of thing is happening much too often.’

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham accused Mr Cameron of being ‘cavalier’ with the facts. And shadow business secretary John Denham warned that huge rises in tuition fees would make it harder for black students to go to Oxford. He said: ‘The Tory-led Government’s plan to triple fees will make this situation worse, not better.

‘The Government keeps making false promises on university access and social mobility. ‘The Office of Fair Access cannot impose quotas on social access, determine individual university admissions policies or set fees levels, regardless of what ministers claim they can do. ‘With their plans for universities becoming yet another embarrassing shambles, David Cameron needs to get a grip.’


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