Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lawsuit Details Depth of Berkeley Jewish Student Harassment

A pattern of harassment and physical assaults by members of two Muslim student groups at the University of California, Berkeley crosses the line from allowing free speech into creating a hostile campus environment, an attorney representing two students argued in court papers filed this week.

Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy are suing the University of California and Berkeley President Mark Yudoff, along with Berkeley's chancellor, the Regents of the University of California, the Associated Students University of California and Berkeley's dean of students for failing to protect them from verbal and physical assaults.

"Defendants assert that this Court is powerless to stop this conduct, claiming that these student groups have 'First Amendment Rights,'" wrote attorney Joel Siegal in response to a defense motion to dismiss. "But these Defendants have an equal obligation to protect the health and safety of Jewish students under Title VI," which requires federally funded educational institutions protect students against discrimination.

The lawsuit claims Berkeley has tolerated years of programming by anti-Israel student groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) despite reports of Jewish students being cursed at, threatened and assaulted.

SJP's stated goal is to promote a "just resolution of the plight of the Palestinians" and employs boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns as well as mock checkpoints and mock "apartheid walls" on campuses throughout the U.S. to promote that cause.

MSA also has a history of supporting radicalism on Berkeley's campus. In 1995, the MSA at UC Berkeley conducted a rally in support of Hamas. In April 2002 the MSA publication at UC Berkeley, Al-Kalima, voiced its support of Hamas and Hizballah. MSA was established by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1963 to serve as a platform to spread Islam and Islamic ideas to college campuses in the U.S.

By continuing to authorize and fund SJP and MSA as official student organizations, the lawsuit alleges, the university allowed itself to become a dangerous and threatening environment for Jewish students. SJP and MSA sponsored "Apartheid Week" events, specifically the mock checkpoints that they stage on campus, create an actionable hostile environment harassment.

Students at the checkpoints carry "realistic looking assault weapons—'imitation firearms'—as part of the event," Siegal wrote, citing a California statute prohibiting such reenactments unless they are authorized by the school.

Declarations by Felber, Maissy, and Berkeley Professor Mel Gordon detail examples of incidents that they felt crossed the line into intimidation and harassment. Each complains that school officials failed to discipline the people involved.

Felber, who graduated in December, said she was physically assaulted on campus by an SJP member in March 2010. Hussam Zakharia, then leader of SJP, rammed a shopping cart into her back during simultaneous "Israel Apartheid Week" and "Israel Peace and Diversity Week" events.

She was treated for her injuries and later received therapy as a result of the incident. After that, Felber said, she was so intimidated that she was afraid to leave home without an escort.
Felber said she already felt intimidated on campus by SJP before that incident. She described an SPJ speaker at an event singling her out and calling her a "terrorist supporter" in front of 100 people.

Brian Maissy, a current student, similarly described the fear created by the annual "Apartheid Week" events. Maissy, who wears a yarmulke, said the students with the fake assault rifles yelled, "Are you Jewish?" at him and other passersby. The event occurs at the entrance to campus and is difficult to avoid, Maissy said.
University officials did not act to protect the students, he said, and he fears for his safety on campus.

The situation dates back at least a decade, according to Mel Gordon, a tenured theater professor at Berkeley. He described being physically attacked by SJP members in 2001 as they protested outside a campus building. When Gordon tried to go inside the building to teach a class, a student beat, spit upon, and kicked Gordon in the stomach.

Gordon sued his attacker and said he was awarded restitution in the case and a member of SJP was convicted. But, to his knowledge, SJP was not suspended or disciplined by school officials. The university continued to sponsor SJP and MSA as student organizations.

He described a letter he sent to school officials in 2008 after an altercation between members of SJP and the Zionist Freedom Alliance. In it, he said he told the chancellor about his experiences with SJP and urged something be done. He did not receive a response.

Jewish students also complained to school officials in 2008, saying they did not feel that the UC police and faculty were doing anything to curb SJP's intimidation and harassment. The officials denied that there was an anti-Semitic crisis on campus and "actively and intentionally" allowed it to continue, lawyers for the students say.

The lawsuit seeks damages, a five-year ban on MSA and SJP on campus, and a loss of university funding for the groups. The plaintiffs also argue that UC Berkeley must create an independent fact-finding body to handle student complaints of hostile environment situations on campus. The case is scheduled for trial September 22.


North Carolina University Puts Out List of 'Gay Friendly' Churches

Will they be putting out a list of theologically conservative churches too?

A North Carolina state university has put out a list of approved "gay friendly" churches for faculty and students raising concerns by at least one professor that taxpayers are inadvertently involved in "telling people where to go to church."

An office with the University of North Carolina's Wilmington campus began circulating the list late last month. It was compiled as part of a broader guide to gay-friendly businesses, nonprofits, health centers and other services in the area.

The "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and allied students, faculty, staff, and alumni" office described the document as a "local resource guide" for "lgbt staff and faculty." The head of the sociology department later suggested professors share it with their students.

But Mike Adams, a criminology professor on campus who went from atheist to Christianity, said the university should not be in the business of recommending churches. "It's just amazing," he told FoxNews.com. "It appears to me to be the height of not just silliness, but government waste."

In the guide, the office listed five Wilmington churches as "gay-friendly religious organizations." Included on the list were a Presbyterian church, a Lutheran church and a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

The LGBT office on campus could not be reached for comment.

But the guide follows a manual put out several years ago by the Georgia Institute of Technology that included summaries of how certain religions and denominations viewed homosexuality. A federal judge in 2008 ordered the religious references to be stripped, declaring the guide implicitly favored some religions over others.

Travis Barham, who worked on the Georgia case as part of the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, which has defended Adams in a court battle with the university over a promotion he claims he was wrongly denied, said he's not sure whether the University of North Carolina Wilmington is in danger of a similar violation.
But Barham questioned whether it was appropriate for the university to put out such a guide.

"Whether they're promoting denominations or whether they're promoting individual churches ... that's not the business of a university," Barham said.

Adams, who wrote about the church guide in an online column Monday, has previously called for the abolition of the LGBT group as well as several other identity-related groups on campus. He said the university guide probably has not crossed the legal line, but the university should stop distributing it anyway.

"If I were to stand up and start recommending churches in the classroom, that would be a serious problem," Adams said, claiming a separate UNC campus took down a broader church guide a few years ago following his objections.


British universities crack down on resits of High School exams

Teenagers who attempt to resit their A-levels after failing to get decent grades this week face being shut out of top universities, it can be disclosed.

As applications hit a record high, growing numbers of institutions are cracking down on students who boost their scores by taking exams a second time.

Leading universities such as Edinburgh, Birmingham, Sheffield and University College London said students were often banned from retaking an entire A-level to get on to some of the most sought after degrees such as law and medicine.

Days before the publication of A-level results, other institutions said students taking exams twice would be expected to gain higher scores than the standard offer.

Some universities such as the London School of Economics, Imperial College and Cambridge insisted resits were not ruled out but academics “prefer students who achieve high grades at their first attempt”.

The disclosure is made as teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to receive their A-level results on Thursday.

With competition for higher education places at a record high, it is believed that as many as a third of the 707,000 university applicants this year will fail to secure a degree course.

It is believed that many will reapply next year, even though annual tuition fees will soar as high as £9,000 for students starting courses in 2012.

The Council for Independent Education, which represents colleges specialising in A-level resit courses, said the number of enquiries to its members had doubled in July compared with the same period in 2010.

At present, students can resit individual A-level modules or retake an entire year. It is believed that between 30 and 50 per cent of pupils retake some papers. But headteachers warned that the sheer complexity of universities’ rules on resits risked damaging the career prospects of thousands of students.

Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College School, Oxford, said: “The more complex it is to get into university, the more it is going to deter people from going at all, particularly if they have not got access to the kind of advice they need to negotiate the applications process.”

Neil Roskilly, from the Independent Schools Association, added: “There are often valid personal reasons why a student has taken resits and there are not always opportunities to make that known.”

The Daily Telegraph gained data from almost 70 universities across Britain on their applications policies. The majority said resits were judged in the same way as first-time exams. Others said they devolved decisions in the issue to individual subjects departments. But the most selective universities often exercised more control.

Aberdeen said it considered students resitting their A-levels but not those applying for medicine degrees. Full A-level resits are also ruled out for medicine courses at Sheffield.

Birmingham said resits were “not allowed for medicine or dentistry” but may be considered on a case-by-case basis for other subjects.

At Dundee, students who fail to meet entry requirements in the first sitting “may be asked for higher [grades] depending on their individual circumstances”, a spokesman said.

Edinburgh insisted students would be expected to complete three A-levels “in one examination diet”, adding: “Candidates retaking A-levels will not normally be considered for selection.”

Imperial prefers exams “to have been taken in one sitting”, said a spokesman. Where students take tests a second time, information on exceptional circumstances such as illness may be taken into consideration. UCL said a “limited number” of courses – notably medicine and law – expected A-levels to be sat in a standard two-year cycle.

But Steve Boyes, chairman of the Council for Independent Education and principal of Mander Portman Woodward College in west London, said: “Once again demand for retaking will be very high.

“This may seem surprising with some vice-chancellors preparing for a collapse in the number of applications next year, due to the higher university fees payable in 2012. “On the other hand, just like last August, there are going to be more than 200,000 disappointed applicants this year, and a good proportion of these will want to re-apply with better grades.”


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