UC regents plan to monitor campuses' response to anti-Semitism and other bias

After approving a controversial statement condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bias, University of California regents plan to keep close tabs on how campuses respond to instances of intolerance. 

Regent Norman J. Pattiz said in an interview Thursday that multiple cases of hostility toward Jewish students at UC campuses prompted him and other regents to take a more active role in monitoring the situation. He said many Jewish members of the UC community felt that complaints about bias toward them have not been taken seriously enough.

"We're asking for regular reports on instances of intolerance that take place on campus ... so we can determine whether we think the actions taken were appropriate," he said. "This is just Jews standing up for ourselves during a period where instances of anti-Semitism continue to be reported on college campuses."

The statement that won unanimous support from the regents this week declares that “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” No sanctions are specified for those who cross the line, but the statement calls on educators to "challenge" bias. 

Debate over the statement has been contentious. Supporters have cited the need to combat intolerance and protect Jewish students from hostile attacks; critics fear it will stifle free speech and impinge on academic freedom. Students, faculty and other concerned members of the UC community sent roughly 1,000 emails to UC President Janet Napolitano to air their feelings about the matter in advance of Wednesday's vote.

Pattiz and seven other members of a UC group that worked on the statement initially proposed a broad condemnation of anti-Zionism, a political ideology that challenges Israel's right to exist as a Jewish homeland.

But free-speech advocates said that would restrict political activity and squelch debate -- especially criticism -- over Israel's policies, particularly toward Palestinians.

The authors then modified the statement to specify that the regents were speaking out against "anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism."

Pattiz said regents made a deliberate decision to leave that phrase undefined so that campuses could handle cases as they saw fit. But he gave two examples of what he would consider unacceptable hate speech: epithets such as "Zionist pigs" and suggestions that Zionists be sent to gas chambers.

Pattiz called the amendment an "excellent" clarification to signal that regents were not aiming to restrict free speech or academic debate.

"If someone wants to debate what Zionism is, they are free to do so," he said. "What we object to is anti-Zionism used as the new face of anti-Semitism."

He said he hoped university administrators will take the same actions against anti-Semites as they would take against those who discriminate against members of other racial, ethnic, religious and gender identity groups.

However, Palestinian rights supporters remain wary that the statement -- part of a broader report on intolerance -- will be used to stifle their activities. Liz Jackson, an attorney with Palestine Legal in Oakland, has said that her organization will also monitor UC campuses for unlawful suppression of 1st Amendment rights.

The regents' report asserts that 1st Amendment principles must be paramount in guiding responses to acts of bias, including harassment, threats, assaults and vandalism. In addition to Jewish students, it includes actions directed at Muslims, African Americans, immigrant-rights supporters and the LGBT community.

For more education news, follow me @TeresaWatanabe

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