UC Berkeley assualt on decolonial thinking and practice

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Hatem Bazian

The University of California Berkeley has been in the forefront of decolonial thinking and practice with leading scholars like Ramon Grosfoguel and Hatem Bazian. Last month this university succumbed to pressure by Zionist groups and started an assault on a De-Cal course titled Palestine: a settler colonial analysis. The DeCal courses are a long established tradition at Berkeley from the late 1960s as a form to launch many Ethnic Studies student-led courses that eventually became full-fledged academic departments. Students initiate the course that is sponsored by a professor. Participants get 1-3 credit points for their study.

Paul Hadweh is a 22-year old Palestinian, born in the US and raised in Bethlehem, who took the initiative for a Decal course on Palestine. On the third week of the semester and the second week of the class, 43 Zionist organizations sent a letter to Chancellor Nicolas Dirks to ask for a ban of the course. They also asked to bring about a change in the regulations and review of all DeCal courses to prevent this type of course from being offered again.

The Chancellor and the Executive Dean of School of Letters and Sciences, Carla Hesse responded quickly and positively. The published a statement on September 13th 2016 saying: “It has been determined that the facilitator for the course in question did not comply with policies and procedures that govern the normal academic review and approval of proposed courses for the Decal program.” The expressed their concern “about the offering of any course, even a student-run course, which espouses a single political viewpoint and/or appears to offer a forum for political organizing rather than an opportunity for the kind of open academic inquiry that Berkeley is known for.”

Paul Hadweh and the sponsor of the course, Hatem Bazian, were not consulted before the decision was taken and were informed afterwards. The formalities on which the decision was based were incorrect. In fact, the university own DeCal page details the steps to be followed for approval, which include the following language in bold letters: “Note that DeCals in the College of Letters & Science no longer need to submit a copy of their proposals to the Dean starting Fall 2014.”

It was a political move taken under pressure of Zionists. The political response to this pressure was also swift and strong. Different organizations including the Jewish Voice for Peace, Middle East Studies Association, and California Faculty for Academic Freedom protested against the decision. Decolonial International Network also added her voice to this protest.

A letter from the Department of Ethnic Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies and Native American Studies stated that “our judgment is that the course subject is consistent with the academic mission of our department. The histories and dynamics of settler colonialism, structural inequality, and social marginalization are central to our teaching and research, and several of our faculty work on these issues in transnational contexts.”

Paul Hadweh: “An important statement came from the Divisional Council (DIVCO) of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. They expressed their deep concern and characterized the administration’s attempts to suspend the course as ’a disturbing lack of transparency and disregard for the fundamental principles that underlie the faculty’s curricular oversight.’

Due to massive on and off-campus response to the “suspension” of the course, the University reversed its course and reinstated the class on Monday, September 19, 2016.

The Division Council said however: “While we appreciate that the course has now been reinstated, this is not sufficient. One of our students has been publicly blamed for not following proper procedures. This is contrary to all that we stand for as educators, and represents a serious violation of the student’s academic freedom and of our values as an academic community. We therefore call on campus administration to publicly retract the false accusation that the student facilitator did not comply with policies and procedures that govern the normal academic review and apologize to the student-facilitator.”

The Chancellor and the Dean has not responded to this request yet.