UC Berkeley Reverses Instructor’s Attempt to Give Extra Credit for Pro-Palestinian Political Activity

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Newsweek (Matthew Impelli) reported today on this incident, which involved “a graduate student” instructor “at UC Berkeley’s Department of Ethnic Studies.” (The story may have been first broken by Israelly Cool [David Lange].) Fortunately, UC Berkeley promptly rejected this; when I e-mailed the media relations office, I was informed that:

As soon as the administration was made aware of the assignment it moved quickly to ensure that it would be changed. The situation has been remedied, the assignment has been changed and there are now a number of options for extra credit, not just one. Students can now attend any local event they wish—such as a book talk or a panel discussion—-related to the course’s subject, including the protest…or they can watch any documentary they wish about the Middle East.

The Berkeley provost’s office has also just sent out this follow-up, apparently to “all faculty, staff, and students”:

I write to remind people of University policy as pertains to academic freedom and political advocacy in the classroom. While instructors enjoy considerable freedom and all individuals, when acting as private citizens, enjoy free speech rights, University policy does impose limits on using the classroom or one’s course for purposes of political advocacy.

I call your immediate attention to Regents’ Policy 2301, which prohibits canceling a class session for the purpose of encouraging students to participate in a protest or rally.

The principal policies that apply to these matters are (URLs at end of message):

Among other limitations, these policies prohibit:

  • significant intrusion of material unrelated to the course (APM 015, Section II, A.1.b & Section B4(b) of Unit 18 agreement);
  • use of the position or powers of a faculty member to coerce the judgment or conscience of a student or to cause harm to a student for arbitrary or personal reasons (APM 015, Section II, A.5 & Section B4(h) of Unit 18 agreement); and
  • misuse of the classroom by, for example, allowing it to be used for political indoctrination, for purposes other than those for which the course was constituted, or for providing grades without commensurate and appropriate student achievement (Regents’ Policy 2301).

In addition,

  • Regents’ Policy 2301 stipulates “the right of students to have their classes held on the regularly scheduled basis and to be taught by the instructor whose responsibility it is to teach the course in question is to be upheld”; and
  • APM 015, Part II, A.1.c. defines”significant failure to adhere, without legitimate reason, to the rules of the faculty in the conduct of courses, to meet class, to keep office hours, or to hold examinations as scheduled” to be a violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct.

Instructors are also reminded of the campus’s Principles of Community (https://diversity.berkeley.edu/principles-community) and of the importance of ensuring that students are not made to feel intimidated, threatened, and/or excluded in their classes.

Instructors who have questions concerning permissible or impermissible actions should discuss them with their department chair or school dean.

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