After shooting down a proposed policy statement for not going far enough, the University of California’s governing board on Thursday announced a working group to craft “principles against intolerance” that more directly address incidents of anti-Semitism and other prejudice that have rocked campuses in recent months.
The university began working on the statement this summer, in the wake of several anti-Semitic events such as the painting of swastikas on a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis in January. Shaken by those acts, as well as a growing campus movement to divest from Israel, Jewish groups asked the Board of Regents to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes comments demonizing Israel or denying its right to exist. Supporters of Palestinians and faculty objected, arguing that it would infringe upon their free speech rights and academic freedom.
A draft released by the regents last week generally calls on students, faculty and staff to “respect the dignity of each person within the UC community.” It also includes “inflammatory or derogatory use of culturally recognized symbols of hate, prejudice or discrimination” among its definitions of intolerance, but does not specifically mention anti-Semitism.
Jewish groups attended the regents’ meeting in Irvine on Thursday to protest that omission – and many of the regents followed suit, lambasting the principles as “troublesome” and “fundamentally flawed.”
Regent Norman Pattiz said it was “frankly insulting” that the statement did not reflect the concerns of the Jewish community.
“It doesn’t say anything about anything,” he said. “To not recognize why this subject is even being brought up is to do a disservice to those who brought it up in the first place.”
The working group to write a replacement will include students, faculty and campus chancellors, and will be led by Regent Eddie Island. It aims to “put forward something thoughtful and yet descriptive” about the types of intolerance that the university is condemning, Chairman Monica Lozano said.
That is unlikely to include the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, however. Regent John A. Pérez, otherwise supportive of explicitly addressing anti-Semitism in the principles against intolerance, said the definition “limits academic discourse by conflating criticism with unacceptable activity.”
“We’re smarter than that,” he said.