LA Times: UCLA professor told not to link class material to anti-Israel campaign

Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2012

In a situation that stirred questions about academic freedom, a UCLA professor has been asked not to link his class online syllabus in the World Arts and Cultures/Dance Department to a website that called for a boycott of Israel, according to the head of the campus faculty Senate.

The link from class materials last quarter to that boycott campaign stepped too far into political activities, according to Andrew Leuchter, chairman of UCLA’s faculty Senate. Leuchter said the professor, David Delgado Shorter, has agreed not to repeat the link in future courses. But Shorter said he made no such promise. 

Shorter said his understanding was that he agreed to continue discussions over linking to outside websites and that he awaits an explanation detailing campus policy about such matters. He said the link to the Israel boycott was just a number of suggested links for the class to explore in his winter term course “Tribal Worldviews.”

He said he discussed in class the point of view of people who are against the boycott. And, he said the links were not required reading for students and were “only provided as a clearinghouse” that students could choose to look at if they wanted. He said he did not know whether he would use the Israel boycott one again since he changes his courses every year.

The UCLA faculty leadership acted in response to a complaint from the AMCHA Initiative organization, a group of Jewish faculty who have in the past accused UC campuses of ignoring acts of anti-Semitism against Jewish students and of allowing protests against Israel’s policies to turn into harassment of Jews at UC. In response to a previous allegation from the group, the U.S. Department of Education last year said its civil rights branch is investigating whether UC Santa Cruz is a hostile environment for Jewish students.

“Although I believe it was appropriate for Professor Shorter to be cautioned about his misuse of his class website, our primary purpose in raising the case of Professor Shorter was not to demand that action be taken against him, but rather to force UC administrators and faculty to grapple with the question of whether the UC academic freedom rules protect a professor who uses his classroom and university resources to engage in political activities, including the boycott of Israel,” AMCHA leader Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer in Hebrew, said in an email.

According to UCLA’s Leuchter, faculty are free to express their own views but need to be careful about using the classroom or course material “to advance a political agenda” with such a link to a petition about a personal cause. Leuchter, who is a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, said Shorter faces no discipline in what seemed to be just a judgment error and “from my perspective, the matter is closed at this point.”

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