March 5, 2024
A group of more than 150 faculty members at the various colleges within the University of California system are demanding the system's president withdraw a recent call for a neutral study of the Middle East.


A group of more than 150 faculty members at the various colleges within the University of California system are demanding the system’s president withdraw a recent call for a neutral study of the Middle East.

The professors argued a “viewpoint-neutral” approach to teaching students about Israel and the Palestinians would undermine their ability to teach “the history of racism, and genocide and mass atrocity.”

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The faculty members specifically took issue with University of California President Michael Drake’s Nov. 15 speech to the Regents of the University of California, in which he called for “programs focused on better understanding antisemitism and Islamophobia, how to recognize and combat extremism, and a viewpoint-neutral history of the Middle East.”

In an open letter, the professors argued they should get to make their own decisions about how to present the conflict in Israel and the rest of the region to their students.

Drake gave the speech more than a month after Hamas launched a series of terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 against Israel that claimed more than 1,200 lives. The attacks prompted a military response by Israel in the city of Gaza.

In the United States, colleges and universities have become embroiled in controversy amid an uptick in antisemitic activity in the weeks following the attacks, with most of the activity taking the form of protests and harassment against Jewish students. The Department of Education opened civil rights investigations into several colleges and universities after complaints were filed alleging the schools were not protecting Jewish students from discrimination.

In their letter, the University of California faculty members said that Drake’s decision to use the phrase “viewpoint-neutral history” was “wrong” and would have a chilling effect on academic discourse. They called on him to withdraw it.

“There is a clear, structural difference between government agencies avoiding the endorsement of a particular political position and university-based professionals presenting conflicting viewpoints as a normal part of our curriculum,” they wrote. “We are all committed to inclusivity and academic excellence, but to suggest that the UC administration should determine how and what we teach will set a chilling precedent for our field and the many others engaged in teaching topics that might be considered controversial or divisive, like climate change, the history of racism, and genocide and mass atrocity.”

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To support their claim, the professors said an effort by the government under Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) to teach “opposing viewpoints” on slavery in the U.S. had “undermined discussions of structural racism.” They also accused Drake of questioning the integrity of UC academics studying the Middle East.

“We welcome your commitment to increasing resources for studying the history of the Middle East, which would ostensibly be dedicated to hiring new faculty and encouraging the study of languages spoken in the region,” they said. “We insist, however, that professional historians and those in allied fields trained in the study of the Middle East are best-positioned to determine the curriculum, safeguard rigorous standards of research and teaching, and protect the climate of open discussion and critical inquiry which are the cornerstones of our scholarly community.”

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