This week I attended parts of two days at the University of California Regents meeting held at UC Irvine. My main purpose in going was to participate in the public comments forum (Sept. 17) when the main issue of discussion was intolerance on campus. There had been a move to have the university implement the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism. Pro-Palestinian groups were in opposition. If I am not mistaken, the proposal was initially made by UC President Janet Napolitano. In response, the UC provost and vice provost wrote up a proposed statement of principles on intolerance, which was very general and did not specifically mention anti-Semitism. The pro-Palestinan forces support this draft and those (like me) who are complaining about campus anti-Semitism are opposed to it.
I also attended yesterday (Sept. 16) when the topic of discussion was a proposed union contract with the university that concerned different university workers including physicians, interns, nurses and others. The reason I attended was not because I was interested in the issue, rather because I wanted to get a feel for how the meeting proceeded. I noted that during the public comment portion, Napolitano paid attention to the speakers (who were limited to one minute). Today, she was distracted about half the time and seemed not to be paying attention to some of the speakers.
Today, I was the first speaker on the list. (Again, we had one minute to speak.) I read from a prepared paper (which was a mistake because about half way through my hands began to shake holding the paper. That's old age for you.) Here is the text of what I said:
"My name is Gary Fouse, I am an adjunct teacher in the UC Irvine Extension. I am also the co-author of a letter to President Napolitano signed by over 100 UC faculty expressing alarm at campus anti-Semitism, asking that the university confront this problem and adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.
The Israel-Palestinian debate has led to an atmosphere where many Jewish students who support Israel are often spending their college years in a climate of intimidation- not just from pro-Palestinian students, but in many cases from professors in the classroom.
The problem is not neo-Nazis or skin heads; rather it is the pro-Palestinian lobby such as the Students for Justice in Palestine, BDS promoters, and their faculty allies. Every year, these groups invite speakers to campus, some of whom cross the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to attacking Jews as people. Over the years here I have seen and heard it first hand right here on this campus.
I thought that the regents were going to consider adopting the State Department definition of anti-Semitism. Are you instead going to pass some vague resolution opposing intolerance in general? That would be useless.
I ask you as a concerned Gentile to treat anti-Semitism with the same seriousness as you treat intolerance against other groups."
There were about 50 people listed to speak, some of whom didn't show up. I would say over half of the speakers were from the Jewish side. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the AMCHA Initiative spoke as well as several Jewish students including the president of Anteaters for Israel. I noted that one speaker from the other side was from the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles. A couple were from Jewish Voice for Peace including former B actress Estee Chandler (Don't ask me what movies she was in. I had never heard of her.) . Later, while the regents were discussing some inane topic, I was whispering with my friend and she turned around to give us the "shhhh" I told her to shut up. She did it with other people as well.
But I digress.
After the comments from the audience, there were a couple of other issues discussed, one of which was sexual assault. I will deal with that in a separate posting. As for the issue we were all there for, there was a presentation by UC Provost Aimee Dorr and Vice Provost for Diversity and Engagement Yvette Gullatt, who were responsible for drafting the proposed statement of principles. Dorr said they had decided not to identify specific victim groups out of concern over inclusion. (I am paraphrasing.) Gullatt explained that the statement defined intolerance. Their comments were quite forgettable.
What was interesting were the comments by the regents who weighed in after the public comments. Most of them who spoke made it very clear that they felt the draft essentially said nothing and that there was a responsibility to specifically address the issue of anti-Semitism since it was the Jewish students and community who brought the issue forth. Here are some notes as to the regents who weighed in. ( I am paraphrasing.)
Norman Pattiz said that when he read the statement, he asked himself, "What is this? It doesn't say anything." He added that it was necessary to recognize those who brought this (issue) up. He said it was insulting to disregard them and that it was a disservice to them because it was they who brought the issue to their attention.
Bruce Varner said that the statement did not deal with the specific issues.
Bonnie Reiss said that while free speech was important, it was equally important to protect the students. She referred to the reported anti-Jewish incidents and said, "We hear you. We need to tell you we hear you." She added that the statement did not do that. Finally, she stated that the political debate (Israeli-Palestinian) had led to acts of hate against one group-the Jews.
Next was a student regent, Abraham Oved, a Jew. He opened by referring to the "flawed language". He noted that he had tried to consult with the authors of the statement but was rebuffed. He did not support the statement. It did not do justice to those victimized and he referred to those who ask why the UC campus climate is the way it is. Oved was very eloquent.
Next was the speaker of the California Assembly Toni Atkins. She opened by saying that both the assembly and the senate had asked (the university) to do more. She said that they could do better, hit the right points, and find the right balance.
John Perez, a former assembly speaker, said that the statement basically said nothing, and that he feared a whitewash which would't even mention anti-Semitism. He also added that when he was in the assembly, he met with many student groups (by ethnicity). He said that the only time he was met with resistance from the university was when he asked to meet with Jewish students. He was told he would have to meet the Jewish students together with other groups. He added, however that he did not support the State Department definition being applied to the university.
Deputy Regent Marcela Ramirez essentially said nothing of substance, just the usual politically-correct buzz words. She listed three important points for her-free speech, bigotry and education.
Richard Blum (husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein) said that if they didn't get this right, he was going to get complaints from his wife and added that punishment should be addressed. That was it.
Hadi Makarechian said he agreed with Blum as to punishment. That was it.
Janet Napolitano finished by basically saying nothing . She mentioned diversity and the need "to get it right." She said that not all would agree with the final product. She took no stand.
After all that, it was announced that "this was the beginning of a process", a consultative process to be performed by a working group of students, faculty, chancellors and stakeholders. It will be led by Regent Eddie Island.
That was it. The regents continued on with other business as most of the audience left, some like me, to be interviewed by the news media. In my case, I was interviewed by the Orange County Register. I would also like to note that as I was leaving the room, the aforementioned speech monitor Estee Chandler was still sitting in the front row-and talking with a couple of her pals.
What does it all mean?
It appears that our efforts might produce some results, but it is too early to tell. I was quite encouraged by the comments of most of the regents who spoke on the issue. Whether the final statement will adopt the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism, I don't know. I suspect that it will contain some reference to anti-Semitism. My fear is that it will simply be a listing of all the -isms including anti-Semitism. That is not enough. Anti-Semitism on UC campuses dwarfs any other form of bias. It is the most serious, and it must be specifically addressed. I should also note that no representative from any other minority group spoke to express grievances.
And what a dressing down for the provost and vice provost. In my view, they deserved it. Their statement is a joke. The University of California is chock full of policy statements expressing opposition to all forms of bias. They have diversity and inclusion officials on every campus. What would this proposed statement add?
And what happened to Napolitano? She initially proposed adopting the State Department definition. Has she changed her mind? If so, why? We will have to wait and see on that.