Tag Archives: Berkeley

The Cupcake War as a Religious Event

Berkeley bakesale.jpgBy now the “Cupcake War” in which the Berkeley College Republicans sold cupcakes with different prices for various ethnic/racial/gender groups is well known. Drawing less attention is why it produced the panicky overkill reaction, including strong condemnations from some university administrators. After all, the anti-affirmative action bake sale hardly threatens the diversity infrastructure and is a far cry from past disruptive student protests. An impartial outsider might reasonably argue that the affirmative action cause would be better served by ignoring the bake sale to deprive college Republicans of any free publicity.

Let me suggest that the true purpose of the outrage is not to stamp out opposition to racial preferences. Rather, the overreaction is best understood as a reaffirmation of a faith that is slowly (but inevitably) going wobbly. And, I suspect, this includes most Berkeley students. If beliefs about the value of legally imposed racial preferences were rock solid, the over-the-top indignation would be unnecessary.

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A Department Of Diversity at Berkeley

Berkeley diversity.jpgThe following job notice was posted August 4:

The University of California, Berkeley invites applications for a position as an Assistant Professor (tenure-track) in any of the following three areas: (1) Diversity and Identity; (2) Legal or Philosophical Frameworks for Diverse Democracies; and (3) Diversity, Civil Society and Political Action, or some combination thereof. The anticipated starting date is July 1, 2012. The search is part of the interdisciplinary Haas Diversity Research Center and will be conducted under the auspices of the Diversity and Democracy cluster of this Center….

Candidates are expected to have a Ph.D. or J.D. degree (preferably by July 1, 2012) in one of the following disciplines: law, philosophy, political science, or sociology; they should have a research and teaching portfolio that examines how our legal, political, and social institutions and practices adapt (or fail to adapt) to an increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic population. Special consideration will be given to candidates who work in any of the following areas: (1) the content and contestation of group identities; (2) the normative and legal implications of racial and ethnic diversity within democratic societies; (3) the civic and political engagement of diverse electorates within local, national, and transnational contexts.

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Fighting Back Against Campus Anti-Semitism

felber.jpg

One day last March Jessica Felber, then 20, a Jewish undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, was standing on her campus, holding a placard bearing the words: “Israel Wants Peace.”  At that moment, Husam Zakaria, a Berkeley student leader of Students for Justice in Palestine, reportedly rammed Felber from behind so hard with a loaded shopping cart that she had to be taken to the university’s urgent medical care facility.  This violent episode has become sadly emblematic of a wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents that have rippled across the country, nowhere more so than in the “Golden State,” which has become an epicenter for the New Anti-Semitism in America.  What makes this case different is that Felber fought back, charging this month in a federal lawsuit that UC Berkeley has ignored mounting evidence of anti-Jewish animus and should be held liable for the injuries she suffered.  Her  suit also contends that “physical intimidation and violence were frequently employed as a tactic by SJP and other campus groups in an effort to silence students on campus who support Israel”.

Sixty miles or so south of Berkeley along the Pacific coast, University of California Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin makes a similar case against her own employer.  For several years, Rossman-Benjamin has spoken out against anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism at the University of California, but she insists that the problem is not limited to a few rogue students:  “Professors, academic departments and residential colleges at UCSC promote and encourage anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views and behavior,” she insists, “much of which is based on either misleading information or outright falsehood.”  Rossman-Benjamin describes an atmosphere at Santa Cruz in which taxpayer-supported, university-sponsored discourse that “demonizes Israel, compares contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, calls for the dismantling of the Jewish State, and holds Israel to an impossible double standard – crosses the line into anti-Semitism…”  Like Felber, Rossman-Benjamin is fighting back.  The Santa Cruz whistle-blower filed a civil rights action with the U.S. Department of Education’s powerful Office for Civil Rights, arguing that UCSC has created a hostile environment for Jewish students.  Last week, OCR sent a powerful signal to academia when it informed Rossman-Benjamin that it is formally opening an investigation of her claims.

The Jessica Felber and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin stories are just the tip of the iceberg.  Over the last decade – since 9/11 and the start of the Second Intifada – there has been a persistent drumbeat of allegations by students and professors at many university campuses across the country.   It is true that most Jewish students will not face these problems, particularly if they avoid visibly associating themselves with the Jewish state or with Jewish institutions.  Moreover, the reported incidents are disproportionately concentrated in coastal states and on highly politicized campuses, especially in California.  Neverthless, problems are continually arising even on campuses like Indiana University which do not seem to fit the profile. In its widely read 2006 report on “Campus Anti-Semitism,” the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that anti-Semitism had once again become a “serious problem” at many post-secondary institutions nation-wide.  In numerous cases, Jewish and Israeli students, particularly if they are outspoken supporters of Israel, have been physically accosted or confronted with a mix of classic anti-Jewish stereotypes and “progressive” anti-Israel defamations.  While it is difficult to quantify the extent of the problem – in part because of the dismal state of reporting on this issue – there is much support for the conclusion that Gary Tobin and Aryeh Weinberg reached in  their book, The Uncivil University; i.e.,anti-Semitism has now become systemic throughout American higher education,   even on the quieter  campuses.  Since 2006, the problem has only gotten worse, as old-fashioned bias has entered into the university-centered international campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

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What Happened at Berkeley in November

4123344197_3c3696375a.jpgWe now have a long and fascinating report by the campus police review board on last fall’s disruptive protests at the University of California, Berkeley.
The 128-page document, entitled “November 20, 2009: Review,
Reflection, and Recommendations,”
released in mid-June, is the product of months of yeoman work garnering volumes of evidence. It chronicles and evaluates responses to the events sparked by resentment over tuition increases and cutbacks in the wake of California’s financial debacle.
Berkeley deserves credit for thoroughly investigating the situation. And the report is worth reading for many reasons, one of which is because it casts light on a dilemma that Berkeley and many other schools have been unable to resolve since the famous Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” of 1964 launched decades of illegal student protest: how to balance students’ passions for social justice (and sometimes other motives) with the rule of law.

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Reviewing the Turbulence at Berkeley

The review board of the UC Berkeley campus police has issued a 128-page report on the violent student protests of last November, criticizing actions by campus police and the University administration. The introduction and summary are here and the full report is here. Coverage of the report by the AP and The Daily Cal are here and here.

Berkeley’s Genetic Mistake

Freshmen in the University of California Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science will be asked to take part in a novel program designed, it is said, to stimulate discussion of personalized medicine. That kind of medicine–hailed by many in health care as potentially revolutionary–focuses on genetic screening to determine an individual’s susceptibility to various diseases and other medical conditions. The students will be asked to provide a sample of cells from their inner cheek, and those cells will be analyzed for three genes, each bearing on possibly beneficial changes in what they eat and drink.
Organizers of the projects, scientists working on genetics, think that this project will be more stimulating to students than old-fashioned reading, a commonplace for incoming freshmen in the past. I doubt it, and in fact it has the potential for some ethical mischief.
On the surface it looks innocuous enough: the program is voluntary, the information is kept private, the ethics review committee approved it, and it will be followed by lectures and panels on personalized medicine. But the history of screening for genetic diseases and individual genetic variations has been beset with problems, medical and psychological.

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An Unusually Cheeky Summer Assignment

Many colleges assign incoming freshmen a book to read over the summer. The original idea was to give new students a shared taste of what intellectual life is like. Over the years, the books came to reflect the dominant faculty obsession with race-class-gender group grievance and the idea that America is a grossly unfair nation—Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, for instance, was a popular choice. And as students seemed to grow more averse to serious reading, the assigned books got shorter and simpler, and often included upscale comic books like Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus.
Now The University of California at Berkeley has assigned freshmen a non-reading task instead of a book—they are to return a cotton swab with cells from the inside of their cheeks. The university is doing this, according to Inside Higher Ed, because “a reading assignment didn’t make sense for something as cutting-edge and personalized as genetic analysis.”
But of course that analysis will be done in labs by non-freshmen. Instead of spending hours on a book, each student will have to commit three seconds or less to the assignment—a major time-saving gain for busy high-school graduates. Alix Schwartz, director of academic planning for the undergraduate division of the university’s college of letters and science, sees another advantage for a cheek swab over a book: “If we assigned them a book, it would be out-of-date by the time they read it.” Last year freshmen were assigned Michael Pollan’s account of food chains, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was pretty good at the time, but sadly out of date now, along with Plato, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Ehrenreich, comic books and oh so many other once-pertinent works.
Schwartz said the freshman swabs are a one-time thing in the freshman program. “Who knows what creative thing the deans will come up with next?,” she said. We have no idea, but we certainly hope it will further reduce the summertime intellectual demands made of new students.

A Tangled Web At Berkeley

In his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer distills the betrayal of trust by corrupt public servants into a memorable expression: “If gold rust, what shall iron do?” This is the metaphor that his honest parson lives by, and it reflects on the venal churchmen among the pilgrims who betray the ideals of the church and set a terrible example when they should be a guiding light. This theme—one of high expectations for integrity cruelly disappointed—is timeless: it is exemplified yet again by the sorry tale of malfeasance in the Chancellor’s office at UC Berkeley that follows. Yet Chaucer’s miscreants are not cardinals and bishops, but only a lowly monk, friar and pardoner, while Chancellor Robert Birgeneau of UC Berkeley is the leader of the flagship campus of the greatest public system of higher education in the world. And while Chaucer’s folk cloak their transgressions in the mantle of devotion, Birgeneau wraps his in the mantle of diversity.
Already in late 2007 California’s deteriorating budget led to reductions in UC’s state support, and President Robert Dynes announced that his system-wide staff would be reduced. A severance pay incentive was offered to those who retired voluntarily, but when the Regents were asked by recently appointed President Mark Yudof in November 2008 to approve severance pay of $100,202 for Linda Williams, alarm bells went off: Williams had transferred from her job as Associate President in system headquarters to the position of Associate Chancellor at nearby UC Berkeley without missing a day’s employment. She sought severance pay though she had never been severed. Astonishingly, President Yudof recommended it and the Regents approved the recommendation.
It said much about the entitlement mindset at UC that top administrators were surprised by the outcry that followed. The public easily grasped that it was offensive for Williams to ask for $100K of public money as a “severance package,” but that simple point seemed lost on UC’s leadership. President Yudof hid behind the notion that the rules for UC’s buyout program were not his responsibility, having been written before he took office. That left an obvious question unanswered: why didn’t he tell Williams that what she was asking was unseemly, and that it would be an embarrassment to the university if he sought regent approval of this payment when a deepening financial crisis was forcing an increase in student fees? The culture of administrative self-serving in the President’s office that had brought down the presidency of Bob Dynes was apparently still in place—a great disappointment for those who hoped that Yudof would be a new broom.

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Am I Diverse Enough Now?

I cannot reflect upon my four years at UC Berkeley without mentioning the word “Diversity.” When one’s college experience is oversaturated by incessant lessons in racial and ethnic awareness, the word becomes unavoidable in any mention of Berkeley. Berkeley’s particular concept of diversity seemed to avoid the basic goal of fostering cultural tolerance and understanding. Instead, it appeared to encourage a divisive culture of victimhood and entitlement.

Housing students by race seemed to me an odd approach to ending racial division. During my freshman year, I lived two floors below the African American Theme Program floor. Other such floors included the Asian Pacific American Theme Program, the latino-centered Casa Magdalena Mora, and the Unity House, a gay-themed housing unit that allows you to have a roommate of the opposite sex. From what I remember, black students were the only ones participating in the African American Theme Program. Though students of all races and ethnicities are allowed to live in any of the available themed housing units, rarely did I see students living in housing centered on a culture different from their own.

According to the UC Berkeley housing website, the benefits of living in a racially themed housing unit include field trips, retreats, and dinner with faculty.

The special perks of being a minority did not end in the dormitories. The Berkeley Student Life Advising Service offers academic guidance for underrepresented students. At Berkeley, underrepresentation is measured solely in terms of race, so a conservative student that is noticeably underrepresented in an overwhelmingly liberal campus need not apply. Meanwhile, minority students can turn to Summer Research Opportunities for Underserved Undergraduates for more academic resources

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A Citizen’s Guide To Disciplining John Yoo

The punditocracy has offered up a wide range of answers to the question of what should be done about former Department of Justice legal counsel and author of the infamous “torture memos,” John Yoo. Suggestions have included indictment, professional discipline or even disbarment, and termination from his tenured position at the University of California-Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School.

Many of these proposed punishments of Yoo have more to do with partisan politics than legal reality, perhaps because it is nearly impossible to address the Yoo issue without betraying one’s visceral reaction to the “War on Terror” as a whole and, more particularly, some of the tactics that have been adopted by the administration in that struggle, often with the explicit approval of the lawyers.

I’ve been following this story closely as both a criminal defense lawyer, with a vested interest in ensuring that a fellow member of the bar is dealt with fairly, and as a frequent critic of higher education’s often evident contempt for academic freedom. So, for the understandably perplexed, here’s one lawyer’s guide to what sanctions, if any, Yoo might – or perhaps should – actually face.

Federal Indictment

Like many other legal observers, I consider some of the legal analyses Yoo (and in some instances his cohorts) provided for President Bush to be laughable. But just because this advice was, to many, ludicrous, doesn’t mean it was criminal.

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A Donkey At Berkeley

[a speech originally given at the University of Texas]

What is an appropriate curriculum for our students? What happened to the consensus on which the college curriculum once rested? Together these comprise two of the most urgent questions in contemporary American higher education. It seems to me that the criticisms of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind of a decade ago are symptomatic of the problems we are facing. High standards are described as elitism, a pejorative of scathing proportions. A call for the assertion of Western traditions is characterized as racist and anti-democratic. And Bloom’s critique of radical feminism as a virus let loose on the curriculum is greeted with cries of “phallocentrism.”

The college curriculum as the source of youthful enlightenment free of the impediments of bias and prejudice has unraveled. While Stanley Katz, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, recently noted that “scholars are less politicized in the United States than in any country in the developed world,” he neglected to point out that a profound and revolutionary change has occurred on American campuses since the 1960’s, resulting in the institutionalization of a radical agenda.

For a generation students have been fed on the “studies” curriculum, whether it is women’s studies, gay studies, environmental studies, peace studies, Chicano studies that are designed to indoctrinate students about pathologies in contemporary American culture – specifically race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.

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Do Elite Universities Exclude The Poor?

In an Op-Ed in last Monday’s New York Times, UC-Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel painted an alarming picture of our elite universities as institutions that systematically discriminate against poor and middle-class students. In Karabel’s words, these schools are “serving less as vehicles of upward mobility than as transmitters of privilege from generation to generation.” This is a depressing analysis of our top academic institutions, but it also happens to be a false one.
While it is true that economically disadvantaged students sometimes get the short shrift in elite college admission, it is equally true that Karabel has used highly biased numbers to argue his case. When the statistical flaws are corrected, a truer picture emerges, one that suggests that the economic diversity at our top colleges is far greater than class warriors such as Karabel would admit.

Most of Karabel’s data in the op-ed comes from a single 2004 study done by the liberal Century Foundation. While the actual economic backgrounds of the students in the survey is somewhat difficult to determine because the study combined economic and non-economic factors, it is virtually certain that the study’s claims are dramatically exaggerated. To understand why, consider the similar claims Karabel made in his recent book, The Chosen.

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