Friday, February 13, 2015

Greater Separation Between UC and Student Government May be the Answer

Sometimes it's best to stay on the sidelines.
Below – scroll way down! - are reproduced some recent news items related to the recent USAC Israel divestment vote and related items.  They raise an issue which so far the powers-that-be at UC have not been anxious or willing to confront.  Typically, when incidents arise, campus chancellors send out generalized calls for tolerance. (See the links below to various statements by Davis Chancellor Katehi below.) An endless string of such calls ultimately makes them vacuous and the problem persists.  Some outsiders seem to believe that more adult supervision is needed when student government actions lead to unfortunate consequences. But more such supervision won’t work for individuals of college age who already are young adults.  

It may be that in fact less supervision is needed in the form of reduced linkage between university administration and student government.  Rather than offer repeated pleas for tolerance, chancellors and other university administrators could simply point out that they have no special relation to what goes on in student government.

Student government is much like municipal government. Most students, like most voters in municipal elections, are not much involved.  Low turnouts and indifference are the norm.  Groups that can turn out supporters can easily dominate.  If there are consequences, the university involved is nonetheless blamed because student governments are officially linked to the university in a way that many other entities that connect to the university are not. Student governments are officially recognized as representing all students and receive financial support, typically from fees, as a result.  

The powers-that-be (at UC from the Regents on down) are held responsible by the outside world for student government activities because of the official recognition.  But as in the divestment vote example, they have no control over what goes on.  Nevertheless, student government leaders are invited to speak at Regents meetings, for example, presumably as representatives of all students’ opinions.  They differ in that regard from folks and groups that make statements at the public comment sessions at the Regents in which anyone can speak.

Student government mechanisms are involved in the choice of student regents.  It then becomes hard to say that what student governments and those involved in them do or say is not some kind of official university position.  Student government is different in that regard from other activities that occur on campus or near campus, whether political, religious, social, or other.

Yours truly has to confess that he has not thought through exactly how the greater degree of separation between student government and the official university might be accomplished. Perhaps some form of voluntary fee support?  He has, however, heard from some faculty who report feeling uncomfortable with the “campus climate” that has been created of late or who reported that they have students who have felt uncomfortable.  And he does know that positions taken by student government on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are seen differently externally - and even internally - from positions on foreign policy that might be taken by, say, campus Democratic or Republican groups.  With more separation, anyone could be free to vote for anything without the university’s officialdom taking responsibility.[1]

From the Daily Bruin:
Religious affiliations and ethnic identity should not and do not disqualify someone from being an effective judge. And yet, at Tuesday night’s Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting, that’s exactly what councilmembers were arguing. During the meeting, several councilmembers, including General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth, General Representative 1 Manjot Singh, Transfer Student Representative Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed and General Representative 2 Sofia Moreno Haq, raised concerns about the appointment of Rachel Beyda, a second-year economics student, to the USAC Judicial Board, UCLA student government’s highest judicial body. After much discussion and the intervention of administrators, Beyda was eventually unanimously appointed to the position – but not before several councilmembers managed to politicize her identity as a Jewish student on campus…
From the Sacramento Bee:
Comedienne Roseanne Barr jumped headlong this week into the tensions at UC Davis, tweeting that she hopes the Davis campus “gets nuked” after student senators overwhelmingly voted to seek UC divestment from Israeli-tied businesses and two Jewish student organizations suffered hate crimes last month. Barr, best known for her 1980s and 1990s sitcom “Roseanne,” defended Israel on Twitter and took aim at student efforts at Davis and Stanford to seek university divestment from companies tied to the Middle East country. Barr posted Tuesday night on Twitter, “I hope all the jews leave UC Davis & it then it gets nuked,” according to screenshots and retweets from other Twitter users, as well as The Electronic Intifada, a website that posts news on Palestine. Barr has since removed that tweet but retained a separate one with the hashtag “#nukeUCDavisJewHaters.” …
From the UC-Davis Aggie:
On Jan. 29, ASUCD Senate Resolution No. 9 passed with an 8-2-2 vote. The resolution calls for the University of California Board of Regents to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.” ASUCD voted down a similar resolution this past May and in 2013. Following the vote at the Jan. 29 meeting, ASUCD senator Azka Fayyaz, elected in Winter 2014, posted a picture on her personal Facebook page which stated, “Hamas & Shariah law have taken over UC Davis. Brb crying over the resilience.” Hamas is a Palestinian Islamic group designated by the U.S. Department of State, and multiple other nations, as a terrorist organization. Fayyaz’s post was met with harsh criticism. As a result of of public backlash, Fayyaz uploaded the same photo again on Jan. 29  with a different caption stating, “If a movement is not controversial, if no one is mad, it’s not strong enough & it’s not worth the fight. Israel will fall Insha’Allah : ) #UCDDivest.” She has since disabled her Facebook account. In a public statement released Feb. 2 and published Feb. 3, Fayyaz stated that the reference in the first photo was a satirical caption. At the end of the statement, she extended an apology to her own community members for any difficulties she put them through and asked them to “stand with [her] during this time.” “Although I made a comment on the picture stating that the caption was satirical, the anti-divestment community conveniently left out the comment from the rest of the picture and took the caption out of context,” Fayyaz said in the public statement. While it is understandable — and even encouraged — for a political figure and an ASUCD senator to express her excitement over a bill she supports passing, the Editorial Board believes it is inappropriate and insensitive to make a post on a public area that marginalizes and offends certain groups. Although the posts were published on her personal Facebook profile, Facebook posts are a grey area, as ASUCD senators historically use Facebook politically to promote their campaigns, publicize events and release public statements. When ASUCD officials are sworn in, they agree to certain policies. One is the ASUCD Principles of Community, which state that members of ASUCD “strive to make decisions in an open and inclusive manner that respects, nurtures and reflects understanding of the needs and interests of all community members.” We believe Fayyaz has failed to uphold the ASUCD Principles of Community with her public statement and Facebook posts. These posts did not reflect the needs of a broad range of student groups and community members on our campus. In addition to these online statements, Fayyaz has spoken publicly in a manner that we feel does not align with the Principles of Community. At the Jan. 29 meeting after senate conducted a roll call vote to see where senators stood on the issue of passing the resolution, Fayyaz made an extreme statement about the definition of Zionism. “You can’t have coexistence with Zionists. Their purpose of Zionism is discrimination, elimination and ethnic cleansing of a group of people,” Fayyaz said at the meeting. “So if you want to talk about coexistence, I’m not talking with you because you’re going to try to kill me. I’m Muslim.” …
From the Daily Bruin:
Hate speech reared its ugly head again on a University of California campus during divestment debates, in what has become a sad and predictable pattern. On Jan. 31, red swastikas were found spray painted on the exterior walls and grounds of the UC Davis branch of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. This despicable act occurred a few days after the Associated Students of UC Davis voted to advise the university to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.” Similar resolutions have been passed by the undergraduate student governments of a number of UC schools including UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UCLA, sparking protests and counter-protests across the state…

From the Sacramento Bee:
…The UC Davis vote and two hate crimes against Jewish organizations in Davis have drawn national interest in recent weeks from organizations on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, as well as people on social media. Comedienne Roseanne Barr this week defended Israel through a series of inflammatory tweets, including one that said she hopes the Davis campus “gets nuked” and another that simply had the hashtag “#nukeUCDavisJewHaters.” Opponents of divestment argue that the UC student movement unfairly singles out Israeli and Jewish students. Though student groups and Jewish organizations at UC Davis have downplayed connections between the divestment vote and two hate crimes, the incidents at Jewish organizations serve as reminders that anti-Semitism remains, they said. Barry Broad, board president at the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, described the current climate at UC schools as “deeply troubling.” …

Statements by Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi:
On the divestment vote (which was accompanied by a second divestment vote that included the U.S. as a divestment target):
[1] Note: I am not saying that there wouldn't be extreme situations in which university officials might be forced to comment and step in. The incident described below would certainly warrant an official reaction.

From Inside Higher Ed:
Students Urge South African University to Expel Jews
February 12, 2015
The student government of the Durban University of Technology, in South Africa, has called on the institution to expel Jewish students, although some quotes from student leaders suggest that Jewish students who support the Palestinian cause could remain, The Daily News reported. Mqondisi Duma, secretary of the student government, said, "We had a meeting and analyzed international politics. We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.” A statement from Ahmed C. Bawa, vice chancellor of the university, denounced the student government's request. He called the request "outrageous, preposterous and a deep violation of our National Constitution and every human rights principle."

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