Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time to Go Separate Ways?

Some blog readers may recall the “Asians in the Library” episode at UCLA in 2011.  A UCLA student ranted about Asians in the library on a YouTube video – apparently to get attention as part of some venture on the Internet.  Chancellor Block then made a counter-video on YouTube, condemning the rant.* Of course, the student who did the rant-video – although enrolled at UCLA at the time – was not speaking in any official capacity for the university.  No one could hold the university officially responsible for her remarks.  But at that time, UC and UCLA officials seemed to feel responsible for everything that occurred in some relation to the university which could result in an unfortunate “campus climate” and could tarnish relations with the external world.

In an earlier post, we noted that matters that go on in student government – in contrast to the Asians in the Library rant – do have a formal connection to UCLA and UC. Student government is recognized as an official body representing all students. We suggested that rather than try to apologize for unfortunate events in student government that have occurred of late, mainly in the context of conflicts between anti-Israel and pro-Israel student politicians, it might be best to loosen the connection between student government and official UC and UCLA.**  It is the official status of student government that makes UC and UCLA in some sense formally responsible for what goes on there.  

At present, given its budgetary problems with the state and governor, UC needs friends in the political world and needs general public goodwill.  Folks in the legislature, for example, are currently contemplating steps to erode UC’s longstanding constitutional autonomy.*** Such erosion would be a Bad Thing. The student government events described below in the Daily Bruin seem unlikely to promote such needed external friendship; they suggests why UC/UCLA and student government need a greater degree of separation:

Last week, I attended a council meeting to support my roommate, sorority sister and best friend, Rachel Beyda, as she went through the last step of being confirmed by the council as an appointed justice to the Judicial Board of the Undergraduate Students Association Council. I greatly admire Rachel’s academic success and the passion and determination she has demonstrated toward her goal of becoming a lawyer. I have seen her accrue immense leadership skills and experience in the legal field, both at UCLA, as the current law clerk for the Judicial Board and beyond. Therefore, as I ascended the stairs to Kerckhoff 417, I incorrectly assumed the confirmation of Rachel’s appointment would be quick and simple. Rachel had been unanimously approved by the Appointments Review Committee consisting of three council members before she flawlessly introduced herself to the council. However, the first question directed at her by General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth was an attack on Rachel’s ability to be a justice based on her involvement in the Jewish community. At President Avinoam Baral’s insistence, the question was phrased slightly more considerately by Transfer Student Representative Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, but this first question set the tone. Rachel finished the interview, making two important points: first, anyone qualified for the position would be a critical thinker who is knowledgeable about campus issues and therefore, has his or her own opinions and second, she has no significant political affiliations. Furthermore, she demonstrated an understanding of what actually having a conflict of interest means and acknowledged that a justice should remove herself from the decision-making process under those circumstances. Rachel was asked to leave the room for council discussion. What followed was a disgusting 40 minutes of what can only be described as unequivocal anti-Semitism during which some of our council members resorted to some of the oldest accusations against Jews, including divided loyalties and dishonesty…

Full story at
Chancellor Block could make another YouTube response video about the event described above.  But in the end there is one key difference.  The Asians in the Library YouTube rant he condemned in his 2011 video response was not an official university activity.  Were he to make such a video response, or issue a similar statement today, about the issue described above, he could not say the same for student government.  In its current format, student government is not just another extracurricular activity, let alone something separate from the university.
UPDATE: The administration released a statement in the form of a letter to the editor:

I am always reluctant to comment on student processes to avoid even the appearance of influence. However, I want to applaud the Daily Bruin’s fair and principled editorial, “Objections to USAC Judicial Board appointment discriminatory,” published on Feb.12, that took to task the questioning of the qualifications of a candidate for the Undergraduate Students Association Council Judicial Board specifically based on her Jewish religious and personal identity. What would we do if a candidate was questioned because she or he was African American or undocumented, and issues related to diversity, immigration or affirmative action were expected to arise? I hope all Bruins recognize the need to rededicate ourselves to the work of embodying our True Bruin values and our commitment to the broader goal of sustaining a multiethnic democracy that respects the dignity of all its members. I believe our community is more generous, thoughtful and inclusive than this particular incident would suggest.

Janina Montero, vice chancellor for student affairs


No comments: