Sunday, September 4, 2016

Hands Full for the New Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Student Advisory Board?

Hands full
Last week, Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jerry Kang circulated an email about a new student advisory board that seems already to have its hands full:

Sept. 1, 2016

Fellow Bruins,

I am pleased to share some exciting news from my Office. This past May, I invited students to apply for the inaugural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Student Advisory Board. In that announcement, I indicated that I was looking for advisors, liaisons, and problem solvers who would support my Office’s mission of building equity for all.
As expected, I received a robust set of extraordinary applications from a collection of diverse and dynamic UCLA graduate and undergraduate students. Given the number of outstanding applications, it was impossible to select every qualified candidate. That said, I could not be more excited to announce that the following students have been selected to serve on the inaugural board:
Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, Alex Torpey, Brad Fingard, Chloe Pan, Connie Chang, Daisy Guilyard, Eduardo Lara, Guarav Lalsinghani, Isabel Leamon, Jabril Muhammad, Jacqueline Diaz Madrigal, Josh Tran, Kamil Oshundara, Krystal Cunningham, Stacey Shin, Vivian Wong
Like nearly every student who applied, each Board Member has a proven track record of caring deeply about equity and hustling to change the communities and institutions around them for the better. I look forward to working with, and learning from, each of these incoming Board Members. Most importantly, I am confident that their collective efforts will amplify their individual smarts and imagination.
I will provide more information regarding the Board soon. For the time being, I invite you to visit the recently revamped Equity, Diversity and Inclusion website, which continues to highlight the CrossChecks I’ve written over the past year. All questions related to the Student Advisory Board can be directed to Dr. Evelyn Carter, a member of my BruinX team.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, questions, or concerns.
Warm regards,
Jerry Kang
On the same day, the article below appeared in the Daily Bruin:*
Former Graduate Students Association president Milan Chatterjee announced he will leave UCLA for his last year of law school.
In a letter dated Aug. 24 and addressed to Chancellor Gene Block, Chatterjee claimed to have been bullied and harassed by members of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. Pro-BDS and pro-Palestine groups criticized him last October because he threatened to rescind funding from a Diversity Caucus event if the caucus took a position on BDS.
Some pro-Palestine groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, alleged Chatterjee’s actions violated viewpoint neutrality, as required by University of California policy.
University policy requires financial allocations to be made without regard to the viewpoint of any registered campus organizations. It also requires student governments to follow viewpoint-neutral criteria when reallocating mandatory campus-based student fees.
The Discrimination Prevention Office concluded after a three-month investigation that Chatterjee had violated viewpoint neutrality. The DPO is a team within the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion that investigates claims of discrimination by faculty members and other campus entities.
Chatterjee disagreed with the findings of the report in his letter, calling it an attempt by UCLA to blame him for its failing to uphold UC policy.
“This report was an attempt by (Block’s) administration to publicly scapegoat me for their systematic failure to adopt University of California policies and provide the necessary guidance to me and other student organizations when we approached them for help,” Chatterjee wrote.
UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said in a statement that UCLA stands by the DPO’s investigation of Chatterjee.
“The university’s investigation included interviews as well as careful reviews of meeting minutes and related documents, email correspondence and applicable university regulations,” Vazquez said. “All parties were given the opportunity to provide evidence and no evidence offered by the parties was excluded.”
Vazquez added while UCLA does not support divestment from Israel, it recognizes the right of students to hold such opinions.
“(UCLA) remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions. Supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez also said the investigation only determined whether Chatterjee violated viewpoint neutrality, not if he did so knowingly or purposefully.
Chatterjee said in his letter he plans to finish his last year of law school at New York University while still receiving a UCLA degree. He declined to comment further about.
As might be imagined, the controversy has begun circulating on the web, particularly in Jewish-oriented and Indian-oriented sources.** The charge now raised by Chatterjee in a letter to Chancellor Block*** is that he has been hounded out of UCLA. That issue is separate from the original issue when the controversy started which was whether he had made an improper funding decision as president of.GSA. The matter seems like an item that needs to be looked at by the new board who VC Kang describes as "advisors, liaisons, and problem solvers." Either there was inappropriate hounding or there wasn't. If there was, what should be the consequence? Or should the university take a hands-off posture concerning what student organizations do? 

There are other more general issues raised here. The funding involved came from university-mandated student fees that support student government. So we have another example of the activities within student government appearing to be official policy of the university. Some blog readers will recall the flag incident at UC-Irvine, for example, in which an action within a student group became viewed as official policy of the university.**** We have noted in past postings that creating greater distance between student organizations and the university would avoid public confusion between what university policy is and what student organizations do. Perhaps the new board might look into whether there should be some change in the relationship between student organizations - particularly those that take political positions - and the university.

***Text of letter:
August 24, 2016
Chancellor Gene Block
University of California, Los Angeles
Chancellor's Office
Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405
RE: Leaving UCLA Due to Hostile and Unsafe Campus Climate
Dear Chancellor Block,
I write to inform you that I have decided to complete the final year of my UCLA School of Law program at a different institution. The hostile and unsafe campus environment I am facing at UCLA has left me with no choice but to move away from this university at great additional expense to me and my family.
Since November 2015, I have been relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by BDS-affiliated organizations and students. The smear and harassment campaign started with the false accusation that I (an Indian-American Hindu) was not "viewpoint neutral" when allocating funds, in my capacity as Graduate Student Body President, to a diversity event. What really occurred is that my administration and I abstained from supporting either a pro- or anti- BDS agenda. This condition was explicitly approved by a UCLA administrator. The event took place on November 5, 2015 and a variety of campus viewpoints were actively represented, including both sides of the issues raised by the BDS movement. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky-one of America's leading constitutional law scholars-and four legal organizations concluded that my administration and I acted in a viewpoint neutral manner.
Subsequently, BDS activists wrote defamatory articles about me and led a grassroots campaign against me on the UCLA campus. They even tried, on multiple occasions, to remove me as Graduate Student Body President. I reached out to senior members of your administration-many times-for guidance and support to defuse this situation. Furthermore, I believed that these administrators would be especially sensitive given the public outcry caused by similar BDS-led efforts against UCLA students Rachel Beyda, Avi Oved, Lauren Rogers, and Sunny Singh. I could not have been more mistaken. Your administrators were non-responsive and unhelpful.
In fact, when Palestine Legal and the ACLU circulated a legal letter defaming me on the Internet, had their attorneys write a libelous article about me in the Daily Bruin, and sent lawyers to Graduate Student Association meetings to attack me personally, I contacted the Interim Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs many times for help. Not only did she decline to provide me with the necessary legal support, but she told me that I needed to get my own attorney. Finally, I was connected to the American Jewish Committee, who found the situation serious enough to refer me to pro-bono counsel.
In late February 2016, my new attorney, Peter M. Weil, of Glaser Weil LLP, sent you and several senior members of your administration, a lengthy letter detailing the constant bullying, harassment and attacks to which I was being subjected. Your administration chose to not take any action or even investigate this matter.
To make matters worse, at the behest of pro-BDS organizations, the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) launched a three-month-long investigation of me. His office wrote a defamatory, 27-page report which has been heavily condemned by seven major organizations.
In reality, this report was an attempt by your administration to publicly scapegoat me for their systematic failure to adopt and implement University of California policies, and provide the necessary guidance to me and other student organizations when we approached them for help. Your administrators fell asleep on the job and decided to blame me - a student - for it.
But the desire to vilify me did not stop there. Although the Report was designated as "Confidential," no reasonable safeguards were adopted to preserve the report's confidentiality. It was readily foreseeable that pro-BDS organizations-whom your administration freely made this "Confidential Report" available to - could and would leak it. No efforts were made to prevent this and, of course, this is precisely what occurred.
In violation of confidentiality and retaliation policies, Students for Justice in Palestine openly and unlawfully leaked the EDI report onto the Internet. When I filed a complaint about this violation, your administration declined to investigate it. Worse yet, the Vice Chancellor of EDI, on his blog, urged the public to read this leaked confidential report, and gave them access to it. As recent as August 22, 2016, there was a scurrilous op-ed piece in the Daily Bruin attacking me and relying extensively on the so called Confidential Report.
UCLA is one of the finest universities in the world. It is unfortunate, indeed, that your administration has not only allowed BDS organizations and student activists to freely engage in intimidation of students who do not support the BDS agenda, but has decided to affirmatively engage in discriminatory practices of its own against those same students. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the fact is that the UCLA campus has become a hostile and unsafe environment for students, Jewish and non-Jewish, who choose not to support the BDS movement, let alone support the State of Israel.
I implore you to acknowledge the reality of this regrettable situation and take corrective action that not only remedies my grievances but addresses the current hostile and unsafe campus climate generally so that other students are not forced to leave UCLA. It is too late for me, but I sincerely hope that it will not be too late for those students who follow me.
I will be returning to Los Angeles as often as necessary in order to pursue the discrimination grievance that I filed pursuant to UCLA Procedure 230.1.
Milan Chatterjee

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