UC Releases Jewish Campus Climate Report

Marlin Agoub/New University

After a year of fact-finding teams meeting with various members of the Jewish communities in the UC system, the UC President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate released a report on Jewish campus climate in the UC system on July 9. The release, however, was not free from backlash — several UC faculty, students and alumni including members of the Palestinian and Muslim communities requested President Mark G. Yudof to table the current report, citing “problematic” aspects of the report.

The University of California defines campus climate as a “measure — real or perceived — of the campus environment as it relates to interpersonal, academic and professional interactions.” A healthy climate is characterized by both individuals and groups generally feeling welcomed, respected and valued by the university, which provides a forum for dialogue and interactions between different perspectives. The presence of these individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives results in diversity. Climate, on the other hand, “refers to the experience of individuals and groups … and the quality and extent of that interaction.”

The Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion was formed in 2010 by UC President Mark G. Yudof with the goal of addressing issues in enhancing and ensuring a UC-wide tolerant environment for students, staff and faculty. The members of the Advisory Council include individuals from the 10 UC campuses, student representatives and members of various community groups.

In 2011, the Advisory Council was charged with finding out about the challenges as well as the positive campus experiences of Jewish students at the University of California and to also provide steps to improve campus climate for Jewish students and other communities.

The report presents a mixed bag of results for the Jewish community. Jewish students do have access to “thriving, open communities” and do have a prominent place on the campuses in terms of “numbers, access to services and opportunities to explore their religion, history and culture.”

The Jewish community itself is also very diverse, and that “makes generalizations difficult” in recommending solutions to some of the issues, particularly the issue of Israel. Students said they often felt dragged into the debate or stamped as anti-Palestinian even though the opinions regarding the issue within the community are diverse as well.

The report also said Jewish students face hostility and isolation because of activities on campus that focus on the issues of Israel and Palestine. This “anti-Zionism,” the report says, was a “focal point” of discussions with students, Jewish organizers, faculty and administration. Students reportedly experienced more hate speech during the spring pro-Palestinian events across the UC campuses, including the Apartheid Week at UCI.

UC student body officers and several UC Muslim, Arab and Palestinian student organizations drafted a response to the report with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The response found issue with what they believed to be an unfair, partisan approach to the report and President Yudof’s policy in general. The students said President Yudof could not fairly address a bad campus climate by putting tabs on pro-Palestinian activities and opposing views critical of Israel.

The drafters of the letter asked President Yudof to go in the opposite direction of suppressing debate and instead “provide a safe environment for student events and that also do not reinforce a perception that there is a hostile environment for uncomfortable speech.” Labeling certain rhetoric as “bad” or “good” speech and attempting to regulate it would take away the ability of speech to be “provocative and challenging.”

The climate report and its recommendations have been met with backlash from not only members of the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian community, but also the Jewish community. A group of Jewish students, faculty and alumni filed a letter and petition calling for the tabling of the report.

Their letter stated the recommendations are “problematic” because they “omit the experiences of many students and faculty in the Jewish community, grossly misrepresent educational initiatives focused on Israel and Palestine and political organizing in support of Palestinian rights, and threaten academic freedom on our campuses.” The letter says the report does not show whose opinions are included, and this is problematic because of the diverse political and cultural stances of the Jewish community.