(August 14, 2020 / JNS) A total of 90 education, civil-rights and religious groups have called on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto a bill that would make ethnic-studies courses a California State University (CSU) graduation requirement.
California’s Department of Education released its recommendations to revise the state’s proposed ethnic-studies model curriculum at the end of July, as the original draft curriculum had come under fire for containing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content, in addition to not addressing issues of anti-Semitism or including Jewish Americans.
The AB-1460 bill recently approved by the California legislature and currently is awaiting the governor’s signature. The legislation would require California State University students, starting with the 2021-22 school year, to take an ethnic-studies course in order to graduate.
The organizations noted an important distinction between the broad field of ethnic studies—with its goal of understanding and celebrating the contributions of the state and country’s diversity—and the narrow field of “Critical Ethnic Studies” referenced in AB 1460.
“We are deeply concerned that without adequate safeguards, these courses could become vehicles for one-sided political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the academic mission of the university, and incite bigotry and harm against some CSU students,” wrote the organizations. “In particular, we fear that the anti-Zionist orientation of Critical Ethnic Studies—the version of ethnic studies likely to be taught in response to AB 1460—coupled with the willingness of many ethnic studies faculty to bring anti-Zionist advocacy and activism into their professional spaces, will foster a toxic climate for Jewish and pro-Israel students and foment harm against them.”
The groups noted that vetoing AB 1460 is necessary because anti-Zionist advocacy and the promotion of BDS are an intrinsic part of critical ethnic studies; critical ethnic-studies faculty have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to promote BDS and anti-Zionist advocacy in their academic programming and classrooms; and faculty support and promotion of BDS are strongly linked to the harassment of Jewish students.
“While faculty have every right to engage in political advocacy and activism outside the university, recent studies suggest that many Critical Ethnic Studies faculty are bringing their extramural support for BDS and their anti-Zionist politics into their conference halls and classrooms,” wrote the organizations. “And this type of anti-Zionist political activism directly corresponds to a rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campus,” said AMCHA Initiative co-founder and director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who coordinated this letter.
Research demonstrates that departments with faculty who support BDS are five to 12 times more likely to sponsor events with BDS-supporting speakers and anti-Zionist content. BDS-supporting faculty are four times more likely to include readings by anti-Zionist and BDS-supporting authors in the syllabi of Israel-related courses they teach, according to the AMCHA Initiative.
“We therefore urge you to veto AB 1460, as well as to call on CSU Chancellor Timothy White and the CSU Board of Trustees to institute robust safeguards against using CSU classrooms and other academic or educational spaces for politically motivated advocacy and activism,” wrote the groups, noting that the University of California has a policy against using the classroom for political indoctrination.
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