“Berkeley Chancellor refuses to sever UCB’s official connection with anti-Israel event.”

(Below is the correspondence as forwarded to OCITF:)


Subject: RE: Followup to Serious concerns about UCB event Tues, Oct 26

Dear Prof. Beckwith:

In response to your inquiry, I am providing you a  statement from Prof. Anthony Cascardi, Director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities, which I endorse.

Yours sincerely,
Robert Birgeneau


Subject: RE: Followup to Serious concerns about UCB event Tues, Oct 26

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau:

We appreciate that you responded to our letter and forwarded the statement from Professor Cascardi.  However, Prof. Cascardi’s comments and your endorsement of them dismay and deeply concern us for the following reasons:

  • Despite Prof. Cascardi’s efforts to minimize UC Berkeley’s connection to tonight’s event, “What Can American Academia Do to Realize Justice for Palestinians?”, he nevertheless confirms that connection by acknowledging the fact that the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group is indeed a co-sponsor of the event.  He states that “the co-sponsorship is for the purposes of publicity,” which means UCB gave its imprimatur to the event, and even more, that the organizers actually exploited their university connection to promote a boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions.  The fact that the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group is only one of 50 working groups and gets little money is irrelevant.  The university is still associated with this event and therefore responsible for helping to promote the boycott effort.

  • Moreover, Prof. Cascardi tries to further distance UCB from the event by claiming it is a “MECA event”.  But this is not the case. The UCB Students for Justice in Palestine is the the event’s primary sponsor, and by virtue of the fact that the SJP is an official student group, your university is once again officially associated with efforts to promote an academic boycott of Israel.

  • Prof. Cascardi claims that the Townsend Center “does not endorse political agendas but rather provides space for open conversation,” adding that the center “would not fund any group that might act other than in a spirit of intellectual openness.”   However, it is self-evident that this event is not promoting intellectual openness or debate.  Instead, there is every reason to conclude that it will advocate the academic boycott of Israel.   Indeed Professor Bacchetta, faculty representative of the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group, is herself an endorser of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, as are the invited speakers and co-sponsoring groups.  Prof. Bacchetta appears to be using her university position to promote an egregiously one-sided, virulently anti-Israel political agenda.

  • Despite Prof. Cascardi’s assurance that the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group claims that it is “not endorsing any position that could be construed as hateful of any religious or ethnic group,” the academic boycott promoted by this event would discriminate against students and faculty at the University of California on the basis of national origin, religious, and/or ethnic identity, thereby violating our state and federal anti-discrimination and civil rights laws.

We reiterate our previous concerns about this event and your university’s implicit endorsement of it:
  • The boycott of Israeli scholars is an infringement of academic freedom.
  • The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is antisemitic according to the Working Definition of Antisemitism of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia  as adopted by the U.S. State Department.
  • The BDS campaign contributes to a hostile environment for Jewish students on your campus.
  • The BDS campaign defies the UC Regents’ stated policy that boycott, divestment, and sanctions will  be used only against countries that the U.S. government deems genocidal.
  • Promoting an extension of the Arab boycott against Israel is a violation of U.S. law.
We once again urge you to:

  • sever  the university’s involvement with this event by ensuring that the Townsend Center withdraws its co-sponsorship;
  • publicly inform the UCB community of your action and the reasons for it;
  • issue a public condemnation of the BDS campaign on your campus.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, UCLA
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, UCSC
Roberta Seid, Lecturer, UCSD

UCB Chancellor Birgeneau: chancellor@berkeley.edu
UC President Yudof: President@ucop.edu
The UC Regents: regentsoffice@ucop.edu
Anthony J. Cascardi, Director of the Townsend Center for the
Humanities at UCB: ajcascardi@berkeley.edu

One Response

  1. UC Berkeley raise doubts about Chancellor Birgeneau. UC Berkeley’s recent elimination of popular sports programs highlighted endemic problems in the university’s management. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians in Sacramento, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.

    A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Competent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left.

    It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization.

    From time to time, a whistleblower would bring some glaring problem to light, but the chancellor’s response was to dig in and defend rather than listen and act. Since UC has been exempted from most whistleblower lawsuits, there are ultimately no negative consequences for maintaining inefficiencies.

    In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC president, Board of Regents, and California legislators to jolt UC Berkeley back to life, applying some simple check-and-balance management principles. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, students, Academic Senate, Cal. Alumni, and financial donators and await the transformation.

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