It is time for the UC Davis administration to listen to the students.
On Jan. 29, I, and other faculty members, were invited to attend the meeting at which ASUCD, as elected representatives of the student community, passed a resolution presented to them by Students for Justice in Palestine to urge the UC Board of Regents to divest from four corporations that aid the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
This was the third time in three years that such a meeting was held. Each year the students in support of the resolution spent hours drafting the resolution, making sure that the language was clear, precise and free of any explicit or implicit references that could be construed as anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish or in any other way targeting citizens of the Israeli state. The resolution simply targeted certain corporations that quite openly assist the Israeli government and army in carrying out activities in the West Bank and Gaza, the occupation of which has been in violation of numerous UN resolutions, activities which themselves are in defiance of international law and in certain cases of the rulings of the Israeli Supreme court as well. Each year the students engaged in informative campaigns designed to educate the campus community about the occupation of Palestine, the suffering of the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories and the practices of the Israeli government, which are often nothing short of genocide, as can be seen by a cursory look at the international news from last summer. Each year the students who opposed the resolution also ran their own campaigns urging the student community to rally behind them and oppose the resolution. Each year, the students from both sides packed one of the large auditoria on campus, presented their arguments to the ASUCD until the senate was ready to vote. Each year, the student conduct was exemplary and not in any way infringing upon the university’s Principles of Community.
This year, nothing was different, except that the ASUCD passed the resolution with an 8-2-2 vote. Student governments at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz have passed similar resolutions. When the vote was announced, the attendees in the room, a mix of ethnicities, religions and ideological affiliations were jubilant. Those who were in opposition had already walked out rather demonstrably, accusing SJP of making a mockery of the student government. The foundations for such an incriminatory remark continue to elude me.
The mockery of the student government was yet to come. Less than 12 hours after the vote, Chancellor Katehi sent an email to the UC Davis community essentially dismissing the ASUCD resolution.
The text is fraught with unfounded implications and reflects a deep disregard for the student government, organizations and to the multiplicity of opinions and positions on the UC Davis campus.
In the first comment on the resolution, Chancellor Katehi says that it does not reflect the “position of UC Davis,” thereby implying that the students (and workers, given the UAW vote last fall) as well as a number of faculty members who have spoken in support of the resolution, are not part of UC Davis. If one then wonders who UC Davis is, some clarification comes in the following sentence: “The investment policy… is set by the UC Regents.” Since the ASUCD resolution already reflects that understanding, (you don’t urge someone to change a policy unless you know that they set the policy) the sentence must be construed as a clarification of who/what UC Davis is, according to its chancellor.
Additionally, the chancellor claims that the call upon UC Regents to change their investment policies is “very personal and emotional.” This is a claim that students across the country, whether they are calling for divestment from companies that operate in the Palestinian occupied territories or from companies involved in hydraulic fracturing, have long put to rest. Divestment is one of few widely accepted practices by which civil society can influence corporations and their impact on global politics.
Last but not least the Chancellor’s final paragraph affirms the University’s renowned academic position but I must say I find it less than convincing when she refers to a belief in a goal of “teaching, learning and serving the needs of society in a climate of justice and respect,” since I see her message as testimony to the lack of such a belief and to an utter disregard for the role of the academy as an active agent of social change.
On Tuesday, Feb. 10, students planned a march on campus. They wanted their voices to be heard by the administration and their wishes, as expressed by the vote of their student government to be respected. Their message was quite clear: We are the UC Davis community. We matter, and not only as payers of absurdly increasing tuition. Needless to say, I will be there to support them.
Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature
Graphic by Jennifer Wu