A public letter signed by nearly 150 professors from the University of California (UC) has challenged the proposals of UC President Michael Drake, including a plan to train faculty on providing a 'viewpoint-neutral history of the Middle East.' The professors fear that this initiative could compromise the academic integrity of UC scholars and erode the principle of faculty shared governance, a system that assigns faculty the responsibility for academic program quality.
Concerns Over Academic Freedom and Surveillance
The professors' objections come in response to President Drake's announcement that $7 million from his office's budget would be allocated to specific areas. These include $3 million for emergency mental health support, $2 million for educational programs to enhance public discourse on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and extremism, and another $2 million for training UC leaders and educators. However, the faculty is particularly concerned with the use of the term 'viewpoint-neutral history', fearing it may inhibit academic freedom and lead to surveillance and intimidation of faculty and students.
Echoes of the UK's 'Prevent' Strategy
The professors' letter draws parallels between Drake's proposals and the controversial UK's 'Prevent' strategy, designed to stop people from being drawn into extremism. This strategy has been criticized for implementing methods that 'monitor, surveil, silence and intimidate students and faculty who engage in research or express opinions critical of the UK Government and its policies.'
The UC's Response
In response to the professors' objections, the UC has clarified that the proposed educational programs will be voluntary and are not designed to dictate classroom content or curricula. Reaffirming their commitment to shared governance and academic freedom, they are working with campuses to determine the most effective use of the funds. This development comes amidst increasing tensions on college campuses related to heated protests about the Israel-Hamas war.