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Pro-Palestinian Class Proposal Under Review
Re-published with permission of the Daily Californian

Discuss this article in the Daily Cal  forums.

Contributing Writers
Friday, May 10, 2002

UC Berkeley administrators are reviewing how an English course focusing on the plight of Palestinians received approval for next fall even though it discourages conservative students from enrolling.

The English R1A reading and comprehension course, titled "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," states in its course description that "conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections"�a violation of the university's Faculty Code of Conduct.

According to the course description, the class "takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination."

"The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has been ongoing since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed and maimed millions of Palestinian people," the course description reads. "And yet from under the brutal weight of the occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance."

The class is taught by graduate student Snehal Shingavi, also a leader of the recently reinstated student group Students for Justice in Palestine. The group had been suspended last month for disrupting classes in their five-hour siege of a campus building.

University administrators are reviewing the course proposal and working to ensure that all course descriptions adhere to the faculty code.

The English department plans to revise the description to ensure open access to the course, which fulfills part of the university's reading and composition requirement. The department chair is expected to closely supervise the course, according to a campus spokesperson.

"It is not appropriate for an academic class to discourage or exclude anyone from attending on political grounds," Chancellor Robert Berdahl said in an interview with The Daily Californian. "That is very objectionable. The discourse cannot be constrained by the political perspective of an instructor."

But Shingavi denied the statement is meant to exclude anybody, saying that his definition of "conservative thinkers" referred to those that are "limited or narrow in scope."

"Students are encouraged to take my class irrespective of their political convictions," he said, although he declined to comment on what action he would take if a student in his course did not believe in Palestinian sovereignty.

The course will only explore varying pro-Palestinian arguments rather than the debate between Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli occupation, Shingavi said.

"If you can't accept that Palestinians have the right to self-determination, it is impossible to read resistance poetry," Shingavi said. "Instructors should have the right to teach the material that they want and should have control over the discussion."

Critics of the course said its description, along with its reading list, demonstrate that Shingavi intends to limit political debate in favor of the Palestinian cause.

"I think this is yet another example of political indoctrination taking precedence over debates and discussion," said Israel Action Committee President Randy Barnes. "This is just one more reason Cal is the laughing stock of the country."

But Shingavi's supporters said the course would offer precisely what its opponents claim it stifles�academic freedom.

"It's very hard to get the Palestinian narrative point of view anywhere in the country," said Students for Justice in Palestine member Will Youmans. "(The controversy) has nothing to do with the superceded bias of the class. It has to do with the views being presented, which is clearly a form of censorship."

Some students also praised the course for recognizing the academic legitimacy of Palestinian literature.

Sophomore Jessica Heyman, an English major, said the course will offer a "different perspective" in comparison to most English courses that focus on American and European literature.

The English department chair, who could not be reached, will be supervising this course to ensure it fits the Faculty Code of Conduct, particularly the rule of "no discrimination, including harassment against a student on political grounds."

Shingavi maintained his course is an unnecessary target of controversy and said the university does not hold other "controversial" courses, including those "pro-Israeli" to the same level of scrutiny as it has to his course.

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