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UCLA Professor Admonished for Including a Political Link on His Syllabus

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A professor at UCLA has been admonished for including on his syllabus a link to a website that advocates for a boycott of Israel.

David Shorter, an associate professor of world arts and cultures, taught a class this winter called "Tribal Worldviews" that focuses on "native people’s worldviews as they are expressed through language, mythology, ritual, health practices, languages and ecology," according to the Daily Bruin. On the class syllabus Shorter included a link to a group advocating for a boycott of Israel that included a petition with his own signature (screenshots here and here).

This link's placement on the syllabus rankled a student who reached out to the AMCHA Initiative. Tammi Benjamin, co-founder of AMCHA and a lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish studies at UC Santa Cruz, says she believes Shorter is using his position as a professor to promote activism that harms Israel.

"We felt he was pushing and promoting (the boycott) in his class," Benjamin told the Daily Bruin. "(Students) have to go to it as a requirement for the course. … He’s promoting his own political agenda and our academic integrity told us this is wrong."

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Shorter said he put the link up as a resource for students who chose to do a research paper on Gaza, since Palestinians are recognized as native people by the UN. It was one of four topics students could tackle in a research paper through the lens of indigenous studies.

Andrew Leuchter, the chair of the UCLA Academic Senate, seemed to agree with AMCHA's concern and wrote to them that it was "not appropriate" for a faculty member to post a link to a political petition as a course resource. Leuchter informally took Shorter aside and explained to him why the link's placement was problematic. He came away with the meeting believing that Shorter had agreed never to put that link on his syllabus again. Shorter told the Los Angeles Times he never made that promise.

It looks like a lot of this has been played out almost entirely through the press. Shorter said he wasn't aware that a student had complained about the class to AMCHA. He said he welcomes a discussion about the link, but says he never received any formal written complaint about the link from any students, AMCHA, the academic senate or any other UC official.

Now the Californian Scholars for Academic Freedom is criticizing the way that UCLA handled the issue. It is concerned that the professor's academic freedom was being infringed and also that the university released information about the issue to the press without Shorter’s knowledge.

Columnist Glenn Greenwald at Salon explains that this dust-up at UCLA concerns him:

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The petulant entitlement needed to demand that nobody in that setting ever cite or mention objectionable political views is just staggering; it also reveals a severe lack of confidence in the validity of one’s own views. Whatever one thinks of it on the merits, the belief that Israel should be targeted with boycotts and divestment for its apartheid policies the way South Africa was is one that is embraced by many people in many places around the world. It’s hard to express how anti-intellectual and oppressive it is to demand that such a view never even be discussed or aired — of all places — on an academic campus, and to formally complain against a Professor who merely mentions it on a website.