‘Instructors are not supposed to rescind invitations for classroom speakers based on student disagreement with the speaker’s views,’ university says.
A University of California Berkeley “environmental policy class,” canceled a local Jewish politician because of his views on Israel.
Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb “has spent decades working on environmental policy in the nonprofit sector, advocating for clean energy, combating climate change and working on other conservation priorities,” according to J, a Jewish news outlet in Northern California.
The outlet reported on Dec. 14:
He was invited to address an undergraduate course called Environmental Problem Solving, something he’d done a few times in previous semesters. He planned to share his experience advocating for climate policy at the local and state level, both as a nonprofit professional with groups like the Sierra Club and as a lawmaker.
But in the weeks leading up to Kalb’s Nov. 21 presentation, a group of students looked into his background and found social media posts that they said promoted “pro-Israeli propaganda.” Days prior to the event, Kurt Spreyer, the course instructor and an adjunct professor, contacted Kalb and shared a strongly worded letter that had been composed and co-signed by more than 30 students.
Kalb (pictured) called the situation “crazy” but is not upset at Spreyer, his neighbor. After the cancelation he voted for a “ceasefire” in Gaza.
The letter stated in part:
As an Oakland City Council member with a platform advocating for environmental and social justice, affordable housing, and universal access to health care, among other things, it is utterly disappointing and hypocritical for someone of your esteem to be in support of the apartheid state of Israel and the current and ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
Spreyer said he canceled the class to avoid disruptions, according to what Kalb told J.
Spreyer reportedly was concerned about two scenarios. The first was that if Kalb did come, “I would never get to speak about climate change,” Kalb said. “Students would force a conversation about the Middle East.” Spreyer also worried that there would be student protests.
“I don’t know if that would have happened or not, but he was worried about that,” Kalb said. “And he didn’t want to invite that. So he felt it would be best if I didn’t come this year. He felt very bad and said he was sorry. And that was that.”
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof told J the cancelation was “not consistent with the university’s values, particularly because the class discussion had nothing to do with the war between Israel and Hamas.”
“Instructors are not supposed to rescind invitations for classroom speakers based on student disagreement with the speaker’s views,” Mogulof said. The university has apologized to Kalb.
The provost will be informing school leadership “to remind them of Berkeley’s support for an open exchange of ideas, and our rejection of political litmus tests when it comes to who can speak in our classes,” the spokesman said.
IMAGE: City of Oakland