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24 July 2002

Fact Sheet on English R1A: "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance"

These are key points in a months-long process of collaboration between the Chancellor, the faculty and the graduate student instructor to address problems and issues raised by plans for a graduate student instructor to teach a section of the course, English R1A. The graduate student instructor titled this section: "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance."

  • The Academic Senate Committee on Courses of Instruction, which has authority to take final action on all matters relating to courses, approved the reading and composition course, English R1A, offered by the English Department. The approved course description appears in the General Catalogue. English R1A is one of 12,700 courses offered annually, including many other courses in Middle Eastern and Jewish studies.
  • The English Department may offer sections of the approved English R1A course. Section topics may vary by instructor. The descriptions for these sections do not appear in the General Catalogue. They appear on-line and tend to be offered only once. These sections are not permanent course offerings.
  • R1A&B are required Reading and Composition courses that are taught by graduate student instructors in many sections. Approximately 60 sections are offered each semester in the English Department and other Departments. Students have the option of choosing from any one of these section offerings to meet the requirement. The content is determined largely by the graduate student instructor under the supervision of a faculty member. Instructors select original literature and secondary texts to provide a basis for class discussions and writing exercises involving analysis and argument which make up the real work of the course. There is an upper limit of 17 students per section to ensure maximum attention for each of the students by the instructor. The enrollment for the section "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance" is full.
  • On May 9, the day he learned of the section description of the English R1A course, "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," Chancellor Berdahl convened a meeting with the chair of the English Department. There was unanimous agreement that the line in the original section description discouraging "conservative thinkers" from enrolling violates the faculty code. That language was dropped from the description. Subsequently, the section description was further changed to clarify what will be taught and the methodology for achieving the instructional purposes of the course.
  • On that same day, May 9, Chancellor Berdahl issued a public statement that was released to the media and posted on the campus Web site. It reported the initial change made to the description and declared the university's commitment to take all actions necessary to ensure that the class will be conducted in a manner in which students will feel free to express all views and that their evaluations will be based solely on their academic performance, not their political viewpoint.
  • The Chancellor and the English Department chair acknowledged in the announcement that there was a failure of oversight on the part of the English Department in reviewing section descriptions authored by graduate student instructors.
  • Also on May 9, the chair assumed a direct mentoring role with the graduate student instructor that continues through the summer.
  • The English Department put into place new oversight structures to ensure that all current and future section descriptions be developed in accord with the Faculty Code of Conduct, specifically that courses not exclude or discourage qualified students on grounds other than lack of preparation.
  • In a letter to The Wall Street Journal published on May 17, Chancellor Berdahl again outlined the campus's response, detailing the change in the section description, the English Department's commitment to oversight and its on-going efforts to ensure that the section description and the actual course work allow for open and free discussions.
  • Chancellor Berdahl continued to meet with faculty and campus administrators to discuss the issue and ensure that disturbing questions about the proposed section were addressed.
  • On May 20 Chancellor Berdahl sent a letter to University of California President Richard Atkinson, updating him on the actions taken to rectify errors caused by the English Department's failure of oversight in approving the language of the original description. These key points are announced in a press release to the media and posted on the university website:
  • The English Department chair, working with the graduate student instructor, removed the inappropriate sentence excluding other viewpoints.
  • The graduate student instructor amended the section description to clarify what will be taught and the methodology for achieving the instructional purposes of the course, consistent with the requirements of English 1A.
  • The Chancellor and English Department faculty members make clear the requirement that students in any course have the right to express themselves openly and to have their work evaluated free of discrimination or harassment.

  • The English Department chair will explicitly advise students enrolled in the class of these rights. If students believe that these rights are compromised, they are to contact the department chair immediately.
  • The English Department articulates its commitment to guarantee students enrolled in the class that their evaluations are based solely on their academic performance, not their political viewpoint.
  • Because of the controversy aroused by this section and the potential for in-class conflict, a senior member of the English Department Faculty, Professor Steven Goldsmith, will attend each class as an observer. He and other members of the Department will continue to mentor the graduate student instructor during the semester.
  • A joint Academic Senate/administrative committee will review the principles and practices of mentoring and overseeing all sections led by graduate student instructors.
  • On July 14, after consultation with the Chair of the English Department, the graduate student instructor submitted a revised section description. The book list and description follow. The books on the reading list below have been read by Chancellor Berdahl, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, the Chair of the English Department and other senior administrators and faculty members. All believe that these books are appropriate material for the purpose of this section.

Book list: (tentative) Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories, Ghassan Kanafani; Born Black, Suheir Hammad; Drops of This Story, Suheir Hammad; Enemy of the Sun, Naseer Hasan Aruri; The Adam of Two Edens : Selected Poems, Mahmud Darwish; Memory for Forgetfulness : August, Beirut, 1982, Mahmud Darwish; Victims of a Map : A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry, Mahmud Darwish; Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Norman G. Finkelstein; The Question of Palestine, Edward W. Said; Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, Edward W. Said; The Politics of Dispossession: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination, 1969-1994, Edward W. Said; Intifada, Phil Marshall.

Section Description: This is a course on Palestinian resistance poetry. It takes as its point of departure the Palestinian literature that has developed since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, which has displaced, maimed, and killed many Palestinian people. The Israeli military occupation of historic Palestine has caused unspeakable suffering. Since the occupation, Palestinians have been fighting for their right to exist. And yet, from under the weight of this occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance. This class will examine the history of the Palestinian resistance and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians. This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination.

Discussions about the literature will focus on several intersecting themes: how are Palestinian artists able to imagine art under the occupation; what consequences does resistance have on the character of the art that is produced (i.e. why are there so few Palestinian epics and plays and comedies); can one represent the Israeli occupation in art; what is the difference between political art and propaganda and how do the debates about those terms inflect the production of literature; how do poems represent the desire to escape and the longing for home simultaneously (alternatively, how do poems represent the nation without a state); what consequence do political debates have on formal innovations and their reproduction; and what are the obligations of artists in representing the occupation.

This 1A course offers students frequent practice in a variety of forms of discourse leading toward exposition and argumentation in common standard English. The course aims at continuing to develop the students' practical fluency with sentence, paragraph and thesis-development skills but with increasingly complex applications. Students will be assigned a number of short essays (2-4 written pages) and several revisions.

  • The Committee on Courses of Instruction (COCI) of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate is delegated the responsibility for reviewing all courses offered on the campus. Because of the controversy surrounding "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," the Chancellor asked the Chair of the Academic Senate to convene COCI for the purpose of consulting with the English Department on the handling of these sections in general and on the specifics of the above mentioned section. The Humanities Subcommittee of COCI (with full authority to act for COCI due to absence of some members during the summer) met. With regard to the specific section, David Dowall, the Chair of the Berkeley Division wrote to the Chancellor: "The subcommittee found that course section description acceptable and consistent with the course approved by COCI.1 The subcommittee noted that the reading list was reasonable." The subcommittee also noted that, prior to the current issue, no complaints had been received regarding the topics or instruction of reading and composition sections. At President Atkinson's request, the full COCI committee will review the subcommittee finding as soon as it can be convened.
  • Instruction begins on August 26. "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance" section (4 units) convenes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m.