Public Accountability > Transparent Progress > Anthro Incident
On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, a guest lecturer spoke in UCLA Anthropology M144P (“Constructing Race”). A contentious Q&A followed the lecture. Some have alleged that the nature and content of the lecture was anti-Semitic. Others, in contrast, have defended the lecture and characterized those very charges, as well as media accounts, as biased.
We appreciate the gravity of any claim alleging anti-Semitism or racism. We also recognize that many members of the UCLA community and broader public want to know what happened and what the university will do about it.
To provide accurate information on this matter, we have created this page to catalog basic facts that we are able to share — consistent with confidentiality requirements. We also want to provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions in the spirit of honest and self-critical engagement.
To be clear, discrimination and harassment undermine our commitment to build an equal learning environment and are prohibited by University policy. As Chancellor Block has repeated, anti-Semitism and racism more broadly have no place at UCLA. UCLA also maintains an equally robust commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry, which form the bedrock on which our mission of learning and discovery is founded. This is especially important when people sincerely disagree about the facts and their meaning.
These commitments are sometimes hard to reconcile, but we must always do our level best.
original post date: 2019 05 28
(last updated: 2019 10 11)
- 2019.05.14: Guest Lecturer speaks @ Anthropology M144P.
➡ Full video of the lecture is available on Facebook (Q&A begins around 54:00).
- 2019.05.14: Students communicate their concerns to various parties, including UCLA’s Senior Administration.
- 2019.05.16: Media coverage commences.
- 2019.05.17: UCLA provides a standard statement to inquiries:
Several students in Professor Kyeyoung Park’s Anthropology M144P course have raised concerns about the nature and content of a lecture delivered by a guest speaker on Tuesday, May 14, which they felt went beyond legitimate criticism of the State of Israel into anti-Semitism.
The University is committed to academic freedom as well as building an inclusive learning environment without discrimination and harassment. Senior leadership are aware of the concerns and are working together to learn more and to find a satisfying resolution. In accordance with university procedure, allegations of discrimination or harassment have been conveyed to the Discrimination Prevention Office.
- 2019.05.29: UCLA Academic Senate’s Academic Freedom Committee releases statement (for more about the Academic Senate and “shared governance,” please see FAQ #5 below).
- 2019.10.11: UCLA releases an updated statement:
This spring a few students in Anthropology M144P raised concerns about a guest speaker who lectured on Islamophobia. From their perspective, the lecture went beyond legitimate criticism of the State of Israel and instead harshly criticized Zionism in a manner which they deemed anti-Semitic.
A complaint was made to UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO), which investigates reports of discrimination or harassment based on race, religion, and other legally protected categories. After viewing a recording of the class and interviewing participants, DPO, while not endorsing the guest speaker’s ideas or the manner in which the class was handled, concluded that the comments made during the lecture were not the type of severe, pervasive and persistent unwelcome conduct that constitutes harassment or discrimination.
In an academic environment built on vigorous debate, students of all political persuasions may at times encounter ideas that they may find highly objectionable, even offensive. Discussions of issues of deep personal concern may be profoundly uncomfortable, but as a university our goal is to help students critically analyze even unpleasant ideas and engage across lines of difference with respect.
Even while debates about the Middle East on and off campus remain difficult, Jewish students, faculty and staff have created a vibrant Jewish—including a significant Zionist—presence at UCLA. In fact, UCLA recently was praised by the Forward newspaper as the #1 campus for Jewish life on the West Coast and #3 in the nation. Dozens of faculty teach thousands of students in Jewish Studies courses every year; we have several active Jewish student groups and maintain multiple relationships with Israeli institutions; and Jewish students, staff and faculty are fully engaged in campus life and programming. We seek a learning environment where all students, including Jewish students of all political commitments, have an equal opportunity to thrive.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. From press accounts, emails, blogs, and social media, I’ve heard different accounts of what occurred in class. What happened?
To answer what actually “happened,” and whether conduct in the class violated any University policies, we have to find the facts. The University has standard operating procedures to process complaints of discrimination and harassment. Any and all such complaints are conveyed to the appropriate office, which often depends on who is accused of wrongdoing. Complaints made against faculty are handled by the Discrimination Prevention Office. Pursuant to published procedures, those complaints sometimes lead to Formal Investigations, which produce detailed Investigation Reports. Those reports, which determine what “happened” and whether University policy was violated, often take months to produce because of the care and thoroughness required. When completed, redacted versions are provided to the complainants and the respondents but not to the general public. (Instead, the general public can see annual summary statistics in the form of Public Accountability Reports. In some instances, typically as part of a legal settlement, we provide abridged summaries of the investigation.) Finally, complaints made against students are processed through an entirely different process, via the Office of Student Conduct in the Office of the Dean of Students.
2. Does this mean that UCLA cannot say more about the specifics of what happened? And that any complaint resolution process might take months? And that when it concludes, the findings might not be public?
Unfortunately, the current answer to all three questions is “yes.” To protect the integrity of any investigation, we generally don’t discuss any aspect of it while it is ongoing. Once it concludes, we generally don’t share the Investigation Report unless we have a legal obligation under a public records act request. These decisions are driven by both legal constraints and good judgment.
3. So, if UCLA can’t say more about what happened, is there any way to learn more about what took place?
Yes. There’s actually a video of the lecture that you can review yourself, to come to your own independent conclusion. We recognize that videos have a point-of-view because their frame, perspective, and audio are never fully inclusive. Nevertheless, as we’ve learned through live streaming and police body camera incidents, videos often help us get a much better sense of what really happened. The Q&A portion starts at the 54:00 minute mark.
4. I watched the video, and I think someone’s conduct was inappropriate and demands accountability. I want to report it to the right University units.
As noted above, anyone who believes that they have experienced discrimination or harassment by a faculty member can always file a claim of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination with the Discrimination Prevention Office. The DPO is already aware of this matter.
Any concerns about students have to be raised with the Office of Student Conduct.
General information on filing a discrimination complaint is available at https://equity.ucla.edu/report-an-incident/.
5. I watched the video, and regardless of my personal views on the lecture topic, I think the classroom interaction is protected by academic freedom. I’m afraid UCLA will punish a faculty member for legitimate academic discussion.
University investigatory processes guarantee due process to any respondent accused of discrimination or harassment. We do not jump to conclusions. Further, even if the Administration finds a policy violation, any member of the Academic Senate cannot be disciplined without an entirely separate and independent adversarial adjudication through the Senate’s Privilege and Tenure Committee.
The Academic Senate is a separate body from the UCLA Administration, which participates in “shared governance” of the University. You can express your views directly to the Senate leadership or to their Academic Freedom Committee.
Update (2019 05 29): The Academic Freedom Committee has released a statement.
6. This seems frustratingly complicated. Didn’t the Regents intend to make things simpler by adopting the Principles Against Intolerance, which specifically targeted anti-Semitism?
In March 2016, the UC Regents approved the “Principles Against Intolerance,” a set of principles that outline the academic and community values necessary to realize the University’s core mission. Among other things, these principles encourage University leaders to challenge bias — anti-Semitism especially (see Principle c). At the same time, the Principles reiterated that free speech is paramount at the University (see Principle d). Notwithstanding adoption of these general principles, striking the right balance in any specific case remains challenging—particularly where parties contest what counts as anti-Semitism, and when that precise question is being explored in an academic context.
7. Where can I learn more about freedom of speech?
EDI offers multiple resources on free speech at UCLA. Key documents include UCLA’s Free Speech Primer & Free Speech FAQs.
8. All this talk about investigations and accountability seems to miss the larger point. Shouldn’t this be a learning moment for everyone?
In moments like this, we always try to see if parties in conflict might sit together, with mediators, allies, trusted community partners, so that they might come to understand each other with greater empathy and intellectual humility. There’s nothing we can share publicly, but we are considering various options and strategies.