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Santa Monica College Professors Accused of Creating Antisemitic Assignments

Ethnic Studies professor and Art History professor require students to promote notion that Israel is committing genocide


Alyssa Erdley | Santa Monica Oberserver | Jun 25, 2024



June 14, 2024 — Santa Monica College has received a legal complaint letter from nonpartisan education organization StandWithUS regarding two class assignments that they call bigoted, harassing, and ultimately illegal. StandWithUs supports Israel and fights antisemitism.


The assignments involved are:

(1) Professor Elias Serna's Ethnic Studies 1: Introduction to Ethnic Studies in which he asked, "What are your thoughts on the ongoing destruction and genocide by Israel in Palestine? What forms of protest have you witnessed or observed? What effect does protest have on the political situation in Gaza? What effect is it having on this generation?"


(2) Professor Ali Ahmadpour's Art History 11 asked students to consider what installation they would create as art director in an SMC encampment "to educate the community about the ongoing conflict in Gaza on the occupied Palestinian lands."


According to StandWithUs, the students who were given the assignments are so afraid of retaliation from SMC administration, faculty and other students that they have asked to remain anonymous. Students at SMC must maintain a high grade point average if they hope to transfer to a University of California campus to finish their bachelor's degrees.


Similar complaints were made against SMC in March, prompting SMC Superintendent/President Kathryn Jeffery to issue a statement supporting the academic freedom of professors to "determine the approach to a subject...without having their decisions subject to the veto of a department chair, dean, or other administrative officer." At the same time, she claimed to guarantee the students' right to be "shielded from prejudiced or capricious evaluation of their academic performance by instructors..."


The Director of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department, Yael Lerman, however, points out two problems with Jeffery's position: one practical and the other legal.


From a practical point of view, Jeffery's attempt to balance teacher and student rights "is a nearly (if not entirely) impossible feat." Students could obviously not turn in an assignment opposed to the teacher's viewpoint with any hope of receiving a good grade. And if the student challenged the grade, that would require a review by college administrators, peers of the professor who might very well share his bias. Such a review would also have a negative impact on how the student is perceived by other faculty going forward.


From a legal perspective, class assignments that assume facts not in existence (that Israel is committing genocide) shows inherent bias and, given the accusation - genocide - bullies and harasses students who may support Israel for reasons of ethnicity and national origin. This would violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.


"This is not a gray issue of academic freedom," Lerman said in an interview. "But a clearcut case of professors using their classroom for political indoctrination in a manner not protected by professional standards."


As of now, SMC has not responded to StandWithUs's demand for action on the biased class assignments. In December, Dr. Sion Roy, the President of the Board of Trustees of SMC, admitted that the school was under federal investigation for discrimination on campus. The incident underlying the investigation was a meeting of the student-run Inter-Club Council (ICC) in which students, amid a large quantity of openly antisemitic dialogue, disqualified the club Students Supporting Israel (SSI). Following an outcry by StandWithUS, Amcha Initiative and others, SMC administrators reversed the ICC's ruling and reinstated SSI as a recognized club.


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