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StandWithUs Urges Santa Monica College to Take Action on Professors' Compelled Speech and Viewpoint Discrimination in Class Assignments

The StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department sent a demand letter to Santa Monica College  (SMC) after two professors issued mandatory class assignments compelling students to adopt anti-Israel political propaganda as objective truth in order to complete the assignments. StandWithUs asserted that both instances constitute classroom compelled speech and viewpoint discrimination in violation of student First Amendment rights.   


June 10, 2024

Robert Myers, Esq.

Campus Counsel

Santa Monica College

RE: Compelled Speech and Viewpoint Discrimination in Violation of Student First Amendment Rights

Dear Mr. Myers,

We write to you once again on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department, a division of StandWithUs, an international nonprofit organization that educates about Israel and combats antisemitism.

We are writing on behalf of current Santa Monica College (SMC) Jewish students and alumni who are concerned about yet another series of antisemitic incidents in SMC’s long-running failure sufficiently to protect its Jewish and Zionist students from harassment and discrimination. Indeed, your students are so afraid of retaliation from SMC administration, faculty and other students that they have asked to remain anonymous.

The most recent bigoted incidents at SMC involve two class assignments: (1) Professor Elias Serna’s Ethnic Studies 1: Introduction to Ethnic Studies (sec. #2115/2116/3293) compelling students to write an assignment adopting his personal political point of view as objective truth. This is particularly concerning because we understand this course is mandatory for most students, who are being taught anti-Israel propaganda as though it were fact; (2) Professor Ali Ahmadpour’s Art History 11 (3336) compelling students to write an assignment on 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” (see Appendix).

In the first instance, we are aware that Professor Serna is active on social media as an advocate for groups that are demonstrating to demand the elimination of the State of Israel and for the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from the land of Israel. Although we profoundly disagree with what we view as Professor Serna’s advocacy of hateful, bigoted and factually incorrect beliefs about the State of Israel and its ability to defend itself, we recognize that Serna has the First Amendment right to do so as an individual citizen.

However, neither Serna nor Ahmadpour has a right to compel SMC students to adopt their political points of view in order to pass their classes. Specifically, Serna recently required his students to write a response to the following essay question, which is based on his political belief that Israel is engaging in “genocide” in Palestine:

"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?" Ahmadpour asked students to write from the perspective of someone creating art and exhibits to “visually educate” the SMC community in support of the (often illegal) encampments on college grounds.

These questions are premised on the factually incorrect assertion that Israel is committing “genocide” in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and that Israel is occupying Palestinian land. It is clear from both assignments that Serna and Ahmadpour proceed from the premise that their political opinions are facts that must be unquestioningly accepted by students as they complete their coursework.

It has raised profound discomfort and concern among your students. Furthermore, we are told that many of Ahmadpour and Serna’s students believe that they are required to agree with them in order to pass the course. Here, these professors are requiring students to adopt their opinions (that Israel is engaging in “ongoing destruction and genocide” or occupying stolen lands) and to support the establishment of encampments on SMC grounds. That is constitutionally impermissible.

Long-established Supreme Court precedent extends the First Amendment to students of public colleges such as SMC. Indeed “the precedents of this Court leave no room for the view that … First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180 (1972). Furthermore, “[i]t can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).

There are many ways to expose students to engage with different perspectives – even perspectives that students might find upsetting or objectionable. However, public institutions can never cross the line to compelling student speech to comport with a particular professor’s ideological preferences as a school writing assignment.

We urge you to treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves. We look forward to receiving a prompt response to this letter, including how you plan to remedy these antisemitic classroom incidents.



Kathryn E. Jeffery


Santa Monica College



Professor Ali Ahmadpour’s Art History 11 (3336) Mandatory Class Assignment:


View the official letter below. To navigate, simply use the arrows to flip through pages, and utilize the toolbar for additional options such as fullscreen mode ad printing.


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