Friday, December 19, 2014


The world has been shocked by the discovery of the dead bodies of about 50 Mexican university students.  The students were killed because they were protesting some government policies.  A mayor and his wife, as well as numerous police officials, have been implicated in the slaughter.  Alleged initial government inaction in response to the murders has prompted outrage and protest throughout Mexico.

In solidarity with the Mexican protests, and in outrage over the government’s inadequate response, the United Auto Workers Local 2865, the union representing the University of California’s graduate student instructors (or, as they were called in prior times, teaching assistants or TA’s) voted in favor of participating in a Boycott, Discrimination, and Sanctions (BDS)  campaign against Mexico. 

With 2,168 union members voting, 1,411 of them, or 65%, voted in favor of the resolution.  (The local has a total membership of about 12,000.)  In addition to the vote, 1,136 of the graduate student instructors pledged to personally adhere to a discriminatory boycott of Mexican universities and scholars. 

Regardless of the revulsion one feels for the Mexican government’s apparent complicity in the alleged actions, the vote raises serious questions regarding the fitness for their positions and their ability to fulfill the requirements of the job of those who voted in favor of the resolution, particularly of those who signed a personal pledge to boycott Mexican universities and scholars. 

For example, one assumes that pledging to boycott Mexican universities means that if a supervising faculty member directs a student instructor to work with a colleague from a Mexican university on a research question, the student instructor will refuse.  One also assumes that if a Mexican student is in the classroom listening to the student instructor’s explanation of a subject of the class, the student instructor will either stop lecturing or will direct the Mexican student to leave the classroom. 

One would further assume from the vote and particularly from those who took the personal pledge that they will not grade papers of students who are Mexican nationals, and will not meet with them to discuss subjects under study.  One also assumes that they will not consult with Mexican scholars or reference academic papers produced by any Mexican university or scholar, thus potentially omitting important information in their own work. 

One assumes that conduct such as that described above, directed at students holding Mexican citizenship, will contribute to the creation of a hostile academic environment for students holding Mexican citizenship, and arguably will do the same for American students of Mexican descent.  Similarly, such conduct will contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment for fellow employees holding Mexican citizen, and arguably will do the same for American workers of Mexican descent. 

Moreover, there is a very good argument that the student instructors have voted for and have personally pledged to engage in behavior that violates U.S. and California law prohibiting discrimination based on national origin.  If I am an American citizen who also has Mexican citizenship and I am a student at the University of California or a scholar wishing to collaborate with it, these student instructors have voted for and have pledged to discriminate against me.

 In any event, this clearly violates the spirit of the non-discrimination ethos of the United States, California, and the University of California system.  This vote and pledge seeks to boycott, discriminate against, and sanction all persons of Mexican citizenship because of the alleged misdeeds of some Mexican citizens and the Mexican government.  Such collective guilt and punishment is anathema to America, California, and the University of California. 

A group has called on the University to issue warnings to the student instructors that their vote and their pledge cannot impact their conduct in the University setting.  While the plea is understandable and such a warning would be appreciated, it is difficult to understand how it would accomplish its objective.

The student instructors’ vote and pledge are clearly designed to impact the university setting and their work.  It impacts teaching, researching, collaboration, counselling—that is, all the things they do in their positions.  It is meant to be implemented in their professional capacities at the University.   

The inevitable conclusion is that the student instructors’ vote and pledge to discriminate against Mexican universities and scholars of Mexican citizenship prevents them from being able to fulfill the duties of their position.  By demonstrating through their vote that they favor discrimination based on national origin, and given the high likelihood as demonstrated through their personal pledge that they will enforce that discrimination in the classroom and on university property, these instructors have demonstrated that they are unqualified and unfit to be instructors in the university system.  Their employment should, therefore, be terminated. 

Unfortunately, the University and the State of California in general have not always taken the strongest and firmest actions and stands against hate toward Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans, thereby contributing to the atmosphere that apparently gave the student instructors the feeling that they can discriminate with impunity against Mexican citizens and institutions. By taking firm action to terminate those that have voted for and pledged to discriminate against persons based on their citizenship, the University would go a long way toward remedying the atmosphere it has helped create. 

If I were a graduate of the University of California and a California taxpayer who held Mexican citizenship, or if I was Mexican-American, or if I was just a person who has an affinity for Mexico and Mexicans, or if I simply was a person who feels that the University and its personnel should not collectively punish an entire national group because of a disagreement with the actions or policies of the nation at issue, I doubt that I would be comfortable financially supporting, via direct contributions, taxes, or political support, the University that engages student instructors who practice such bigotry and collective punishment.    

Why would I want to contribute to the pay and employment of people who discriminate against me because of my nationality, or against others because of their nationality?  Why would I support an institution that employs them and contributes to such a discriminatory and hostile environment?  I would decline to support the University until it dismisses those that promote and practice such discrimination against persons based on their national citizenship. 

All of the above is accurate except for one aspect.  The union local did not take such a vote because of the horrendous murders in Mexico.  The union did vote as described to boycott, discriminate against, and impose sanctions against Israeli universities and Israeli citizens because of alleged transgressions of the Israeli government. 

In fact, the sponsors of BDS simply object to Israel’s very existence.  They deny the right of the Jewish people, and only the Jewish people, to national self-determination.  They support collective punishment and discrimination in furtherance of their objective to destroy Israel, the Jewish people’s nation. 

If this was a case of BDS directed against citizens of Mexico and Mexican institutions of higher learning, I would fully expect the University of California, fully supported by the State of California and a myriad of public and private institutions, to terminate the employment of those that would engage in such discrimination violating the basic tenants of academia and American society.  With the change from Mexico to Israel, I hold no such expectation. 


(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

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  1. While where you were going with this discussion quickly became obvious to me, nontheless, the argument was very elegant and well handled. I, as well as you, I'm sure, are very certain that you are right about it not leading to any positive result for the treatment or consideration of Israel. But we must do that which is right and then work to make it right.

  2. Thank you Alan, yet again.