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Li Cai breaks UC Academic Senate policy by leaking internal emails

Li Cai, a member of the UCLA Academic Senate’s Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools and professor of education and psychology, broke Academic Senate policy. Cai leaked internal communications regarding a proposed ethnic studies requirement for UC freshman undergraduate admission. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Shaanth Kodialam

Oct. 4, 2022 10:20 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 12 at 11:11 a.m.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to clarify the details of a letter described in the story.

A UCLA professor serving on the Academic Senate broke policy by leaking internal communications about a proposed ethnic studies requirement for freshman undergraduate admission to the University of California.

Li Cai, a professor of education and psychology, is a member of the UCLA Academic Senate’s Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools. He was the committee’s 2021-2022 representative to the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, a committee deliberating on a proposed A-G ethnic studies requirement.

After the board’s May meeting where the proposal received pushback, two of the requirement’s course criteria authors released a joint statement defending the requirement. They said they were informed that the board would now be seeking a broader requirement including social justice, diversity and inclusion courses. In the joint statement, the proposal’s authors expressed criticism of this decision.

In emails obtained by The Bruin, Cai – who is also the director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing – forwarded communications from members of BOARS criticizing the joint statement’s tone and content to Matthew Malkan, a professor of astronomy and physics who opposes the proposed ethnic studies requirement.

One of the forwarded emails included communication from Barbara Knowlton – a professor of psychology and vice chair of BOARS at the time – to other committee members, voicing concerns about receiving input from the requirement’s authors in the future.

Michael LaBriola, assistant director for the UC Academic Senate, said in an emailed statement that confidentiality and discretion among committee members is encouraged and pointed to guidelines stating that distribution of email correspondence beyond the intended recipients is strictly prohibited.

Monica Lin, executive director for the UC Academic Senate, said in an emailed statement that the policy guidelines will be shared with members of the senate through committee chairs. Neither LaBriola nor Lin responded to questions on possible disciplinary action against Cai as a result of his actions.

In an emailed statement, Cai declined to comment on whether he broke Academic Senate policy.

Malkan also sent the internal board communications to other individuals working with him to end consideration of the requirement, including Joseph Manson, a former professor of anthropology, according to the obtained emails.

Both Manson and Malkan have opposed efforts to expand course requirements at UCLA in the past. In 2012, the two co-wrote a letter criticizing the creation of a conflict and community general education requirement. In 2015, Manson signed on to a letter written by Malkan expressing concerns about the diversity requirement at UCLA.

Malkan also forwarded the emails to Richard Sander, a UCLA School of Law professor. Sander helped write a May 31 letter to BOARS expressing deep criticism of the requirement, according to EdSource. The letter said the proposed requirement was ideological, politically motivated and had no academic foundation.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a former UC Santa Cruz faculty member and co-founder and director of the AMCHA Initiative – an organization that describes itself as a watchdog on antisemitism in higher education – also received internal board communications from Malkan. The AMCHA Initiative published a letter in March issuing similar criticisms of the requirement, claiming the proposal is based on critical ethnic studies, a field the letter alleges promotes antisemitism.

In his statement, Cai denied he knew Malkan was coordinating with other individuals to end consideration of the requirement.

In the obtained emails, members of BOARS also said there was a motion on the floor for the board to repeal consideration of the A-G ethnic studies requirement, a move not noted in the board’s May meeting minutes. Madeleine Sorapure, the chair of the board for the 2021-2022 academic year, also clarified a statement she provided to EdSource in which she said they had yet to make a final decision on the requirement.

“I want to try to maintain a space for BOARS to move forward with our deliberations without having to share details of what we may or may not be considering beyond what’s written in the minutes,” Sorapure said in the emails obtained by The Bruin.

Sorapure and Knowlton did not respond to requests for comment.

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Shaanth Kodialam | News senior staff
Kodialam is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. They were previously the 2022-2023 features and student life editor and a 2021-2022 News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a third-year communication and geography student.
Kodialam is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. They were previously the 2022-2023 features and student life editor and a 2021-2022 News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a third-year communication and geography student.
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