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UCLA chancellor appointment

Faculty express support for ongoing solidarity encampment, academic freedom

Faculty members stand in front of Royce Hall holding a blue-and-gold banner that reads, “UCLA Faculty and Staff, we stand with our students.” Some faculty are participating in the ongoing encampment in solidarity with Palestine, while others stand outside to show support for their students. (Ella Coffey/Daily Bruin)

By Anna Dai-Liu

April 27, 2024 12:51 p.m.

This post was updated April 28 at 11:49 p.m.

When associate professor of philosophy A.J. Julius sat down Thursday morning with his red backpack in Dickson Plaza, he became a student, and the plaza his new classroom.

“My students are here,” he said. “It’s a rare chance to see them outside the classroom and to find out what they want and why they’re here.”

Julius is one of a number of UCLA faculty participating in the ongoing encampment in solidarity with Palestine. The encampment, which began Thursday morning, is led by Students for Justice in Palestine and the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA. Participants are calling for the UC’s academic and financial divestment from Israel, as well as a ceasefire in Israel’s destruction of the Gaza Strip – which recently passed its 200th day.

[Related: UCLA community organizes encampment in response to national call for escalation]

Following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel and the ensuing Israeli military siege of Gaza, some faculty members have organized into groups, including Faculty for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. More than 250 faculty members, under the title UCLA Faculty for Academic Freedom, signed a letter calling on Chancellor Gene Block and the UCLA administration to protect Palestinian community members and people expressing solidarity with them. 

Faculty have an important role in ensuring that academic freedom and the freedom to express dissent are upheld at universities, said Graeme Blair, an associate professor of political science and member of FJP.

Ananya Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography and an FJP member, added that she believes other faculty members’ attempts to shut down opposing viewpoints are a violation of academic freedom. More than 350 faculty signed another letter in December asking for the administration to denounce pro-Palestine rallies that they claimed were calling for violence and created “an atmosphere of fear.”

Julius said that while he was not active with FJP in the past, he did not understand why faculty were split in their support of Israel or Palestine. Roy said disagreement is important but added that she believes one group should not be seeking to censor another.

“I couldn’t believe that my faculty colleagues wanted to criminalize terms like ‘intifada.’ They wanted to ban the wearing of the keffiyeh,” Roy said. “We don’t have to agree. We should not agree intellectually or ideologically or politically. That is not the point of university life. But we should not be in the business … of criminalizing the viewpoints we disagree with.”

Roy added that faculty, as scholars, should have the freedom to teach and study both Israel and Palestine. At least two professors were arrested while participating in a protest at Emory University on Thursday, according to CNN.

Several faculty members were present outside UCLA’s encampment Thursday morning with a banner that read, “UCLA Faculty and Staff, we stand with our students.” Blair, who was present with them, said these faculty members believe students should not face academic repercussions for participating in the protest and police forces should not be called.

A group of students protesting at the University of Southern California had previously been arrested by LAPD on Wednesday. Julius, who was present at USC that day, said he was amazed by students’ determination.

“After watching the events at Columbia, USC and other campuses, there’s faculty that feel very strongly that students have the right to express dissent on campus,” Blair said. “We want to make sure that the UCLA administration and UC administration understand that.”

The UC has had an extensive history of student protests, and students have played an important role in expressing dissenting opinions, Blair said. Roy added that she wants students to see the protest as a learning space.

In a Friday statement, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications Mary Osako said the university is following UC guidelines and will not involve law enforcement unless it would be necessary for community members’ physical safety. She added that members of Student Affairs near Dickson Plaza are informing people about the encampment so that they have the option of avoiding it.

“UCLA’s approach to the encampment is guided by several equally important principles: the need to support the safety and well-being of Bruins, the need to support the free expression rights of our community, and the need to minimize disruption to our teaching and learning mission,” Osako said in the statement. “These same long-standing principles have allowed UCLA to uphold a history of peaceful protest.”

[Related: Examining parallels to 1985 student calls for divestment from South Africa]

While Blair said Thursday morning that he was unsure if he would continue teaching classes during the encampment, Roy said she chose to make attendance optional for hers. Whether students attended the protest or stayed at home because it made them uncomfortable, Roy said she believes it is important to provide spaces where everyone’s viewpoints can be respected.

Roy said she was inspired to see the students at the encampment and that she believes counter-protesters from outside the UCLA community are trying to disrupt what she saw as a relatively peaceful demonstration. Members of FJP plan to rally in solidarity with the encampment at noon Monday.

She added that she appreciated the UCLA administration maintaining people’s right to protest, and she hopes the UC Board of Regents – which met Friday in closed session – will not repress that activity.

“I hope that this will be the beginning of some really serious conversation at UCLA and in the UC,” Roy said. “We need to think about all of the ways in which our university is implicated in war, in policing. … We must support causes of peace and justice around the world.”

Contributing reports by Dylan Winward, features and student life editor.

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Anna Dai-Liu | Science and health editor
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
Dai-Liu is the 2023-2024 science and health editor and Copy staff member. She was previously a News staff writer and is currently a third-year neuroscience and comparative literature student.
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