In 2021, California became the first state to require ethnic studies (ES) for high school graduation. The University of California’s Ethnic Studies Faculty Council (ESFC), which lists over 300 UC faculty as members, has developed specific course criteria that UC is considering as an admissions requirement. If adopted, this requirement would eliminate the freedom that individual high schools would have in teaching ES courses, at least for students applying to the UC.

California passed the ES high school graduation requirement to help students become citizens of the world by honestly portraying our history and positively focusing on the scientific, artistic, economic, cultural, and social achievements of different groups of people. But this is not what ethnic studies is about within the UC. Far from bringing people from different backgrounds together, the ESFC promotes a highly politicized high school curriculum called Liberated Ethnic Studies, which is founded on the notion that the US is a highly racist society in which Whites systematically oppress minorities.

After the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, it is obvious that the ESFC should have nothing to do with course content. In response to the Hamas attack, UC president Michael Drake and UC Board of Regents chair Rich Leib issued a brief statement on behalf of the UC system condemning the terrorist attack, expressing grief for those affected on both sides and hope for a peaceful resolution. 

Drake and Leib’s statement was attacked in a letter written by the ESFC. The letter is abhorrent and dishonest: “In the strongest possible terms, the UC Ethnic Studies Faculty Council . . . that represents over 300 faculty systemwide, rejects recent UC administrative communications that distort and misrepresent the unfolding genocide of Palestinians. . . . [These statements that] irresponsibly wield charges of ‘terrorism’ and ‘unprovoked’ aggression, have contributed to a climate that has made Palestinian students and community members unsafe, even in their own homes.” 

Somehow, burning an Israeli mother and child alive as they clutched each other, raping women and girls, beheading a child, dismembering and torturing victims, and taking elderly and child hostages do not qualify as acts of terror to the ESFC.  

The ESFC letter never mentions Hamas, an organization whose charter calls for the obliteration of Israel and the rejection of a negotiated peace. Yet, somehow, in the eyes of these 300 faculty members, it is the UC leadership who distort, misrepresent, and make statements that promote violence. Please. UC stakeholders deserve so much better than this silliness.

The ESFC letter was condemned by UC regent Jay Sures, who wrote in response to the ESFC as follows:

There are absolutely no words to describe how appalling and repugnant I found your . . . letter. . . . Your letter is rife with falsehoods about Israel and seeks to legitimize and defend the horrific savagery of the Hamas massacre. . . . You have asked us as a body to retract “our “charges of terrorism, to uplift the Palestinian freedom struggle, and to stand against . . . [the] genocide of the Palestinian people.” . . . I will do everything in my power to never let that happen. Full stop. . . . The thought that young and impressionable students might be taught the falsehoods of your letter absolutely sickens me. . . . Your organization should commit to learning more about antisemitism and all forms of hate and how it lives on our campuses where you are tasked and trusted to educating our next generation of students and leaders.

Exactly right. If the 300 faculty within the ESFC—individuals who won’t acknowledge the inhuman savagery of Hamas—have their way, they will determine the ES course content needed for high school students to gain admission to UC. Their website “demands” that it be implemented.

Liberated Ethnic Studies, the curriculum ESFC favors, is introduced as follows:

The evidence of continued systematic and institutional racism is also apparent as we mourn the loss of several community members Breonna Taylor, Amhaud Arbery, Steven Taylor, Erik Salgado, Sean Monterrosa, Andres Guardado, and George Floyd at the hands of the police and white people with impunity. Young people from a variety of backgrounds mobilize in the streets shouting “Black Lives Matter” in unsanctioned marches, rallies, and demonstrations. In some cases, protesters direct their anger at buildings that represent a political system that continues to dehumanize Black bodies by placing more interest in buildings and corporations than in equity and social justice.

This is not a course that celebrates the contributions of people from different ethnic groups and teaches how so many immigrants have achieved the American dream. It is a course that teaches the biased opinion that the United States is a remarkably racist society that is hostile and punitive to non-Whites. If the US were indeed so racist, then why would the household incomes of non-Hispanic US White households trail those of families with Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Korean descent? Why would the median household income for households of Palestinian descent be nearly 95 percent that of non-Hispanic Whites, and exceed those of French descent? These facts won’t ever be reported in such a course, because they don’t fit its narrative.

Liberated Ethnic Studies is currently used in some California classrooms, which has led to destructive situations, including a biracial student who identifies as Black but was told to address his “White dominance” and a child of Cuban heritage who was told he wasn’t a “real Latino.” And the Liberated Ethnic Studies program is not just about ES courses. The program advocates that other courses, including math and science, be integrated with ES principles. Since capitalism oppresses minorities, according to Liberated Ethnic Studies, Marxism should be taught as an alternative, which requires that teachers have the “correct political views.”

California’s prioritization of ethnic studies within our schools was always questionable, given that the research showing its value was flawed, and given that roughly three out of four kids can’t read or do math at grade-level proficiency. Now that it is obvious what ethnic studies is, the state should either eliminate the requirement or, alternatively, ensure reasonable course content, such as that developed by  the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies, a grassroots coalition of over 10,000 individuals from many ethnic backgrounds. They have worked together to develop an uplifting curriculum that portrays history honestly while helping students see the beauty within all of us.

More broadly, University of California campus leaders should consider reallocating their respective budgets away from departments that are dominated by faculty who are committed to political ideologies rather than to the UC’s mission of excellence in research, education, public service, and seeking knowledge without bias.

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