BERKELEY–Calif. (AGRC)–In a broad showing of support–a rainbow coalition of University of California students–last Wednesday evening voted unanimously to support Armenian students–and drafted a resolution demanding that the University reopen its investigation and urge a UC Professor to apologize for a verbal assault he made upon Armenian students last year.
On the evening of March 10–the UC Berkeley Armenian Students Association achieved a great victory – some would say historic. The ASUC Student Senate–composed of a broad coalition of students from diverse backgrounds–passed a unanimous resolution demanding that the University urge Prof. Hamid Algar to apologize for his actions of last April 24–1998.
Last year Prof. Hamid Algar–a UCB professor in the Near Eastern Studies Department–approached the Associated Armenian Students table in Sproul Plaza where they were commemorating the Armenian Genocide and said to them that the Genocide never happened but that he wished it had. He further said that Armenia’s deserve to be massacred.
After conducting a five month investigation–the University–in its January 6–1999 report–issued by the Chancellor’s office–apologized for Prof. Algar’s actions but concluded that although his actions were ethnically demeaning–his actions did not create a "hostile environment" for the students involved. Disappointed and outraged at this conclusion–the UCB Armenian Students’ Association–in consultation with ASUC representatives–introduced a bill through the ASUC Senate to ask the University to review its decision.
This bill–entitled "A Bill Against Hate Speech and in Support of Reprimand for Prof. Algar," was authored by ASUC Senator Jorge Garcia and sponsored by ASUC Senators Jorge Garcia–Cris Arzate–Willie Brown–Josh Diosomito–Anny Song–Kevin Sabet–Arian White–and ASUC President Preston Taylor.
Wednesday evening–amidst a throng of nearly 30 people–crowded in a small conference room–including representatives from the Chancellor’s office and the UCB Police–the bill passed unanimously with 17 votes in support and 0 against.
Those previously unfamiliar with the incident were outraged that an ethnic group of students could be assaulted with such impunity by a tenured UC Professor.
It is a heartening sign of solidarity with Armenian students that the Associated Student Body of UC Berkeley–composed mostly of Asians–Hispanics–and African-Americans–officially recognized the seriousness of this incident and formally disapproved of Prof. Algar’s actions.
The incident with Algar is believed to be the only time in the recent history of UC Berkeley that a professor has personally attacked a group of students outside of academic discourse. Some believe that the University was unprepared to deal with such a situation and mistakenly treated the incident as a heated academic debate and not a personal attack on a group of individuals.
Much credit for the success of this bill is due to ASUC Senator Jorge Garcia–and ASA members Shant Tchakerian–Kate Nahapetian–and Paul Maranian–who worked tirelessly in researching campus policies regarding faculty misconduct and in crafting the language contained within it.
Each addressed the 25 member Senate on the floor–having prepared and distributed a packet of materials on the Genocide–provided by Richard Kloian of the Armenian Genocide Resource Center–to each Senator.
ASA students found it very gratifying to hear Senators defend the historicity of the Armenian Genocide and advance their argumen’s for the passage of this bill.
Senator Kevin Sabet–a member of the Bahai faith–was particularly supportive–citing the history of persecution of non-Muslim Near Eastern peoples. With this level of support the ASA was able to append three additional clauses to the resolution from the floor during deliberations.
A representative from the chancellor’s office was present to answer questions regarding the issue. Senators concurred that her answers to Kate Nahapetian’s probing questions were woefully inadequate.
The ASA must now work to get the Academic Senate (faculty representative body) to follow suit. The groundwork for this has already been laid and the Resolution can be ratified in its present form if necessary.
Most importantly–the issue is effectively out of the hands of the ASA and is now placed in the hands of the Student Body at UC Berkeley–although the ASA will be directing the enforcement of the resolved clauses from within the body.