UC Berkeley officials addressed concerns after it emerged that a teaching assistant, Victoria Huynh, offered students additional grade points for participating in pro-Palestinian activism. Such an act might breach university policy by potentially converting classrooms into platforms for political agendas.
Huynh, assisting in the course titled “Asian American Communities and Race Relations,” communicated to students via email that extra credit would be granted for joining a national walkout in solidarity “against the settler-colonial occupation taking place in Gaza.”
Another option was watching a documentary about Palestine and contacting local California representatives. Documented evidence from the email indicated students could earn these points as either a “field trip” or as an addition to their field trip grade category, given they provided proof of their engagement.
The content of this email rapidly spread on social media platform X, amassing nearly 2 million views in under 24 hours. Critics, including pro-Israel advocates, labeled the move as potentially biased, while others viewed it as an overstep of Huynh’s authority.
Florida attorney Matt Sarelson opined on X, “Offering extra credit for any form of protest is misguided. To do so for a cause favoring Hamas is irresponsible.” David Lange, another activist, described the email as a “clear attempt to sway students’ views.”
UC Berkeley finds itself, like many institutions nationwide, in the middle of vibrant debates regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This has been particularly highlighted by varying reactions to a recent event in the Middle East. Campus reactions to these global issues have been mixed and, at times, polarizing.
Elsewhere, advocacy entity Palestine Legal commented on the growing criticism of individuals advocating for Palestinian rights, citing instances where these individuals faced professional consequences for their views.
As mentioned above, the course at UC Berkeley aims to discuss present-day challenges in the Asian American community. It also delves into various theories regarding the status and global connection of Asian Americans. Harvey Dong, the professor in charge, has not publicly commented on the issue.
UC Berkeley’s code of conduct specifies that leveraging one’s academic position to influence student beliefs is inappropriate. It’s also improper to grade students based on criteria unrelated to academic performance.
UC Berkeley’s spokesperson, Dan Mogulof, confirmed that immediate corrective action was taken once the institution became aware. “The assignment has been rectified,” stated Mogulof. Now, students can attend any local event or watch any Middle East documentary related to the course.
Mogulof referred to a longstanding university policy, which emphasizes that any deviation from the original academic purpose of a course, including introducing political biases, is equivalent to misusing the university’s platform. He clarified that providing academic credit for political activism or skipping classes is generally against this policy.