Middle East studies in the News
Professor's Actions Exonerated
by Daniel Hernandez
UC Berkeley has resolved an incident involving a Near Eastern studies professor who allegedly spat upon and racially demeaned Armenian students tabling on Sproul Plaza, according to confidential documents obtained by The Daily Californian.
According to a report signed by Vice Chancellor Genaro Padilla on Jan. 6, 1999 and given to the Student Advocate Office, the behavior of Near Eastern studies Professor Hamid Algar on April 24, 1998 was found to "fall within the bounds of constitutionally protected speech." Algar was acting within his rights when he confronted the tabling students, the report said.
Eight members of the Armenian Students Association filed a grievance report to several university offices last May, including the Student Advocate Office and the UC Board of Regents, after Algar approached their Sproul Plaza table and verbally insulted the Armenians. They also said that at one point spittle from the professor's mouth reached one of the students' eyes.
The incident reportedly stemmed from a heated debate over the Armenian association's conmemoration of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, an event that many scholars say was committed by the then-powerful Turkish Ottoman Empire.
The professor approached their table on April 24, 1998 and yelled at them, "It was not a genocide, but I wish it was, you lying pigs," according to a report filed by the students to Meredith Khachigian, chair of the UC regents.
The report also said that Algar told the students sitting at the table that they were "distorting the truth about history," and called them "stupid Armenians," deserving to be "massacred."
Patrick Masihi, one of the students at the table, said Algar repeatedly spat into his face even after being asked to stop.
But others who were present at the scene said that it was Masihi who incited the professor's anger by saying to him, "Sir, you're full of bullshit." Other witnesses relegated the incident as a mere verbal debate of Armenian politics.
Algar declined to comment yesterday. Boalt Law professor Jan Vetter, who led the UC Berkeley investigation into the allegations surrounding Algar, also would not comment yesterday, calling any information related to the case "confidential."
The university report did not condone the type of speech used, despite its defense of Algar's right to free speech.
"In all cases the university condemns the use of racially demeaning language and calls upon the university to express controversial views in the context of civil and intellectual discourse," the report said.
A document written on Jan. 4, 1999 by Susan Wells, the university's Complaint Resolution Officer, said that Vetter's investigation of Algar's case "determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that the professor intentionally spit on the grievant."
Wells's document also said that the faculty administrative officer recommended "against any further proceedings against the professor pursuant of the Faculty Code of Conduct."
One member of the Armenian Students Association said yesterday that he thinks the results of the university investigation are a gross reduction of Algar's behavior.
"I am really disappointed (with the university's decision). I thought that the professor should have been disciplined," said Razmig Hovaghimian, a senior who was present at the Sproul table on April 24. "I feel violated that he is a teacher that can come up to students with that hate speech."
Hovaghimian, who said he was one of the students interviewed by Vetter during the investigation, added that the Armenian Student Association is looking into possibly appealing the university's decision.
"I think we will do something, we should do something. More action should be taken," Hovaghimian said. "There are many more Armenians on campus and I don't want them to go through the same experience.
"I think there's a really thin line saying that this was within the bounds of free speech, I don't think it was," he added.
The letters written by Padilla and Wells both lacked any reference to discliplinary action. The documents did, however, extend apologies to the eight members of the Armenian Students Association who filed the grievance reports.
"On behalf of the University, the Complaint Resolution Office extends a sincere apology to the Armenian students involved in this incident," said the letter signed by Wells.
For Hovaghimian, the impact of Algar's behavior on April 24,1998 is still felt. "I am paying for this education, standing there and someone is saying you are stupid and deserve to be dead," he said. "I was disturbed (and) just shocked."
Copyright 1998, The Daily Californian. All rights reserved.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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