The Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus. (Photo/Tristan Harward via Wikimedia Commons)
The Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus. (Photo/Tristan Harward via Wikimedia Commons)

UC Berkeley nixes T.A.’s offer of extra credit for pro-Palestinian protesting

A UC Berkeley spokesperson said Wednesday the university has “remedied” a situation after a teaching assistant offered her students extra credit for engaging in pro-Palestinian activism, an action that may constitute a “misuse of the classroom” under university policy.

The teaching assistant, Victoria Huynh, sent an email on Tuesday to students enrolled in the course “Asian American Communities and Race Relations,” announcing that she would offer extra credit to students who participated in a national walkout Wednesday afternoon “against the settler-colonial occupation of Gaza.” Alternatively students could watch a documentary on Palestine and “call/email your local California representative” to earn the credit, screenshots of the email showed.

“Doing so will either count as a field trip or an extra 5 points on the field trip category of your grade,” the email added, while Huynh requested students email her a “screenshot/photo with proof of their participation.”

On Tuesday a copy of the email was shared widely on X, garnering more than 1.9 million views in less than a day.

The T.A.’s email drew condemnation from pro-Israel activists who called it indoctrination, as well as from others concerned that it was an abuse of her power.

“Extra credit for protesting anything is pathetic,” Matt Sarelson, a Florida-based attorney, wrote in a post on X viewed more than 10,000 times. “Extra credit for participating in a pro-Hamas protest is evil.”

“Another unconscionable attempt to brainwash students,” activist David Lange said in a post on X.

Berkeley, like universities across the country, continues to be a magnet for strident and at times bitter debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid intense violence in the region. Across the U.S., Jewish and pro-Israel groups have criticized university leaders and students for equivocating in their responses to the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack — or, at times, celebrating it. Even at Brandeis University, a historically Jewish school in Massachusetts, the student government voted down a resolution condemning Hamas on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the advocacy group Palestine Legal has described what it calls a “McCarthyite backlash” at universities and other American institutions against people who “advocate for Palestinian rights,” including an NYU law student who reportedly had a job offer revoked after laying the blame for the Oct. 7 massacre at Israel’s feet.

The Cal course “Asian American Communities and Race Relations” is described as a “survey of contemporary issues affecting the Asian American community,” according to an online catalog. “We will look at the different theories that explain the current status of Asian Americans and the interrelationship between the Asian American community, nation, and world.”

The professor for the course is listed as Harvey Dong, a lecturer in Berkeley’s Department of Ethnic Studies. Dong didn’t immediately respond to a J. email seeking comment.

Huynh, the teaching assistant, did not immediately respond to a J. email seeking comment. Her personal website was marked “private” on Wednesday and was not viewable.

According to the university’s code of conduct, the “use of the position or powers of a faculty member to coerce the judgment or conscience of a student” is considered “unacceptable conduct” by professors and graduate teaching assistants. “Evaluation of student work by criteria not directly reflective of course performance” is also considered unacceptable.

“As soon as the administration was made aware of the assignment it moved quickly to ensure that it would be changed,” UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof told J. in an email. “The situation has been remedied.”

Students can now attend “any local event they wish — such as a book talk or a panel discussion — related to the course’s subject,” including the walkout, Mogulof wrote. Or they can “watch any documentary they wish about the Middle East.”

Mogulof pointed to a policy adopted by the University of California Board of Regents in 1970 and amended in 2005.

“Misuse of the classroom by, for example, allowing it to be used for political indoctrination, for purposes other than those for which the course was constituted, or for providing grades without commensurate and appropriate student achievement, constitutes misuse of the University as an institution,” the policy states.

“Generally speaking,” Mogulof wrote, “awarding academic credit to students for participating in civil disobedience activity, or for deciding not to attend their classes, would, in most circumstances, be ‘misuse of the classroom’ pursuant to this policy.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.