Biting the hand that teaches you

Posted: Nov 29, 2002 12:00 AM
Pity the poor university chancellor. He is entrusted with the task of nurturing the free flow of ideas while upholding academic standards. And that ain't easy when students see the university not as a special place where they can learn to reason, but as a platform to inflict their juvenile politics on nonbelievers. Enter, stage left, U.C. Berkeley student Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez and some 30-odd students are facing disciplinary action for disrupting classes (during midterms, no less) when they took over a campus building in April to force the university to divest from companies with ties to Israel. Cal also has put Hernandez's degree on hold, which prevents him from becoming a grad student in ethnic studies. It is the Student Conduct Committee's job to uphold the student code of conduct. Kudos to Chancellor Robert Berdahl for sending the message that students should respect other students' pursuit of an education. The concept of respect clearly is lost on Hernandez. As a student and a citizen, he has the right to advocate anti-Israel positions -- as long his protests do not undermine the rights of others. A good analogy would be that a citizen can protest abortion -- unless he impedes the ability of a woman to get one. Students also can vote, run for the student senate and mold administration policy through suasion. Too often in modern academia, tantrum trumps argument. Hernandez told The San Francisco Chronicle, "I try these other formal means of enacting change, but a lot of times we came up against these roadblocks." Get it: Roadblocks, as in other people's rights. As in policies implemented by duly elected and appointed officials. Hernandez told me that he uses "various means" to attain his goals, including "quote unquote legal means." As if legal is open to broad interpretation. So it's no surprise that Hernandez complained, "I wasn't expecting the university to come down on us as hard as they have." There are rules. Who knew? Thus Hernandez claims that U.C. is disciplining him because he's pro-Palestinian. "It's not about student conduct," he wrote in the Daily Californian, "it's about Israel." Sure. He's too much of a leftie for Berkeley. Hernandez claims the Alameda County District Attorney's office exonerated him when it dropped criminal charges. The "factual finding of innocence" has a "higher burden of proof than an acquittal," Hernandez wrote. That's news to Deputy District Attorney Stuart Hing. Hing didn't see any public interest in the county paying to try to jail Cal students. When the students grow up, Hing wants them to be able to tell prospective employers that they have clean records. He arranged a plea bargain whereby the students could make that claim -- after paying a fine that shows that they did wrong. There were three levels of fines, Hing noted; BUT only one student -- Hernandez -- paid the highest fine, because he "bit (one police officer) and tried to bite another officer." Hernandez denies biting a cop. He says he paid the highest fine because "my case involved assault and battery charges, which entail more work and court costs." U.C. attorney Mike Smith said because of the plea bargain, the Student Conduct Committee has to hold new hearings. Smith acknowledges that it's not easy politically to enforce the rules. Some student activists have a distorted view of civil rights; they think people with different opinions have fewer rights than they do. This misunderstanding cries out for remedial education.