Why Doesn't UCSC See
Jews as an Ethnicity?
Sometimes it's just easiest to start at the beginning. I was on the phone with my mom, bitching about a particularly annoying class I was enduring, when it happened.
"Why do you have to take this class anyway?" Mom asked.
"For my E credit."
"I think it stands for Ethnic studies. I need it to graduate."
Mom was quiet for a moment and then asked the question. "What about that class you took last year on Jewish writers? Didn't that cover it?"
"No, it didn't."
I didn't have an answer.
The class in question was Literature 140F: Jewish Writers and the American City, taught by Murray Baumgarten. A quick glance through the UCSC General Catalog proved my suspicions correct no E credit for the class. Interestingly, the course right above it, Literature 140D: Caribbean Literature, receives the E credit. And so does the course above that. In fact, of the 173 courses that currently receive the E credit, not one is a Jewish studies course.
Hillel, a national organization of Jewish college students, has a chapter at UCSC. According to Rachel Steiner, Hillel's Community Outreach Intern, approximately 20 percent of UCSC students are Jewish and yet, "there are very few classes that cater to [Jewish students] and they're not recognized as an ethnic group."
Steiner is upset about the lack of Jewish studies at UCSC. "It's a really sad state when Jewish history gets reduced to the Holocaust," she said. "It's really sick."
Steiner would even like to see a Jewish Studies Board here at UCSC. But as far as the E credit conundrum, she had no answers for me. Though she did say, "I think it [the lack of E credit for Jewish studies] uncovers a lot of our campus' bias."
According to Michael Cowan, chair of the Academic Senate, the E credit was introduced in the mid-'80s in an attempt to "de-ethnocentrize" the campus. When the credit was introduced, the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) awarded the credit to several classes. But after that, in order for a class to get the E credit, the board the class is in must contact the CEP and submit an application.
But would Cowan support E credits for Jewish studies classes? "I would be in favor of using a greater variety of lower-division courses to meet the requirement," is all he would say. Fair enough.
Since a board must travel through the CEP for the E credit, I thought calling CEP Chairperson Triloki Pandey would be a good idea. Unfortunately, he didn't think so. All he would tell me is that the answers to all of my questions were written down in the Academic Senate office. "Instead of relying on my memory, you can just read it yourself," he said flatly. So that's just what I did.
The only two Jewish studies classes in the 1985 report were denied the E credit. The only explanation was the phrase "not concerning a non-Western society." Both classes no longer exist.
And it was illuminating reading. On Dec. 9, 1985, the Third World General Education subcommittee submitted a report to then CEP Chairperson Michael Tanner. The report defined an E credit course as a "course dealing with ethnic minorities in the United States or a course on a non-Western society."
In the letter to Tanner, the committee noted a lack of courses dealing with anti-Semitism. "In light of the persistence of anti-Semitism in both the US and abroad, the Jewish experience in the US has been significantly different than the experience of other Euro-American minorities. We thus encourage CEP to look into the possibility of new courses which would treat the phenomenon of anti-Semitism."
But ten years later, there are still few, if any, courses that specifically address anti-Semitism.
Also included in the report was a list of classes that had been approved or denied the E credit. The only two Jewish studies classes in the report were History 165: The History of Judaism: The Development of a Nation, and Modern Society and Social Thought 154A: The Jews and Modernity. Both classes were denied the E credit. The only explanation was the phrase "not concerning a non-Western society or culture." Both classes, as well as the Modern Society and Social Thought Board, no longer exist.
But other classes exist now, and, like their predecessors, they do not receive an E credit. Many of these classes are taught by Professor Murray Baumgarten. After days of unreturned phone calls, I decided to pay him a visit at his Kresge office.
Baumgarten called the lack of E credits for his courses "ridiculous," but refused to talk about the 1985 report saying only, "that's in the past."
I told him that I'd learned from Cowan that the Literature Board would have to contact the CEP to get the E credit for his classes. "Okay," he said, sitting down at his computer. "You can write that I'm in the process of getting it."
He then fired off this e-mail to Jorge Hankamer, Acting Chairperson of the Literature Board:
To: email@example.com (Jorge Hankamer)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Murray Baumgarten)
Subject: E credit
Jorge, Last quarter I taught a course, Aspects of the American Jewish Experience to 60 students; several of them asked for E credit for the course, and did a petition, which I signed.
This quarter I teach a course on the Holocaust, and several students have asked me for E credit - as in the other course, not all these students are Jewish, should that be an issue.
Would it be possible for the board to request E credit for this course? I would appreciate it if you would pursue the matter with the appropriate authorities.
Later that day I called Hankamer. He said that the Literature Board had never applied for E credits for Baumgarten's classes before "because nobody thought of it." But, he had received Baumgarten's request and would forward it to the CEP.
How the CEP will rule remains to be seen. According to the 1985 guidelines, the E credit should go to courses that study a "non-Western society or culture." They go on to define "non-Western" as "non-European." It was this guideline that the CEP used to deny the two Jewish studies courses in 1985.
But a quick review of the 1994-95 Navigator shows that courses on Europe have received the E credit. History 194R: Race and Ethnicity in Modern Europe, for example.
The CEP guidelines also say that a course "dealing with ethnic minorities in the United States" qualifies for an E credit. Compare that to the 1994-95 Course Catalog's description of Baumgarten's literature class: Aspects of the American Jewish Experience: "Achievement of immigrant writing, theatrical, musical, dance, and film production... Analysis of push-pull dynamics of self-hatred in the context of the changing non-Jewish mainstream."
It sounds like a course that deals with "an ethnic minority in the United States" to me.
And I can't help but remember when Hillel's Rachel Steiner said to me: "Go to any history class. Read what's going on. Jews remain invisible. Jews are very important in European history and American History and they remain invisible. And that's what is unfortunate. It's not that there aren't specific classes, but that the Jews that are there are rendered invisible. And so are the Jews on campus."
And the worst part is, I still don't have an answer for my mom.
SIDEBAR 1: Polite Excuses
So, why don't Jewish studies classes receive the E-credit?
"Because nobody thought of it."
Jorge Hankamer, Acting Chairperson of the Literature Board
"I don't know. It seems appropriate to me [to give the E credit to Jewish studies]."
Rachel Steiner, Community Outreach Intern for Hillel
"That's a good question. It may have never have been brought up."
Michael Cowan, Chairperson of the Academic Senate
"There's a Senate ruling on it. Just read it yourself."
Triloki Pandy, Chairperson of the Committee on Educational Policy
SIDEBAR 2: And Why Not?
The following courses are the only ones I could find in the 1994-95 UCSC Course Catalog that could be considered Jewish studies. They do not currently receive the E credit. Keep in mind, in order for a class to fulfill the E credit, it needs to "deal with a non-Western culture or the experience of an ethnic minority in the United States." Judge for yourself.
LIT-68. Aspects of the American Jewish Experience: Studies in Literature. F
Achievement of immigrant writing, theatrical, musical, dance, and film production. Yiddish; "making it" in business and baseball; racialism and the Holocaust. Analysis of push-pull dynamics of self-hatred in the context of the changing non-Jewish mainstream. Marginality and Jewish feminism. Israel and the process of cultural redefinition by second and third generation artists. Enrollment limited to 60. (General Education Code: IH.) M. Baumgarten
LIT-80A. The Hebrew Bible. F, W
No book has so decisively influenced the development of the Western World as the Bible. Traces the Bible's influence on narrative, themes, and ideas in Western literature. Explores major Biblical stories and themes in a comparative context and traces their reappearance in Western literature and imaginative works. (General Education Code: T4-Humanities and Arts.) M. Caspi
LIT-140F. Jewish Writers and the American City. S
An examination of some major Jewish writers and their responses to the American city. Major writers: Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, J. Kaplan, Philip Roth. A look at Yiddish and other minority writers, and including sociological and historical materials on the American city. M. Baumgarten
HIST-80W. The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry. W
Focus on the destruction of the Jews of Europe by Nazi Germany. Issues are historically grounded, and include works of literature, social sciences, philosophy, and film, as well as a visit by a survivor/witness as part of a two-day conference during the term. Offered in alternate academic years. (General Education Code: T4-Humanities and Arts.) P. Kenez, M. Baumgarten
HIST-137. Jewish Intellectual History. F
Surveys European Jewish intellectual history from the Enlightenment to the present. Major themes include: the romance of assimilation, the flowering of Yiddish literature, the competition between Zionism and socialism, new variations on the messianic idea, and Jewish contributions to the culture of urban modernism. B. Thompson
As of May, 1995, nothing has changed. Although Hillel expressed support for the idea, they made it clear that they were not a political lobbying organization. The Student Union Assembly has expressed support for a Religious Studies Board, which kind of goes along with this, but not really. The real problem is that those who teach the Jewish Studies courses are, for some reason or another, unwilling to persue the matter. And, as a Jew, I am deeply saddened by this. DMP