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UC Berkeley chancellor criticized for comments on Arizona shooting

January 13, 2011 |  5:04 pm

 

A campus e-mail sent this week by the chancellor of UC Berkeley has drawn criticism for linking a  Tucson shooting rampage with Arizona's tough immigration law and the failure of the DREAM Act.

In the Monday e-mail, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau condemned a “climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech is tolerated.”

He continued, postulating on factors that motivated alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner: “I believe that it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons.”

Birgeneau was referring to the new Arizona law that empowers local police to demand proof of citizenship or legal residency when they suspect a person is in the country illegally. His comments immediately drew rhetorical fire.

“The supposition that political expression created a climate that led Loughner to his choice is an idea that seems to have sprung from whole cloth out of the minds of people who likely were upset beforehand about ‘rhetoric’ and ‘hateful’ speech, including, apparently, Chancellor Birgeneau,” commentator Adam Kissel wrote on the website of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

And Diane Schrader, on the NewsReal Blog of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, accused Birgeneau of delivering “a nasty political rant even while condemning -- you guessed it -- nasty political rants!”

Birgeneau also commented on the political climate he said had contributed to the recent failure in Congress of the DREAM Act, which would have established a path to citizenship for children of some illegal immigrants. “This same mean-spirited xenophobia played a major role in the defeat of the DREAM Act by legislators in Washington, leaving many exceptionally talented and deserving young people, including our own undocumented students, painfully in limbo with regard to their futures in this country.”

The chancellor, a physicist, has championed the DREAM Act. He could not be reached Thursday for reaction to the criticisms.

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-- Howard Blume

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