IRVINE, Calif. (Diya TV) — The University of California at Irvine has moved to reject two donations which would have established endowed chairs in Hindu and India studies after faculty members and students raised concerns about the ideology of the donors and the influence they sought to exert in the search process.
The gifts in question came from the Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF), a California-based entity which seeks to fund the academic study and teaching of Indian religions. However, Dharma’s approach seeks to operate as a corrective to what the foundation believes is a widespread misrepresentation of Hinduism by academics who do not practice the religion.
A faculty-commissioned report, which sought to review the DCF endowments, raised serious concerns about the implications of the university associating with the foundation. Recently, the foundation has released multiple public statements on its stances and beliefs, in one of which the DCF stipulated what they believed “constitutes good or acceptable scholars.” Additionally, the faculty report cited issue with the procedures for approving the chairs, as well as problems in the language of the gift agreements. The university found DCF to be “inconsistent with UCI’s core values as a public university that fosters diversity, inclusion, toleration and respect.”
Because of these results, the faculty recommended the rejection of the gifts, an action endorsed by the university’s Humanities Executive Committee (HEC).
“The HEC recommends that we not proceed with the chairs endowed by the Dharma Civilization Foundation,” Georges Van Den Abbeele, the dean of Irvine’s School of Humanities, said in a statement. “I will support these and other recommendations and will be working actively with HEC and relevant faculty on the recommended actions. I am also pleased by the committee’s recommendations on ways to clarify our internal policies and procedures to ensure greater degrees of consultation and review in the establishment of endowed chairs.”
The recommendation won’t require the rubber stamp of any other school administrators, according to Cathy Lawhon, a UC Irvine spokeswoman. “Everyone agrees to what the dean has communicated,” she said.
Additionally, the dean accepted the faculty’s recommendation that two other gifts — to fund endowed chairs Jainism and Sikhism — be returned to Abeele’s office for further review. These gifts were called under scrutiny by the faculty because their donors, whom have declared themselves independent of the DCF, have still been catalyzed by the foundation, the faculty believes.
Each of the four gifts were worth $1.5 million, and were matched be an additional $500,000 per chair. The first of the chairs had already received a stamp of approval, last spring, and had additionally already received final approval from the University of California’s Office of the President; the remaining three had been announced in the fall, were approved at the campus level, but not by the system. Since the gifts became public knowledge, the History Graduate Student Association at Irvine began circulating a petition in opposition of the DCF-connected chairs. The student government also approved a resolution condemning “the influence of outside donors and social, religious and political agendas in the process of selecting endowed chairs.”
An open letter, which was signed by multiple scholars who study India, described DCF as “part of a right-wing Hindu group of organizations that has been known to undermine Indian pluralism.” The scholars called upon the university to “reject partnerships with donor organizations or individuals who propagate narrow sectarian agendas that violate the very spirit and mission of a public university.”
An ad hoc committee charged with reviewing the chairs found that the gifts had been approved “with insufficient faculty input and consultation” according to UC Irvine’s own policies and procedures. “Whether extensive consultation was required or not, lack of meaningful involvement of faculty experts resulted in gift agreements that indicate no coherent academic plan,” the committee wrote. “Given the number of proposed chairs and their [sic] potential impact of these chairs in the School of Humanities, close consultation was necessary to ensure that the proposed agreements would complement and enhance existing programs and were in sync with the mission of the School of Humanities at large and with wider scholarly developments in the study of historical and modern South Asia.”
The committee continued by suggesting the university could be risking its academic integrity by associating itself with the DCF.
“The committee acknowledges that both individual donors and groups of donors who represent some subsection of community interests have intents when they endow chairs,” the report states. “When comparing the publicly stated views and intents of the DCF with other community-based donors, however, we find that the DCF is unusually explicit and prescriptive on appropriate disciplinary formations, what constitutes good or acceptable scholarship, and indeed, what constitutes good or acceptable scholars. The DCF also has publicly stated views on what sort of disciplinary formations, scholarship and scholars the foundation deems unacceptable or bad, creating a blacklist of academics. Such claims and implications are unacceptable incursions into the domains of faculty expertise and guidance.”
The committee concludes by writing: “While it could still be argued that gift agreements could be written in such a way as to ensure faculty control of the academic personnel processes related to hiring the proposed chairs and to exclude donor input into these processes, the committee believes that the public nature of the DCF’s views on disciplines, scholarship and scholars would nonetheless serve as an undue limitation on the applicant pool. In short, any association with the DCF name and funding will discourage applications from scholars who disagree with the foundation’s views and, even if protected from influence from the foundation, might consider their association with the DCF untenable.”