SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite pressure from outside groups concerned about her politics, UC leaders on Wednesday confirmed the nomination of UC Berkeley senior Sadia Saifuddin as a student regent.
Saifuddin, a Pakistani-American, is the first practicing Muslim to serve in the position. Groups that opposed her appointment have criticized her involvement in a contentious and emotional campaign at Berkeley this spring to divest university funds from companies affiliated with the Israeli military.
If she were confirmed, conservative political activist David Horowitz wrote in a petition to the UC Regents, it "would set a dangerous precedent to encourage escalated anti-Semitism on campus, which is already a big problem in the UC system."
The educational research director for the Israel education organization Stand With Us said she was disappointed in the decision. "I just wish they had picked a bridge builder instead of a bridge burner," said Roberta Seid, who is also an adjunct faculty member at UC Irvine.
But a number of students spoke in support of Saifuddin's candidacy, arguing she had been thoroughly vetted by student leaders and that the opposition was not shared by the student body. They described her as a thoughtful and courageous leader who created the first interfaith worship space on campus.
While she worked on the divestment campaign, said past UC Student Regent Jonathan Stein, "Sadia was what kept UC Berkeley from cracking apart through that experience."
The president of the UC Student Association also urged the regents to confirm the nomination despite the unusual controversy. "Their concerns are not representative of the student perspective," said Raquel Morales.
Regent Bonnie Reiss, who is Jewish, said she disagreed with Saifuddin's position on the divestment issue but said she chose her because she was a "remarkable young woman" who would represent students well. "This committee would not have selected Sadia if we thought she was anti-Semitic," Reiss said.
On her Facebook page last month, the student regent-designate wrote:
"The LA Times recently published an article about my nomination. If you are ever interested in the breadth of the problem of Islamophobia, check out the comments section.
"Unfortunately, students deal with bigotry on their own campuses every day. Islamophobia is just one facet of a greater problem; anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and every other type of irrational fear and/or discrimination are realities for many communities. They create a hostile environment that is not conducive to learning and undermines the values of the UC."
Asked after the meeting about her position on divestment, Saifuddin said she felt it was irrelevant to the student regent role. The opposition, she said, "drives me forward because I want to prove these people who had these allegations against me wrong."
Saifuddin, a native Californian, will serve as 2014-15 student regent; until then, she will serve as a regent-designate, participating in deliberations but without voting.
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