Merle Woo vs. University of California Berkeley: the history

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• In June 1982, Merle Woo, a Marxist feminist and nationally acclaimed writer, was fired from her job as a lecturer in Asian American Studies/Ethnic Studies (AAS) at U.C. Berkeley.

• Woo charged UC with discrimination because of her politics, race, sex, sexuality, and criticism of AAS tenure track faculty. Her supporters included Angel Davis, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Barbara Smith, Congressman Ron Dellums, Gloria Steinem, Mitsuye Yamada, Kate Millett, Cherríe Moraga, Christine Choy, and San Francisco City Supervisor Harry Britt.

• In February 1984, she won two years resinstatement, a $48,548 settlement, and $25,000 in attorney’s fees.

• In fall 1984, she returned to UC, teaching in the Graduate School of Education, where she trained tutors of English as a Second Language. She sponsored student-organized classes such as “Violence Against Women” and “Multicultural Lesbian and Gay Studies.”

• In June 1986, Woo was fired again, without a review of her teaching. She and her union representative, University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), filed a grievance protesting UC’s unfair treatment and continuing retaliation based on her first victory.

• In July 1986, UC denied Woo access to the grievance procedure, a right of every lecturer. After a year of public pressure, UC agreed to a hearing in June 1987. A university-appointed hearing officer rejected all of Woo’s and UC-AFT’s charges.

• Woo, UC-AFT, and the Merle Woo Defense Committee continued the grievance to the final step, a hearing with an outside arbitrator.

• In March 1989, arbitrator Leo Kanowitz judged Woo’s firing “unreasonable.” He ruled that UC should reinstate her with full back pay, benefits, and seniority. The university’s decision not to appeal ended the second round of this precedent-setting free speech case.

See: It’s back to Berkeley for victorious Merle Woo

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