California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Chancellor White re. response to ASA resolution

January 6, 2014

Dr. Timothy White

CSU Chancellor

401 Golden Shore

Long Beach CA 90802

 

Dear Chancellor White,

On behalf of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)*, we are writing to express our strong objection to your statement that “The California State University denounces the resolution calling for an academic boycott of the higher education institutions in Israel, which was issued by the American Studies Association.” http://blogs.calstate.edu/pa/news/?p=3387

The American Studies Association (ASA) is a professional academic organization, which passed this resolution through a majority vote of its members in accordance with its constitutional procedures and guidelines.  Furthermore, in all its statements it has affirmed that its resolution respects the academic freedom of individual scholars everywhere. You may personally disagree with the resolution, but questioning the organization’s right to take a position and advocate for it is a different matter. Moreover, making your statement in the name of the CSU is very troubling.

Faculty, scholars, students, or any citizen of a democratic society have the right to advocate for boycott and divestment. This is a first amendment right. Such peaceful advocacy can have a political impact in bringing about change as it did against the apartheid regime of South Africa. This right is being exercised today by academics like those in the ASA, who support boycott and divestment “in objecting to the acts of discrimination, dispossession and denial of academic freedom in which Israeli institutions are complicit through their close collaboration with the state and its oppression of Palestinian society.” http://www.theasa.net/american_studies_association_resolution_on_academic_boycott_of_israel

What is of great concern is that your statement is made in the name of upholding “academic freedom,” when in reality it suppresses the academic freedom of your own faculty. This is especially disturbing given that it is made from an administrative position of power and in the name of the institution you serve. When the administration takes side with respect to a controversial political issue, it has a chilling effect on the students and faculty who have the opposite perspective. Your statement helps create an environment of fear and intimidation for those who are not in a position of power but have a dissenting opinion. This is particularly problematic in this case because it reinforces positions taken by the U.S. government in defending violations of international humanitarian law and other human rights abuses by strategic allies like Israel and denigrating efforts by civil society to challenge such policies. It is disappointing that you find such nonviolent campaigns more problematic than the violation of international legal norms themselves.

Your claim of upholding academic freedom is not only contradictory but is moreover at best misguided and at worst hypocritical. How can you uphold academic freedom by suppressing the free expression of a critical position? Why have you so glaringly ignored the daily violations of Palestinian academic freedom and right to education? Why are you not questioning the systematic and longstanding violations of the freedom of movement and opinion of Palestinian academics, which, to our knowledge, have never evoked comments by you or your colleagues? The answer to these questions is all too evident.

We are all familiar with the pressure that Israeli lobby groups, such as Stand With US, AMCHA, and other local affiliates have exerted on academic institutions over the last decade to intimidate and silence all those who have been critical of Israeli policies of occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. A number of faculty members on your campuses have been direct targets of these attacks.  If such pressure groups are lobbying you to take the positions that you have taken, you must stand firm and remember your responsibility to the faculty and students under your care. You must stand firm in support of real academic freedom and first amendment rights on your university campuses. It is not only wrong, but also counterproductive to give in to such interest groups, whether they approach you with political pressure, financial threats, or other means. Appeasing them turns the largest public university system into a vehicle for the political maneuvering of these interest groups, and it encourages such groups to engage in the direct intimidation of faculty and students who have expressed support for the ASA resolution or engaged in criticism of Israel.

We call upon you to condemn Israeli violations of Palestinian rights to education and academic freedom with a level of concern similar to that you have expressed about the alleged violations caused by a boycott of Israeli institutions. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to withdraw your statement of condemnation of ASA and by espousing a neutral stance on the question of boycott and divestment affirm the California State University’s commitment to academic freedom.

 

Sincerely,

 

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

 

Contact Persons:

 

Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita

Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Sonhale@ucla.edu

 

Mahmood Ibrahim

Professor of History

California Polytechnic University, Pomona

mibrahim@csupomona.edu

 

David Lloyd

Professor of English

University of California Riverside

david.lloyd@ucr.edu

 

Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics

Dean, College of Arts and Humanities

California State University Fresno

vidas@csufresno.edu

 

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of well over 100 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

January 9, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 840 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 14 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

December 31, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Letter to President of SDSU re Ghassan Zakaria

September 23, 2013

 

From: California Scholars for Academic Freedom

 

To: Dr. Elliot Hirshman

President, San Diego State University

Office of the President

San Diego State University

5500 Campanile Drive

San Diego, CA 92182-8000

 

Dear President Hirshman,

 

California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California, wishes to express its concern regarding an infringement of the academic freedom of one of your faculty, Professor Ghassan Zakaria, a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and Asian/ Middle Eastern Languages.

 

According to reports that we have received, and those that have been published both by a local TV news channel and by the organization Stand With Us, Professor Ghassan Zakaria introduced into his Arabic language class a map of the Middle East on which the area of Palestine/Israel was designated solely as Palestine.  His Chair has clearly stated that he did so to “reflect the view of Arab-speakers in the region.”   A student sent the map and a complaint to Stand With Us, who then contacted the department and, it seems, SDSU Provost Nancy Marlin. ABC TV and Stand With Us report the Provost’s response as follows: “While SDSU encourages scholarly debate and discussion of varying opinions, presenting inaccurate information to students is not acceptable. SDSU’s Provost has conferred with the department chair, who spoke with the faculty member. This inaccurate portrayal will not reoccur.”

 

This strongly suggests that Professor Zakaria’s right to introduce his class to materials that may unsettle their preconceived world views and challenge what they accept as facts has been interfered with, principally at the behest of a group which notoriously operates as a pressure group and does not, despite its claims, represent the larger Jewish community.  We are concerned, in the first place, that any professor or instructor should be vulnerable to having his or her classroom materials censored or censured as a result of claims made by off-campus groups, or even by the university administration.  It is a fundamental principle of academic freedom that academic programming, including the content of syllabi and classroom materials, is the purview of the faculty and sheltered to the fullest extent from interference of any kind.  In this particular case, the claim that the introduction of such a map into the classroom is tantamount to “presenting inaccurate information to students” may completely miss the pedagogical point of the exercise.

 

Maps, as geographers and critical cartographers have long shown, are not “factual”, accurate or inaccurate, but representations of perspectives and interpretations of the world.  It is hard to imagine, for example, that had an instructor of Serbo-Croatian used a map omitting Kosovo, or a Chicano Studies professor introduced a map showing California or New Mexico as still part of Mexico, they would have been similarly pilloried or reprimanded by the administration. On the contrary, for students to have their assumptions about the normality of their own received views of the world challenged in such a manner can be an invaluable experience, and such practices are a staple of many of our pedagogical practices.  Syllabi are often designed to defamiliarize rather than confirm students’ expectations.  Were such pedagogical techniques to be constantly subject to one or other external pressure group’s interference, or to an administration’s efforts to appease such pressure—and it is not hard to imagine how many such groups might at some point or other attempt to influence pedagogical practice in a state as diverse as this—the principle of academic freedom in the classroom would be entirely undermined.

 

This leads to our second concern.  Increasingly groups like Stand With Us are intervening in campus matters across the state and the nation and they do so with the intent of chilling freedom of expression.  Often, however, their claims are made in the name of protecting the ethnic or religious sensitivities of students. Any such claim that students, or colleagues, have the right to be free from what they consider painful criticism or from being subjected to views contrary to those they hold, is profoundly threatening to the fundamental tenets of university life and intellectual community. As your colleagues the Presidents of CSU San Luis Obispo, Fresno, and Northridge have written in relation to a similar situation, “it is a university’s responsibility to tolerate a wide range of views on issues, even if they are unpopular or minority opinions.”  While both federal and state law as well as university policy protect students from discrimination or antagonism based on their religious, ethnic, gender and other identities, no law could possibly protect students or faculty from hearing challenges to their political, religious or cultural beliefs simply on the grounds of their identification with them, so long as such discourse is conducted in a non-coercive and non-violent manner.

 

To assert the existence of such protections constitutes a profound infringement of the freedom of intellectual inquiry and deliberation on which the university is based.  That freedom guarantees neither that any belief of any kind will be held sacrosanct and above criticism, nor that in all and every situation every view will be given equal consideration.  The university is the whole colloquy of the views expressed in it and the preservation of a broad and complete spectrum of views, all of them allowed both space and time for their elaboration, is essential to it.  Any organization, internal or external, that seeks to limit the free and full deliberation of any viewpoint, or the representation of perspectives inimical to it, trespasses on a principle of academic life so fundamental that the university would be unimaginable without it.  It is a principle which cannot and must not promise that in all situations students or faculty will feel intellectual comfort: indeed, mental and moral discomfort are often essential conditions for serious learning and thoughtful consideration of views that challenge our preconceptions.

 

We are moreover concerned as to the impact that such censure and interference may have on faculty who are lecturers, adjuncts or otherwise unprotected by security of employment or tenure.  At a time when, unfortunately, an increasing number of our colleagues lack such protections, it is all the more important that they should not feel threatened in the exercise of their profession, whether by external pressure or by administrative interference.  For non-tenure track faculty to feel vulnerable to pressure or surveillance of their work will further undermine the vitality and spontaneity that is critical to successful teaching and the education of students to be critical and independent thinkers.

 

We therefore urge you as President of SDSU to make a public statement of support and confirmation of Dr. Zakaria’s academic rights and to affirm the independence of faculty at your institution with regard to their pedagogy as to their research and publishing.

 

Sincerely,

 

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

 

Contact Persons:

 

David Klein

Professor of Mathematics

California State University, Northridge

dklein8@gmail.com

 

David Lloyd

Professor of English

University of California Riverside

david.lloyd@ucr.edu

 

 

Dennis D. Loo

Professor of Sociology

California State University, Pomona

ddloo@csupomona.edu

 

 

Stephen Zunes

Professor of Politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies

University of San Francisco

zunes@usfca.edu

 

Cc: Provost Nancy A. Marlin, SDSU

 

Professor Diana Guerin

Chair, Academic Senate CSU

 

Ghada Osman

Professor & Chair, Dept. of Linguistics & Asian/ Middle Eastern Languages

Vice-Chair, SDSU Senate

 

*Further information on CS4AF: http://cascholars4academicfreedom.wordpress.com/author/cs4af/

September 26, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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