Akhilesh Goswami President
International Affairs Association
University of Pennsylvania
Dear Mr. Goswami,
California Scholars for Academic Freedom, an organization devoted to defending academic freedom, writes to express our concern that Chris Hedges was disinvited as a keynote speaker because he expressed views critical of the Israeli government.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom stands against the intimidation of scholars and institutions, whether on the basis of their open advocacy of unpopular or politically targeted positions or simply on the basis of the fact that their scholarship has been understood to challenge conventionally accepted political perspectives. Over the past five years we have, accordingly, spoken out against various forms of censorship, sanction, or restriction of academic freedom of speech, whether in the form of the denial of tenure, proposals to defund institutes or departments, or restrictions of the freedom of students to engage in non-violent protest.
When your group decided not to follow through on its invitation to Chris Hedges, it may have been unaware that its decision was part of a larger issue.
For several years, groups that support the Israeli government have waged a concerted campaign on and off university campuses to discourage and prevent speaking invitations and academic events viewed as either critical of Israel or supportive of the Palestinian struggle for their rights under international law. Even when these efforts to interfere with free expression fail, the campaign itself diverts attention from the message to the messenger, and thereby defeats the main educational purpose of exposing university audiences to a range of views on controversial questions of public policy.
Beyond this, the extra effort required to oppose such a campaign also often discourages campus groups in the future from inviting speakers who would arouse controversy. The overall chilling effect is to deprive students, faculty, and the wider community from the sort of presentations that are so badly needed on sensitive issues of public concern. Part of the educational responsibility of academic communities is to encourage engaged citizenship, which depends on access to a range of viewpoints in the marketplace of ideas.
We would very much appreciate it if the International Affairs Association of the University of Pennsylvania would keep in mind the deleterious effects of this campaign as you make your final selection of speakers for your Peace Conference. We would ask further that the IAA consider re-including Chris Hedges in this conference in order to make a strong statement against the kind of intimidation and narrow thinking that always stands in the way of peace.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom*
Professor of Comparative Literature
University of California at Los Angeles
** CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of more than 150 scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.
CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
September 11, 2014
Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor
University of California – Berkeley
Dear Chancellor Dirks,
California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* a group of 150 academics committed to academic freedom on university campuses, writes in response to your public message to the Berkeley community, titled “Civility and Free Speech” and distributed electronically on September 5. The text is rife with errors, which, coming from a university chancellor, raise serious concerns and prompt this response.
The most glaring error is your apparent lack of understanding of the actual meaning of free speech, as well as its relationship to academic freedom. While you do not mention academic freedom, it is a core issue for your intended audience. Another issue that you do not mention but is likely to have prompted your message is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You write: “when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation.” On UC Berkeley and on campuses all over the country, currently no issue compares to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the passions and animus that disagreements evoke. But even more importantly, nothing presently compares to the problematic way that some university and college administrators have chosen to deal with this particular conflict, including advocating a censorious approach to “civility.” We read your message as a manifestation of this problem.
In timing and substance, your message echoes events over the last two months at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign following the unilateral decision by Chancellor Phyllis Wise to “un-hire” Associate Professor Steven Salaita. Wise claimed that she made her decision out of concern that Salaita might be an uncivil presence on that campus because of some of his Twitter posts during Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza; he was reacting to the enormous carnage and destruction. As critics of Wise’s announcement immediately and continuously have pointed out, Salaita was tweeting as a private citizen, exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. However, the real motivation for Wise’s decision, as we now know thanks to the FOIA release of email traffic to and from her office, was her desire to accommodate some wealthy donors and alumni who communicated their anger and threatened to withhold support for the school if Salaita were to join the faculty because his public profile includes criticism of Israeli state policies (which opportunists and those unlearned in the issues spuriously try to conflate with anti-Semitism). Wise’s decision was unwise and potentially illegal. Her decision to refuse employment to a tenured professor, who was selected, vetted, and approved through the university’s normal channels, has been condemned by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), as well as other professional associations and thousands of academics.
In regard to the contents of your message, you claim that civility is a necessary condition for free speech. Specifically, you write: “Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin…” That is flatly wrong, and your reasoning is menacing to free speech. While civility and the exercise of free speech may coexist harmoniously, the right to free speech not only permits but is designed to protect uncivil speech. You also make the startlingly ill-informed claim that “the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled.” Certainly not all kinds of speech are protected under the law (e.g., incitement and harassment), but as another critic of your message has already pointed out, political advocacy is the apotheosis of free speech, and there is no “demagoguery” exception to the First Amendment.
The right to free speech is not the act of speaking or engaging in communicative actions to express ideas publicly, nor is it contingent on the notion that anyone else needs to listen, agree, speak back, or “feel safe.” Rather, the right to free speech is constituted through prohibitions on the infringement of speech, including restrictions framed as “civility” rules. While civility is an ideal—and a good one, free speech is a right. The right to free speech does not dissipate because it is exercised in unideal (uncivil) ways.
There are at least two important ways in which the right to free speech and academic freedom intersect. First, every person in the jurisdiction of the United States has a constitutional right to free speech, including faculty, students, administrators, and staff who compose academic communities. While there remains some disagreement about how much freedom of speech people enjoy in private universities, there is—or should be—no question about free speech rights at public universities because they are understood to be and to operate as extensions of the state. Second, the right to free speech is one of the three pillars of academic freedom, which is a “guild” right of the professoriate. The three pillars of academic freedom are: (1) the freedom to conduct and disseminate scholarly research; (2) the freedom to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise; and (3) the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment which in this context prohibits the professional penalization of professors for extramural speech. Academic freedom is not absolute; rather, what is acceptable or unacceptable for professors as such is determined by the guild, not by administrators, alumni, or donors. Those determinations are based on standards of scholarly excellence and achievement, which manifest through hiring, publication of scholarship following peer review processes, and career reviews in which an individual’s academic record is judged by other professors in his or her field. Those who administer institutions of higher learning bear a responsibility for the protection of academic freedom, which includes free speech in the ways described here.
In conclusion, we regard the arguments you put forward in your message to be incompatible with your responsibility as the Chancellor of UC Berkeley because they contradict the principles of free speech and academic freedom. We request that you publicly withdraw that message, and send a different one that actually affirms your commitment to free speech and academic freedom.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Sondra Hale, Research Professor and Professor Emerita, UCLA; phone: 310-836-5121; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Hajjar, Professor of Sociology, UCSB, and Edward Said Chair of American Studies, American University of Beirut; email: email@example.com
David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, UC Riverside
Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, UC Davis
Chancellor Howard Gillman, UC Irvine
Chancellor Gene Block, UC Los Angeles
Chancellor Dorothy Leland, UC Merced
Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, UC Riverside
Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, UC San Diego
Chancellor Sam Hawgood, UC San Francisco
Chancellor Henry Yang, UC Santa Barbara
Chancellor George Blumenthal, UC Santa Cruz
Chancellor Timothy White, Cal State University
President Alexander Gonzalez, Cal State Sacramento
President Les Wong, San Francisco State University
President Soraya M. Coley, Cal State Pomona
President William Covino, Cal State Los Angeles
President Charles Reed, Cal State Chico
President Leroy M. Morishita, Cal State East Bay
President Joseph F. Sheley, Cal State Stanislaus
President Eduardo Ochoa, Cal State Monterey Bay
President Joseph I. Castro, Cal State Fresno
Chancellor Mildred Garcia, Cal State Fullerton
Chancellor Tomás D. Morales, Cal State San Bernardino
Chancellor Diane F. Harrison, Cal State Northridge
Chancellor Lisa A. Rossbacher, Cal State Humboldt
Chancellor Eliot Hirshman, San Diego State
Chancellor Karen Haynes, Cal State San Marcos
Chancellor Ruben Armiñana, Sonoma State
* CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.
CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
August 8, 2014
Chancellor Phyllis Wise
Office of the Chancellor
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Swanlund Administration Building
601 E. John Street
Champaign, IL 61820
Dear Chancellor Wise,
California Scholars for Academic Freedom* is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred fifty faculty at universities and colleges throughout California. 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.
We are therefore extremely disturbed by the account published in Inside Higher Education, which states that your institution, having publicly confirmed the hiring of Professor Steven Salaita as Associate Professor (with tenure) of American Indian Studies after the customary full review, subsequently withdrew the offer. This action on your part has reportedly been taken on account of tweets and other public statements made by Professor Salaita regarding the recent Israeli offensive on Gaza.
We are both concerned and perplexed by this action, which would be tantamount to firing a tenured faculty member without review or stated grounds. In particular, we are disturbed that Professor Salaita’s constitutionally protected expression of his views, not disseminated in the name of the university or at its expense, may have served as the pretext for his dismissal. We have been unable to discover anything in the cited tweets that exceeds the limits of strongly expressed and sometimes satirical modes of speech and found nothing that a reasonable and impartial reviewer could consider to be injurious or racist speech. Indeed, if there were questions about Prof. Salaita’s “civility” or “collegiality” that would have impacted his work as a teacher or scholar, it is hard to imagine that they wouldn’t have been discovered and addressed far earlier in the hiring process by the committee that vetted his scholarly work, which has made no secret of his opinions, or his teaching record. But neither “decorum” nor “civility”, highly subjective judgments in any case, have any bearing on the essential right to freedom of expression. Censure or censorship of such political rhetoric would seriously infringe on the range and manner of allowable expression and subject any professor who participates in the public sphere to an alarming degree for precarity, merely for practicing the kind of public critical exchange that we hopefully still encourage our students to engage in as citizens.
Yet more alarming is the strong evidence in the current climate that Professor Salaita’s dismissal comes in response to the pressure of interested lobbying by individuals or organizations who are opposed to his political views. Increasingly, such groups are intervening in campus matters across the nation, and they do so with the intent of chilling freedom of expression. Usually, however, their claims are made in the name of protecting the ethnic or religious sensitivities of students, usually by intemperate and exaggerated characterizations of the statements or scholarly work of those they target. 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. 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.
If, as there is strong reason to suppose, your dismissal of Professor Salaita is based on such pressures, you have failed to defend crucial principles of academic freedom on grounds that have no place in the university. If your dismissal was based on the fact or content of Professor Salaita’s expression of his views in the public sphere, you have infringed both on his rights as a member of the university community and on his first amendment rights. We urge you to reverse this peremptory decision without delay and to apologize publicly for the pain and anxiety that you have caused Professor Salaita and his family.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Jess Ghannam, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Levine, Department of History, U.C. Irvine, email@example.com
David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, U.C. Riverside, firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Slyomovics, Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles, email@example.com
*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of over 150 professors at universities and colleges throughout California. 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.