California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Chancellor Dirks and Dean Hesse Re Cancelled Palestine class at UC Berkeley

 

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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September 16, 2016

Dear Chancellor Dirks and Dean Hesse,

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of over 200 academics from different California institutions of higher education focused on protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression, is writing to object in the strongest possible terms to your recent suspension of the student-led DeCal course, “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.” This unprecedented action is a breach of the accepted principles of academic freedom and a clear violation of the academic freedom of the student instructor and the instructor of record.

By overruling the vetting and approval process of the senate, it could set a very dangerous precedent for undermining what is absolutely essential for a university to have: academic freedom and faculty governance. This course was vetted through all the normal faculty procedures according to university policies. It was approved by the instructor of record, the sponsoring department, and the Committee on Courses. The administration made its decision to suspend the class without ever consulting the students enrolled in the class, the student instructor and instructor of record, the department, or the senate. Moreover, they have not communicated with any of those involved directly in the class, nor have they requested any information from them. The decision was taken with the utmost disregard of the wellbeing of the students involved.

It behooves the university administration not to cave in to outside political pressures when they try to undermine academic freedom. The suspension of the course not only violates principles of faculty governance, but also encourages and licenses the very organizations that have been harassing students and faculty whose perspectives are different from theirs and who seek to broaden the sphere of learning and critical thinking further than these groups would like.

Academic freedom means the freedom to conduct and disseminate scholarly research and the freedom to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise. Academic freedom means that what is acceptable or unacceptable for professors as such is determined by the faculty, not by administrators, alumni, or donors. Those who administer institutions of higher learning bear a responsibility for the protection of academic freedom. The purpose of the university is to expand students’ critical thinking, not to narrow it.  Scholarly learning at its best often challenges common sense viewpoints. University education therefore may and often should make students uncomfortable.

We are concerned that the suspension of this course was a political decision in response to pressures from outside interest groups which support the perspectives of a foreign government, in this case Israel. This is the latest episode in the relentless attacks on U.S. scholars who teach on or research the topic of Palestine and Israel, orchestrated by a well-financed network of special interest groups such as the AMCHA Initiative, Stand with Us, the Canary Website, and Campus Watch (See the recent Los Angeles Times article on this network: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-uc-israel-palestinian-adv-snap-story.html ). On other campuses, similar attacks have led to the defamation and physical threatening of students as well as faculty, and it is clearly their intent to intimidate not only in this case, but by example. These groups have a well-organized campaign to end any critical discourse on Israel and are fundamentally anti-intellectual in their aims. Imagine, for example, if a class on the U.S. as a settler colonial state were to be suspended on grounds of anti-Americanism!

The extremist charge that the course is anti-Semitic is patently an effort to suppress open learning about the situation in Palestine/Israel, including opening space for scholarly debate.  Similarly, the extremist charge that a scholarly inquiry into how to end the Israeli occupation means the destruction of the state of Israel is patently false. Two years ago, a similar case of intensive pressure took place when the AMCHA Initiative and other pressure groups tried to suspend a similar class through the R’course (much the same as DeCal), with Professor David Lloyd of UCR, one of the signatories of this letter, as the instructor of record. However, the UCR Chancellor did not succumb to the pressure and allowed the class to be offered. Some years ago at Columbia University, a similar case ensued when outsider groups tried to pressure Columbia to refuse tenure to a scholar of Israel, Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, on the grounds that she was seeking the destruction of Israel. In that case, the university did the right thing by abiding by the faculty procedures for evaluating scholarly work and awarded her tenure.

The University’s administration should provide protection to its faculty and students from such continuous harassment, preserving their academic freedom in the process. Therefore, we urge you to re-instate this course immediately and demonstrate that UC Berkeley is still committed to the principles of academic freedom, including freedom from outside political groups who wish to suppress debate on contentious issues.  To do otherwise and succumb to external pressures will expose students and faculty to further harassment from external organizations.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom**

CONTACT PEOPLE:

Ahlam Muhtaseb

Professor, Department of Communication Studies

Interim Director, Center for Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies

California State University, San Bernardino

amuhtase@csusb.edu

Lisa Rofel

Professor, Department of Anthropology

Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

lrofel@ucsc.edu

David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor, Department of English

University of California, Riverside

colles2012@sbcglobal.net

**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.

September 17, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Mersin University, Turkey, about failure to renew contracts of faculty who sign peace initiative

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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Mr. Ahmet Çamsarı, Rector of Mersin University (ahmetcamsari@mersin.edu.tr)

Cc: The Council of Higher Education (cohe@yok.gov.tr), Hakan Arslan (hakan.arslan@mersin.edu.tr), Ali Kaya (akaya@mersin.edu.tr), İsmail Yağcı (yagci@mersin.edu.tr), info@mersin.edu.tr

We write to express our deep concern regarding Mersin University’s failure to renew the expiring contracts of faculty signatories of the peace petition by the Academics for Peace Initiative (Barış için Akademisyenler). These non-renewals amount to a purge of faculty on the basis of their political opinions in violation of academic freedom.

Last January, Mersin University initiated administrative investigations against these 21 academics (Assoc. Prof. Metin Altıok, Prof. Ayşe Gül Yılgör, Prof. Mustafa Kalay, Prof. Çetin Veysal, Prof. Atilla Güney, Assoc. Prof. Ulaş Bayraktar, Assoc. Prof. Ayşe Devrim Başterzi, Asst. Prof. Ali Ekber Doğan, Asst. Prof. Mustafa Şener, Asst. Prof. Yasemin Karaca, Research Asst. Esin Gülsen, Asst. Prof. Bediz Yılmaz Bayraktar, Asst. Prof. Melahat Kutun, Asst. Prof. Selim Çakmaklı, Asst. Prof. Hakan Mertcan, Asst. Prof. Veli Mert, Expert/Lecturer Bermal Aydın, Asst. Prof. Tolga Tören, Expert/Lecturer & PhD Candidate Galip Deniz Altınay, Asst. Prof. Hakan Altun and Asst. Prof. Eylem Çamuroğlu Çığ). Since then, Mersin University has failed to renew the contracts of five assistant professors, two lecturers and one research assistant (8 academics in total). This number puts Mersin University at the top of the list of Turkish universities that have acted punitively, targeting petition signatories with dismissal in violation of academic freedom and without regard to basic procedural protections.

We also note with concern that Turkish authorities have acted in concert with universities, including Mersin University, in the targeting and persecution of petition signatories and academics critical of the government. Some of the scholars dismissed from Mersin University also face threat of criminal investigation, prosecution and even prison sentences for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

In one case, assistant professors Hakan Mertcan, Mustafa Şener and Selim Çakmaklı face prosecution on charges of “insulting the President” due to their Facebook messages. Also on the basis of their social media messages in support of the rights of Kurdish citizens, academics at Mersin University have faced prosecution for engaging in “propaganda of terrorist organization” as well as “provocation of the people for hatred and hostility”. One such case was launched against research assistant Esin Gülsen who was due to appear for a hearing on July 12th, but whose case has been postponed to September 2016. In addition to these two cases, the Mersin public prosecutor’s office is conducting an investigation against Mertcan, Gülsen and Çakmaklı for “insulting the institutions and organs of the Turkish state” through their Facebook posts. The prosecutions already underway carry the risk of 14.5 year-long prison sentences should the accused academics be convicted. The third threatened prosecution (for “insulting the institutions and organs of the Turkish state”) would increase the potential sentence for the accused to 21.5 years. The prospect that academics could be sentenced to decades in prison for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression is unacceptable in any society that values critical inquiry, independent research and academic freedom.

We urge Mersin University’s rector and administration to immediately end any administrative or disciplinary investigations against these 21 academics in connection with their having signed a petition. We also call on Mersin University to renew the signatory faculty’s contracts, ensure their safety and protect their right to academic freedom. In addition, we ask that to the extent the rector has the authority to do so, all academic travel by the faculty and academic staff of Mersin University be approved and travel restrictions waived. We call upon you to uphold the due process of law and guarantee the fundamental rights and academic freedoms of the signatory faculty in your university.

We further call on all relevant Turkish authorities, including the Higher Education Council and the office of the President, to ensure that academics in Turkey enjoy a safe and supportive environment with full protection for their right to academic freedom. We note with alarm recent measures that have limited university autonomy and self-governance and echo the call for respect for academic freedom in Turkey that we co-signed together with 40-plus other scholarly associations (http://mesana.org/about/board-letters-statements.html#TurkishHigherEducation). Academic freedom includes the freedom of expression, opinion, association and travel and we ask Turkish authorities to lift all restrictions on academic travel for conferences, fellowships or scholarships abroad. We also ask that Turkish authorities drop all criminal charges, investigations and prosecutions against petition signatories and other academics on the basis of their social media postings and exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Nancy Gallagher

Research Professor of History

University of California, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA

Katherine King

Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature

University of California, Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA

Lisa Rofel

Professor, Department of Anthropology

Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

**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.

July 31, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Response to Provost Dorr re. letter about AAA

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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Los Angeles, July 25, 2016

Dear Provost Dorr,

We wish to inform you that we do not appreciate your dismissive answer to our letter from the California Scholars for Academic Freedom. Your answer does not address any of the specific points we raised. We therefore invite you to reconsider your response to our position, which we re-articulate here for you in the light of the dialogues entertained by members of our group on this matter with several UC Chancellors.

We are fully aware of the fact that along with many other universities, the University of California, in the person of its President (Policy 1300), has already expressed its opposition to “academic boycotts” in the past, and has the right to do so. What we have questioned is the inclusion of Chancellors in signing this letter, the lack of any consultation with UC faculty about its content and the timing of the letter. If Policy 1300 does give our President the right “to speak for the University,” this right comes to her from the Board of Regents, and it presumably refers to all matters of administrative and public representation of the University as an institution. On the other hand, the University of California also has a long-standing tradition and commitment to shared governance, especially when it comes to questions impacting academic matters. The two principles are clearly at odds with each other and it is therefore a delicate matter of interpretation and political acumen for a President to decide when it is appropriate to speak on behalf of the University.

That President Napolitano asked all ten chancellors to sign her letter is a clear indication that she was not certain of having the authority to send that letter and therefore sought to buttress her right by involving the Chancellors. In fact, the letter itself was clearly drafted in haste: even the name of the organization was botched into American Association of Anthropologists and—from the information we have since gathered— the letter was presented to the Chancellors in great haste not even following the normal procedure in the consultation of Chancellors by seniority beginning with UCSB Chancellor Yang. On all of these grounds the President’s actions and Chancellors’ caving to undue pressure demonstrated the exact contrary of what you claim in your response. It is particularly disturbing to witness your defense of this instrumental use of authority and lack of consultation with UC Senates and faculty on matters of great concern to the faculty.

We are therefore very pleased to have recently learnt that upon receiving motivated objections to his signing of the letter by the UCSB Faculty Association, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang immediately recognized the validity of such objections and committed publicly never to sign a statement regarding the “public representation of our university” without previous consultation with the Academic Senate of his campus. Chancellor Yang rightly interpreted the spirit of our criticism, and we invite you, all other Chancellors, and President Napolitano to follow his example.

We also wish to reiterate that our letter in no way referred to the actual merits of the academic boycott under consideration by members of the AAA, but to the very serious interference of your letter with the voting of a resolution by members of a scholarly association who are employed or may be employed by our university. It is one thing to speak for or against a boycott resolution already voted upon by a scholarly association, it is an entirely different matter to do so before that vote takes place.

For an institution that hires the members of an association to urge them to vote one way or another is at best interference, at worse intimidation. We are therefore greatly comforted by the reassurance we received from AAA Executive Director Ed Liebow that the letter you sent on May 19 was never distributed to the members of the association.

We urge/demand that the University of California never again issue letters interfering with voting procedures by academic associations.

We hope that this time you will give serious consideration to our objections and will respond not with empty niceties but concrete acts aimed at restoring mutual trust in shared governance between faculty and administrators.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

 

Contacts:

Professor Claudio Fogu

French and Italian Studies

UCSB

cfogu@frit.ucsb.edu

Professor Nancy Gallagher,

Department of History

UCSB

Gallagher@history.ucsb.edu

Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita,

Anthropology and Gender Studies,

UCLA

sonhale@ucla.edu

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

UCSC

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

**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.

July 27, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment