California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to UCLA Vice-Chancellor Jerry Kang re disruption of the lecture on “Islamophobia and the attacks against Palestinian Organizing and Scholarship” in Anthropology M114P

May 31, 2019

Jerry Kang, Vice-Chancellor

For Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

University of California, Los Angeles

Dear Vice-Chancellor Kang:

We, California Scholars for Academic Freedom,** a group of over 200 academics in California universities and colleges, are dismayed by actions taken following a recent event (May 14) in an undergraduate classroom in the UCLA Anthropology Department.  The class, Anthropology M144P and entitled “Constructing Race,” is cross-listed with Afro-Am and Asian-Am Studies, and is specifically designed to deal with highly charged subjects in order to find a broad analysis of the construction of race and its implications. Out of her concern about Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in the U.S., the class instructor, Dr. Kyeyoung Park,  included this topic in her class. She invited a guest lecturer with expertise in the field, Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas and professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University, to  speak on “Islamophobia and the Attacks against Palestine Organizing and Scholarship.” This is an important topic for the UCLA campus, especially given the number of incidents of the violation of academic freedom directed at faculty who teach or do research on the Middle East or Arab and Muslim issues.

On May 14th, during Prof. Abdulhadi’s lecture, two students interrupted the class during the Q & A period by shouting, crying, and talking over her.  Witnesses confirmed that to her credit, Dr. Abdulhadi stayed cool, affirming students’ feelings and expressing respect for their right to hold differing views. As she sought to respond, students persisted, making it nearly impossible for her to finish her responses to their questions. The lecture was streamed live and the recording is available online here.

We cannot have students shout down a guest lecturer irrespective of whether the talk is on or off the subject of the class. The complaints filed by a few students claiming that Dr. Abdulhadi had engaged in “hate speech” fail to make the absolutely crucial distinction between statements critical of Israeli state policies and their Islamophobia and “hate speech.” Have you investigated whether these students were a part of an orchestrated and well-funded campaign? It is well documented that this has actually been the case a number of times on the UCLA campus.  

Apparently, it was suggested to Dr. Park that she invite a speaker from the Anti-Discrimination League, a group that defends Jews, Israelis, and Zionists and that itself has engaged in Islamophobia. (see Here). Several years ago, UCLA faculty fought the battle of an outdated view of administrators that any one lecture or course, or panel or a program must be “balanced.”  Faculty were liberated by the view that won the day (or so we thought) by the accepted stance (or so we thought) that no one event has to be “balanced,” as long as the university itself is balanced. and we note that balance is also a normative criteria depending on the context. Would you demand that a professor offering a course on evolution also present the case for creationism?  If so, where would this stop?

We want to remind the leadership of UCLA that we all have a commitment to free speech and academic freedom on campus.  We are alarmed that the professor’s academic freedom was not respected or seen as an immediate cause of concern and that, to the contrary, a knee-jerk reaction by the administration led to the unverified assumption that something anti-Semitic had taken place in the class. Too often the very word “Palestinian” sets off alarms in the minds of some.  We have to guard against this if we are categorically committed to freedom of speech and academic freedom.

While students are free to complain, it would be quite troubling if UCLA administrators were to take action against the professor (and in this case, two T.A.’s) in response. Exposure to different viewpoints does not amount to harassment or “hate speech.” It is in fact what makes it possible to engage critical thinking and promote student intellectual growth. Should the students not be held accountable for disrupting the class? In fact, as nearly as we can tell, the administrators took action without even consulting with the professor first or verifying the facts. We are asking that the students who disrupted the lecture be held accountable to the university’s student code of conduct.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education has long rejected arguments that a student’s hurt feelings warrant censorship or discipline. We refer you to this report from the Center for Constitutional Rights.  In its letter to UC Berkeley, OCR officials stated that student demonstrations in support of Palestinian rights “constituted expression on matters of public concern directed to the university community. In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience. In this context, the events that the complainants described do not constitute actionable harassment.”

Most urgently, we turn to the objection that Professor Park did not manage the situation to the satisfaction of the complainants.  Unless there is an explicit rule that Park failed to abide by that you can cite, we reject any attempt to discipline her, either directly or indirectly, and any and all attempts at retaliation. Vice-Chancellor Kang, you were a popular choice for the position. UCLA faculty seemed assured that “diversity” would not be used as a weapon when the incident is sensitive.

We demand an immediate apology to Professor Park.

Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi also deserves an apology from UCLA for the abuse she suffered and the infringement on her rights to academic free speech as a guest speaker on your campus.  We further demand that you make a public statement about the classroom incident based in fact rather than in scurrilous, inaccurate and false information.

We will be watching this case carefully, as will other academic and civil rights groups.

On behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Sondra Hale

Professor Emerita/Research Professor

Anthro and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Sang Hea Kil,

Associate Professor

“Justice” Studies

San Jose State University

Susan Slyomovics 

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

University of California, Los Angeles

Carole H. Browner

Distinguished Research Professor

Center for Culture and Health

Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior,

Department of Anthropology,

Department of Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Jamal Nassar, Dean Emeritus

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

California State University, San Bernardino

Saree Makdisi

Professor of English

University of California, Los Angeles

Dennis Kortheuer

Department of History, Emeritus 

California State University, Long Beach

Dr. Brooke Lober


Beatrice Bain Research Group

UC Berkeley Gender and Women’s Studies

James Quesada, Ph.D.


Department of Anthropology

San Francisco State University

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of some 200 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.


June 1, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Recep Erdogan, President of Turkey, re imprisonment of Dr. Ayse Gul Altunay and treatment of Academics for Peace in Turkey



May 29, 2019

H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

President of the Republic of Turkey

T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği

06689 Çankaya, Ankara 

Dear President Erdoğan:

This is the seventh letter we, California Scholars for Academic Freedom*, representing over two hundred faculty at California universities, are writing in solidarity with our Turkish colleagues, who signed the Academics for Peace statement, “We will not be a party to this crime.” As you can read in the letters we sent earlier, we have been following the fate of our colleagues since January 2016. Even though we follow and respond to breaches of academic freedom in the U.S. and the wider world, there has not been any other case about which we have written as many letters. The treatment the Academics for Peace have been subjected to in Turkey is simply unmatched in the democratic world in the twenty-first century. Even such wide scale persecution as was experienced in the U.S. under McCarthyism in the 1950s pales beside the persecution of Academics for Peace. 

What prompted this fourth letter is the sentence of two years and one-month imprisonment that our colleague Prof. Dr. Ayşe Gül Altınay received on May 21, 2019. Dr. Altınay is one of the most accomplished anthropologists of Turkey. She is globally known as a scholar of women’s and gender studies and is an editorial board member of the European Journal of Women’s Studies. In terms of her productivity and scholarly impact, Dr. Altınay is in a league with the most distinguished scholars of her field worldwide. She is the kind of scholar that Turkey should be proud of. Sentencing her for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization as a non-member” makes the Turkish justice system lose all of its remaining credibility.

We find it incredible that a petition that calls for peace and was signed by more than 2,200 academics is deemed to be terrorist propaganda. Even more incredible, however, is the way in which the signatories have been treated differently for the same act of signing a petition. As of May 28, 2019, 726 signatories have been on trial. So far 192 sentences have been issued. Out of these 192 sentences, 153 were suspensions and 4 were deferrals. The remaining 35 sentences included convictions that ranged from 15 to 36 months. This kind of discrepancy in the sentencing process for the same alleged crime is unheard of in the annals of legal history and reminds one of Max Weber’s concept of “Kadi justice” (Kadijustiz), which many of us have been critical of as a fiction of Orientalism but which the Turkish Ministry of Justice under your leadership seems determined to actualize in the twenty-first century.

We were shocked to witness the imprisonment of our colleague Prof. Dr. Füsun Üstel about whom we wrote to you in the past. A retired professor who authored three books and many articles on political science focusing on such issues as citizenship and nationalism, Dr. Üstel has educated generations of students at several universities in Turkey. She became the first actual victim of the terrorization of knowledge that we have been witnessing in the cases of the Academics for Peace. We believe that contrary to the accusations of being producers of terrorism propaganda, the signatories of the Peace Petition have been terrorized for exercising their academic freedom in petitioning their government and producing knowledge that is critical of state policies directed toward the inhabitants of the Kurdish majority provinces of Turkey.

As you would remember better than anyone, it was you who presented the “Report on the Kurdish Question” to Mr. Necmettin Erbakan in 1991, acknowledging “state terrorism” (devlet terörü). It was under your government that Turkish public television launched a channel dedicated to broadcasting in Kurdish. You were the first statesman of Turkey who apologized for the state violence perpetrated against the Kurds in Dersim in the 1930s. It was also under your leadership that the peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK started. The Academics for Peace simply demanded a return to this process that was interrupted in the aftermath of the June 2015 elections. 

We stand in solidarity with our persecuted colleagues and demand the dismissal of all their cases at once. Such state supported violence against academic freedom and basic human rights will negatively impact international academic collaboration with Turkish higher education institutions and universities that are complicit in targeting academic freedom. We have no doubt that the decisions made so far in these cases would be overturned once they reach the European Court of Human Rights for individual appeal. Thus, it would be in Turkey’s interest to correct the injustice done to the Academics for Peace before it is forced to do so by international law. Such a correction would also accord a certain degree of credibility to your efforts to appear as a champion of human rights elsewhere in the world, efforts that have become increasingly difficult to take seriously since the summer of 2015. We invite you to join Dr. Altınay’s call to take “new steps … to break out of the cycles of violence that we are living through.”


California Scholars for Academic Freedom


Nancy Gallagher, Ph.D

Professor Emerita of History

University of California, Santa Barbara 

Sherene H. Razack, Ph.D

Distinguished Professor

Penny Kanner Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies

Dept. of Gender Studies, UCLA 

Suad Joseph, Ph.D

Distinguished Research Professor

University of California, Davis.

Rabab Abdulhadi, Ph.D.

AMED Studies

San Francisco State University

cc: Professor Dr. Yusuf Leblecici, President, Sabanci University; 


*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of over 200 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.


May 31, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to President Oliver and Dean Boyle at Pitzer College in Support of Dr. Daniel Regal and Pitzer College Students who Sponsored the Motion to Suspend the Study Abroad Program at the University of Haifa, Israel.



April 8, 2019

Melvin Oliver, President, Pitzer College

Nigel Boyle, Dean of the Faculty, Pitzer College

Dear President Oliver and Dean Boyle:

We write as representatives of California Scholars for Academic Freedom*, a group of over two hundred academics and intellectuals with a commitment to defend academic freedom and first amendment rights of faculty and students who teach and do research in California’s institutions of higher education. We write in support of Dr. Daniel Segal, Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of History, and also the Pitzer College students who have sponsored the motion to suspend the College’s study abroad program at the University of Haifa. This motion was supported by a strong majority of the most representative Pitzer campus body, composed of students, faculty, and staff.

We have learned recently that in the weeks preceding the March 14 vote of the Pitzer College Council, Professor Segal and student supporters of the motion were the target of multiple attack campaigns. One of these took the form of a FaceBook meme with a photo of Dr. Segal labeled “creepy Dan” and accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” That meme causes great concern, both for its libelous labeling and for its conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Posters also appeared on campus with an image of masked “terrorists” and text insinuating that Pitzer would be supporting Hamas if they voted in favor of the motion. Those posters are of great concern because they employ tropes of hatred against Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians and potentially expose students from those backgrounds to a heightened risk of violence. Evidently, on Friday, April 5, a group of outsiders came onto the Pitzer campus and distributed postcards depicting Professor Segal’s photo in a red circle with a red line through his face, calling him an anti-Semite. This sort of material poses real danger, for it encourages direct, violent targeting of Professor Segal. 

These and other incidents of vile and inflammatory postering and doxing aim to silence voices on campus concerned with Palestinian rights. We find it deeply troubling that neither the President nor the Dean of the Faculty of Pitzer College responded to these speech acts in order to counter them. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that academic freedom and freedom of expression continue to thrive at your prestigious institution, as the Pitzer community continues to take up Palestinian rights in debate, motions, and votes. 

Contact persons on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom:

Lisa Rofel,

Professor Emeritus

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Vida Samiian

Professor Emeritus of Linguistics

California State University, Fresno

Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Nancy Gallagher

Professor Emerita of History

University of California, Santa Barbara

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, 

Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, 

San Francisco State University

David Palumbo-Liu,

Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, and Professor of Comparative Literature

Stanford University.

CC: Claudia Strauss, Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee (

       Mike Segwa, Vice President of Student Affairs (

Harold Brown, Chair of the Board of Trustees (via Secretary Melanie_Lacy@Pitzer.Edu)

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) defends 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.

April 14, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment