California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter in support of Shahla Razavi re. bringing Miko Peled to Mt. San Jacinto College

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

February 26, 2015

Mt. San Jacinto College Diversity Committee

Subject: Miko Peled’s Invitation to Speak at MSJC

Dear Diversity Committee Members,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom, an organization devoted to defending academic freedom, writes to you in support of Professor Shahla Razavi’s efforts to bring author Miko Peled to your campus through funding from MSJC Diversity Committee.

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 events, or restrictions of the freedom of students to engage in non-violent protest.

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 rights under international law. The perspectives of even decidedly moderate voices have often times been grossly misrepresented to make them appear as extremists. 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. The ideological agenda of the opponents of guest speakers is apparent in their insistence that “balance” be sought only when the speaker is critical of Israel. It is not the academic or ethical responsibility of a faculty member with a certain point of view to present “balance” on an issue. If the campus academic culture provides for the diversity of opinions and points of view, every member of the campus community should be able to bring their own guests/speakers free from pressure from ideological opponents.

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.

Based on the above concerns, we call on the Diversity Committee to resist caving in to the harassment by some faculty members, support Professor Razavi’s efforts to bring intellectual stimulation to MSJC, and to fund her speaking event of author Miko Peled as proposed.

Respectfully,

Contacts:

Lisa Rofel, Ph.D.

lrofel@ucsc.edu

University of California, Santa Cruiz

Dennis Kortheuer, Ph.D.

dennis.kortheuer@csulb.edu

Emeritus, Cal State Long Beach

Katherine King, Ph.D.

king@humnet.ucla.edu

University of California at Los Angeles

California Scholars for Academic Freedom*

** 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.

March 6, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to International Affairs Assoc. U of Penn about Chris Hedges

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.

Sincerely yours,

 

 

California Scholars for Academic Freedom*

 

Contact Information:

 

Katherine King

Professor of Comparative Literature

University of California at Los Angeles

king@humnet.ucla.edu

310-822-2830

 

 

 

Professor

** 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.

 

 

 

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks re civility and free speech

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.

Sincerely yours,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:

Sondra Hale, Research Professor and Professor Emerita, UCLA; phone: 310-836-5121; email: sonhale@ucla.edu

Lisa Hajjar, Professor of Sociology, UCSB, and Edward Said Chair of American Studies, American University of Beirut; email: lhajjar@soc.ucsb.edu

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, UC Riverside

David.lloyd@ucr.edu

909-964-9946

CC:

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.

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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