California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Press release on Islamophobia

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

PRESS RELEASE

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

Our civil liberties are being violated in the name of security again!  The effect is to stir hate and fear. Since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, we have seen a dramatic and disturbing increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the United States.  California Scholars for Academic Freedom is particularly concerned that Islamophobia is manifesting itself in ways that threaten the academic freedom and civil liberties of researchers, teachers, and students. These include physical threats, censorship, and termination of employment.  Many of these cases involve no more than teaching basic cultural and historical information about the Middle East.

Teachers who teach this basic subject matter are often either accused of being terrorist sympathizers or, in the most egregious cases, accused of being terrorists themselves.  Police are called to arrest Muslim and Arab American students for “suspicious-looking” backpacks.  Schools in Augusta County, Virginia, were closed after an Arabic calligraphy lesson prompted a disturbing anti-Muslim backlash.   A Philadelphia Sunday Sun December 19 article documents the daily physical and verbal abuses and harassments Muslim children have to endure in schools across the nation.  Attacks against Muslims have tripled since the Paris attacks, reaching levels not seen since the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.  All of this serves to punish those whose points of view are deemed dangerous. This “danger” more often than not is a grossly distorted mis-representation of ordinary lessons in history and culture.

At the college-level, Islamophobia is manifested in threats to defund centers for Middle East studies if they appear to be advocating a particular point of view.  Frivolous lawsuits are filed to intimidate administrations, faculty, and students.  One of the most common targets for such actions are scholars and students who voice criticism of Israeli state policies. They are branded as terrorists, and in this case, as anti-Semitic.  Once again, Muslims, Arabs, and Arab Americans are especially targeted for such attacks.

In the first six months of 2015 alone, Palestine Legal responded to 140 incidents and 33 requests for assistance in anticipation of potential suppression. The overwhelming majority of these incidents targeted students and scholars, a reaction to the increasingly central role universities play in the movement for Palestinian rights.

California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of close to 200 scholars from different academic institutions in California which advocates the protection of academic freedom of faculty, staff, and students, categorically rejects all forms of intolerance, any discriminatory treatment of Arabs and Muslim (citizens and non-citizens) faculty and students, and all attempts to curtail the free flow of ideas with regard to the Middle East.

We call on all schools, colleges, and universities to honor and respect the academic freedom of all faculty, teachers, and students, and urge our educational leaders, not only in California but also in the whole USA, to fight Islamophobic speech and acts that might affect the academic rights of our faculty, staff, and students.

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:

Professor Ahlam Muhtaseb

California State University, San Bernardino
amuhtase@csusb.edu

Professor David Palumbo-Liu

Stanford University

Palumbo-liu@stanford.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.

February 4, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter in Defense of Turkish Scholars

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

January 19, 2016

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via fax +90 312 417 0476; +90 312 403 62 82; + 90 312 422 26 67

cc: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Fax +90 312 525 58 31

Speaker of the Grand National Assembly Ismail Kahraman, Fax +90 312 420 51 65

Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu:

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 over reports that the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) held an emergency meeting to commence an investigation against scholars who signed a petition for peace in the Kurdish regions of the country (“Peace Petition”). YÖK officials are reportedly treating this petition as pro-PKK “terrorist propaganda” that falls outside of the protections of academic freedom. Further, there are reports that YÖK plans to convene university rectors to take additional action against signatories at their universities. These actions by YÖK represent a violation of academic freedom and are consistent with broader efforts on the part of the state to punish critics of state policies.

The government’s actions against the Peace Petition signatories are distressing for at least three reasons. First, investigating the signatories after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the campaign in a public address, calling the signatories “traitors,” suggests that YÖK’s actions are inappropriately politicized.  We understand that the government has enhanced YÖK’s regulatory authorities in ways that are inimical to university autonomy. In this environment, it is hardly surprising that universities are proactively taking punitive measures in anticipation of your government’s actions. Within a day of President Erdoğan’s speech and the announcement of the YÖK investigation several universities initiated punitive measures against their faculty. Assistant Professor Hülya Doğan at Bartın University is reportedly under investigation by her university for being a signatory of the petition. Likewise Sivas Cumhuriyet University has reportedly launched an investigation against Professor Ali Çeliksöz for having signed the petition and he was asked for his resignation. Associate Professor Latife Akyüz has been suspended by Düzce University administration, and a criminal investigation has been opened against her for “terrorism propaganda”—all for being a signatory of the petition. The rector of Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri has reportedly demanded the resignation of Professor Bülent Tanju solely on the grounds that he is a signatory of the Peace Petition. The local prosecutor in Kayseri, taking note of the rector’s action, has also initiated a criminal investigation against Professor Tanju under Articles 216 and 301 of the Penal Code. The mere act of signing the Peace Petition has left Professor Tanju facing possible charges for “inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples” and “denigration of the Turkish nation” under these penal provisions. Professor Melih Kırlıdoğlu, Assistant Professors Çetin Gürer Dilşah Deniz Nil Mutluer and Muzaffer Kaya have also been asked to resign by the rector of Nişantaşı University. Lecturer Ümran Roda Suvağcı from Hakkari University has been taken into custody for having signed the petition. Further disciplinary investigations have reportedly been initiated by the rectors of six universities—Samsun Ondokuz Mayıs University, Antalya Akdeniz University, Abant Izzet Baysal University, and Ankara Hacettepe University, Giresun University, Istanbul Arel University—against members of their faculties who are signatories. Halil İbrahim Yenigün, an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Istanbul Ticaret University lost his job. Many more universities are likely to follow suit, amounting to a wave of punitive actions against academics solely on the grounds that they have criticized the government’s policies in the southeastern provinces. Moreover, within the first week of the release of the Peace Petition, 12 faculty, who are among its signatories, have been temporarily detained and questioned by state prosecutors, and more such investigations have been reported to have taken place in Erzurum, Düzce, Kocaeli, Bolu, Bursa, Van, Bingöl, Zonguldak, Samsun, Bartın, and are expected to continue in the coming weeks in Istanbul and Izmir. In a university system in which rectors are appointed by the state and YÖK is free to initiate politicized investigations of academics, the actions being taken against signatories of the Peace Petition are a disturbing indication of the degree to which restrictions on academic freedom have become a matter of state policy in Turkey.

Second, among the signatories of the petition are scholars whose research is on the Kurds, other minorities, politics, history, and other related fields. That is, their scholarly work is related to the concerns raised in the text of the petition. By treating the Peace Petition as treasonous and launching an investigation of signatories, the government is effectively interfering with the ability of these academics to conduct their research. President Erdoğan suggests that the petition calls for foreigners to intervene to correct the situation in Turkey. In fact, the petition called for national and international independent observers to monitor the situation in the Kurdish region. This is not a call for foreign intervention, but rather an invitation to engage in the kind of independent observation that is the hallmark of both human rights monitoring and academic research. To investigate and criminalize a petition in which scholars call for independent observers to monitor areas under siege and curfew where civilian deaths have been reported is to strike at the heart of the academic enterprise—the ability to conduct independent research.

The politicization of regulatory powers over higher education to punish dissent and silence critics of your government’s policies on various issues, including Kurdish rights, represents a serious violation of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and has cast a long shadow over the democratic credentials of your government.

Third, as a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly.  Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected.

We respectfully ask that your government take immediate steps to ensure that YÖK drop any investigation of or action against the signatories of the Peace Petition and that any actions—including university, YÖK or criminal investigations or charges—against all these academics be reversed. As of this writing reports are emerging about additional disciplinary investigations as well as an independent criminal investigation launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecution Office against all the signatories under Article 301 of the Penal Code and Article 7 of Anti-terror Law alleging “terrorist organization propaganda”; we respectfully demand that any such investigations also be dropped. Against a backdrop of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms under your administration, taking steps to protect academic freedom and the right to education would be an important step to address concerns about human rights in Turkey.

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

Yours sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Emailed to:

Council of Higher Education International Relations Unit

Prof. Dr. Ali HABERAL, Rector, Başkent Üniversitesi

Levent Uysal, Mütevelli Heyeti Başkanı, Nişantaşı Üniversitesi,

Prof. Dr. Mehmet ÇİVİ, Rector, Arel University

Prof. Dr. Muhit MERT, Rector, Fatih Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. Musa DUMAN, Rector, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. İbrahim Kafi DÖNMEZ, Rector, İstanbul 29 Mayıs Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. Nazım Ekren, Rector, İstanbul Ticaret Üniversitesi,

Prof. Dr. Şahin KARASAR, Rector, Maltepe Üniversitesi

Prof. Dr. İbrahim Hakkı YILMAZ, Rector, Iğdır Üniversitesi

Contacts:

Sondra Hale, Anthropology and Gender Studies, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); email: sonhale@UCLA.edu; phone: 310-836-5121

Katherine C King, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of California at Los Angeles; email: king@humnet.ucla.edu; phone: 310-822-2830

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, University of California, Riverside; email: david.lloyd@ucr.edu; Phone: 951-827-1459

**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.

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

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to George Blumenthal, Chancellor, UCSC

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

November 30, 2015

Dr. George Blumenthal, Chancellor

Chancellor’s Office

University of California, Santa Cruz

1156 High Street

Santa Cruz, CA  95060

Dear Chancellor Blumenthal,

We are writing you on behalf of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred fifty faculty at universities and colleges throughout California. We are disturbed to learn of your November 19 letter to the UCSC campus community written in response to the vote by the UCSC Student Union Assembly to reinstate a call for the University of California to divest from companies which profit from military support for the Israeli occupation or from companies which invest in illegal settlements or the illegal separation barrier in occupied Palestinian territories.

Your letter mischaracterizes the students’ resolution, stating that it was a vote to “divest from Israel.”  In reality, the resolution called only for divestment from four primarily U.S. companies which directly support the Israeli occupation.

Despite your acknowledging the right of the SUA to address such issues, we find it problematic for a chancellor to effectively criticize student representatives for participating in a democratic process of debate and decision making on contentious issues. To claim that taking a principled stance in support of corporate responsibility in reference to international law and human rights might somehow create a chilling climate on campus comes across as discouraging the very kind of activism which UCSC students have practiced for decades without interference from previous chancellors.

Your letter implies that supporting a socially-responsible investment policy would somehow contribute to a possible climate of harassment or worse for students who disagree. However, the vast majority of harassment on University of California campuses has been towards these very students and faculty who, in the finest tradition of democracy and academic freedom, have spoken out in support of human rights and international law in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In particular, there has been a well-funded effort by various right-wing groups to try to silence criticisms of Israeli policies on UC campuses.  As you are well aware, your own campus was dragged through a frivolous lawsuit on this matter which, not surprisingly, was thrown out of court.

Increasingly, such groups are intervening in campus matters across the nation, and they do so with the intent of chilling freedom of expression. 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. Anti-Semitism—like racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression—is a real problem that UCSC should indeed take seriously. However, 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 nonviolent manner.

One of the most disturbing parts of your letter was your implication that “Jewish students” are a homogenous group who will somehow be offended simply by opposition to certain policies of Israel’s right-wing government. Not only is opposition to the Israeli occupation widespread among Jews in the United States, Israel and elsewhere, Jewish students were among those who voted in favor of the divestment resolution. This is why posting a letter conflating Israeli-occupied territories with Israel and conflating Israel with Jewish students is so problematic. In failing to make these critical distinctions, you are encouraging those who seek to stifle academic freedom by effectively equating opposition to what is recognized by the international community—including the U.S. State Department—as a foreign belligerent occupation and encouraging divestment from corporations which support it as somehow encouraging bigotry towards a minority group.

Academic freedom includes the freedom of faculty and students to reach conclusions that contradict previous dogma, whether within the academy or throughout the larger society. This includes raising concerns and proposing actions regarding violations of international legal norms by a government considered to be a strategic ally of the United States. The university cannot and must not promise that in all situations students or faculty will feel intellectual comfort. Indeed, mental and moral discomfort is often essential conditions for serious learning and thoughtful consideration of views that challenge our preconceptions.

Academic freedom is both the freedom of professors and students from administrative or political interference with research, teaching, and governance, and the constitutional academic freedom that insulates the university in core academic affairs from interference by the state. While your letter recognizes differences of opinion, the fact that you would single out this resolution in such a way could indeed be intimidating for probationary faculty and others who might support this and other initiatives in support of human rights, international law, and corporate responsibility. 

Academic freedom also means taking positions and engaging in debates which may be upsetting to some without fear that an administrator will respond in a campus-wide mailing implying there was something wrong in doing so. Indeed, if taking a stance on an issue rooted in international humanitarian law in a foreign country can be construed as somehow “creating an environment in which some students feel alienated and less welcome” and, however indirectly, linked to “unimaginable acts of violence,” this—far more than any student assembly resolution—will indeed have a chilling effect.

It is urgent that you make a strong public stance in support of academic freedom and in support of students who voice opinions about which some may strongly disagree. Your letter implies the opposite by laying the burden of possible harassment on the students voicing these views.  In our long experience, the most effective way for an administration to protect its faculty and students from the attacks of those who wish to silence them is to respond strongly and publicly.

We look forward to hearing your public response.

Stephen Zunes         Katherine King       Sondra Halle

Professor of Politics         Professor of Comparative Literature      Professor of Anthropology

University of San Francisco    University of California, Los Angeles      University of California, Los Angeles

zunes@usfca.edu          king@humnet.ucla.edu                             sonhale@ucla.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.

December 1, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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