California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to American Academy of Religion re last-minute decision to cancel a scheduled panel at the AAR annual meeting

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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December 8, 2017

American Academy of Religion

825 Houston Mill Road NE, Suite 300

Atlanta, GA 30329-4205​​

To the Executive Committee, Executive Director, and President of the AAR:

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom,** a group of over 200 scholars in various institutions of higher education in California, are writing to express our profound disappointment over the AAR Executive Committee’s last-minute decision to cancel a scheduled panel at the AAR annual meeting this past month, which was to examine the faith community and movements supporting boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli occupation. While we are aware that you were still willing to allow an informal exploratory session to take the place of the panel, and announced your willingness to allow such a panel to take place at next year’s meeting, we find it highly problematic and a violation of the principles of academic freedom that the Executive Committee of the AAR would refuse to allow a formally-recognized panel to take place as it appeared in the conference program. Whether intended or not, your actions have given the impression that the panel somehow lacked the legitimacy of comparable panels at the conference, which was precisely the intention of the participants who pulled out at the last minute.

We understand that your decision was prompted in part by two roundtable participants who oppose BDS suddenly removing themselves from the panel during the week prior to the conference, prompting concerns that the panel was then dominated by those supportive of various forms of BDS. This establishes a disturbing precedent whereby panel members with a particular ideological orientation now know it is possible to convince the AAR executive committee to cancel or postpone a panel simply by refusing to participate and thereby creating an unbalanced panel which no longer fulfills the “originally stated aims of the session,” which the EC has cited as the basis of the decision.

Moreover, it is our understanding that this is the first time the Executive Committee has ever removed a recognized panel from the official program immediately prior to the start of a conference. The nature of the decision, therefore, raises concerns that it was made for political reasons, thereby constituting a further serious violation of academic freedom.

Furthermore, given the lag time between the deadline for panel and paper proposals and an annual meeting, it is certainly not unusual for the final product to be at some variance with “the originally stated aims of the session.” In fact, if one checked the contents of conference participants’ presentations with their submitted titles and abstracts, we all know a significant percentage of the presentations would differ from their initial descriptions. Using this as an excuse to cancel the gathering again begs the question as to why such changes were seen as a problem in this particular case, raising concerns that the decision to effectively cancel the roundtable was ideologically-driven.

Given that conference roundtables (more so than paper panels) are often focused on controversial contemporary issues and thereby will include scholars from other fields as well as non-academics, including those from advocacy organizations, it is troubling that their inclusion was apparently seen by some as problematic in this particular case, in which policies of a government considered to be strategic ally of the United States are challenged by some of panelists.

We would appreciate a thorough explanation as to why the Executive Committee– which has apparently allowed other panels to go ahead as scheduled in which the final makeup did not fully cover the original stated aims of the session, which included individuals who were not scholars of religion, and which a minority of panelists had withdrawn—decided to cancel this particular one.

Similarly, we ask for reassurance for those invited to participate in future AAR panels dealing with controversial issues that they won’t also suddenly find that their panel is cancelled less than 48 hours prior to the start of the annual meeting. Given the time and expenditures it takes to participate in a national academic conferences, and the importance in terms of career prospects of being part of an official program for grad students and tenure-track faculty, your decision as it stands serves to discourage scholars from proposing or taking part in any panel covering controversial issues. We certainly hope this was not the intention behind your decision on the BDS panel.

It is critically important that learned societies such as AAR make clear they will not be intimidated by pressure from corporate interests negatively impacted by BDS, supporters of the Israeli government, anti-Arab racists and Islamophobes, or any other opponents of academic freedom.  We insist that you offer a formal apology to panel participants and offer guarantees that nothing like this will happen in the future.

We look forward to your response,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:

Lisa Rofel, Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Mark LeVine, Professor

Department of History

University of California, Irvine

mlevine@uci.edu

Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics and Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno

vidas@csufresno.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.

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December 10, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Free University (Berlin) President Dr. Peter-Andre Alt re cancelled talk by Lila Sharif

 

 

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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December 6, 2017

Free University President: Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt

Email: praesident@fu-berlin.de

 

Director of the Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gudrun Krämer

Email: gudrun.kraemer@fu-berlin.de

Dear Professors Alt and Krämer:

 

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM**, a group of over 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions, is writing to express our concern about the Freie Universtät’s recent decision to cancel the invited lecture of our colleague, Assistant Professor Lila Sharif. Professor Sharif was scheduled to deliver a lecture at the Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies on November 23, 2017 at 19:00 entitled “Olive Insurrections: Palestinian Survival in a Vanishing Landscape.”

 

At 9:12 on November 23, 2017, @FU_Berlin tweeted that “because of higher than expected attendance and associated organizational problems, BGMCS has decided to cancel the lecture.” We are concerned that the cancellation of Professor Sharif’s talk was due to community pressure and the allegation that Professor Sharif’s views represent a “one-sided and untenable defamation contributing to the stigmatization of Jews,” as Levi Salomon put it. Mr. Salomon is the spokesperson for Berlin’s Jüdisches Forum für Demokratie und gegen Antisemitismus (https://www.salonkolumnisten.com/kein-herz-fuer-israelkritiker/).

 

We find this allegation itself to be a defamation of Professor Sharif’s work and we strongly object to the silencing of Professor Sharif’s serious critical scholarship on Palestine.  If the FU’s decision was in fact the result of “organizational problems,” the failure of the FU to re-schedule or otherwise accommodate Professor Sharif’s talk would appear to be an assault on academic freedom and critical scholarship. This contradicts the FU’s reputation for supporting academic freedom.

We urge FU to reissue the invitation to Professor Lila Sharif so that she can share her important work on the history of Palestinian struggles to preserve their landscape and culture in the midst of a decades-long military occupation.

 

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza
Professor of Sociology
University of California, Merced

tanyaboza@gmail.com

Ignacio López-Calvo, Ph.D.

Professor of Latin American Literature

University of California, Merced

lopezcalvo@msn.com

Fatima El-Tayeb
Professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies
University of California, San Diego

feltayeb@ucsd.edu

**California Scholars for Academic Freedom was formed as a response to the increasingly frequent violations of academic freedom and attacks on progressive educators in California. Our goal has however grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom nationally and internationally. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

December 8, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim re Turkish scholars who signed the “Peace Petition”

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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December 3, 2017

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım
Office of the Prime Minister
Başbakanlık
06573 Ankara, Turkey
Via facsimile + 90 312 422 26 67

Dear Prime Minister Yıldırım:

California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than two hundred faculty at universities throughout California, has written to your office on several occasions, most recently on November 6, 2016, in order to express our concern over reports that the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) had commenced an investigation against scholars who signed a petition for peace in the Kurdish ​provinces of the country (“Peace Petition”). Since that date, many signatories have been prosecuted or dismissed from their posts. Hundreds more academics were dismissed with statutory decrees, their passports were confiscated, they were banned from public sector employment, and criminal investigations were launched. Many of those academics had to leave the country and are now facing extreme difficulties in resettling their lives and professions

We wish to reiterate our concern that these violations of human rights and academic freedom are continuing and in particular that individual Turkish academics are now being targeted in what amount to political trials.  Signatory academics are being sued on an individual basis based on the accusation of terror propaganda according to the Anti-Terror Law, Article 7/2. The public prosecutor proposes imprisonment extending to 7.5 years. The number of academics with indictments is increasing day by day, and their trials start on December 5, 2017.

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 government’s actions are inappropriately politicized and in violation of internationally recognized principles of academic freedom. The mere act of signing the Peace Petition has left academics facing charges of “making terror propaganda”.   In addition to governmental actions, numerous universities have taken anticipatory action against academics, producing a wave of punitive actions against scholars solely on the grounds that they criticized the government’s policies in the southeastern provinces. 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 suggested 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 provinces. 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.

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 particularly urge the government of Turkey to desist from prosecuting these academics under the Law on Struggle against Terrorism.

The use of spurious charges of engaging in “terror propaganda” 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. 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

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 over 200 academics who teach in more than 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/

December 5, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment