California Scholars for Academic Freedom

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

Letter to Chancellor Gillman of UCI re protest on campus 18 May

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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July 13, 2016

Chancellor Howard Gillman

Office of the Chancellor

510 Aldrich Hall

Irvine, CA 92697-1900

via chancellor@uci.edu

Dear Chancellor Gilman,

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 express its deep concern about your administration’s response to the protest that was organized by several UCI student groups on your campus on May 18, 2016. We join our colleagues at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) to bring to your attention the critical importance of protecting the academic freedom and first amendment rights of all the student groups involved in this protest and call on you to correct the seeming discriminatory treatment of one of the student groups involved in the May 18 protest.

Your statement to the UCI community on May 19, 2016, asserts that the actions of student protestors at the showing of a documentary on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had “crossed the line of civility.” We are concerned about the use of the word “civility”, especially in relation to its historical use or misuse in subjugating indigenous people and people of color in this country and beyond. How would one measure “civility” and according to which standards? And more importantly, does this mean that “uncivil” speech and the language of dissent is unprotected speech? Moreover, dissent is not the same as “uncivil” speech.  And “uncivil” speech is not the same as hate speech or violence.  Some might be made to feel uncomfortable by dissent but the university is precisely the place that should encourage debate, dissent and discussion of controversial matters.

It is also of great concern that your statement was made prior to a comprehensive and impartial investigation of this incident. As it was attested in a letter to you dated June 7, 2016, from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), whose chapter members had served as non-partisan volunteers and legal observers at the May 18th event,  “allegations by outside groups to the effect that the protesting students threatened attendees, blocked exits and otherwise engaged in threatening and dangerous behavior, were baseless.”  The detailed field notes from the National Lawyers Guild observers therefore suggest that your initial conclusions, reached less than 24 hours after the event and without any investigation, require a public reassessment.

We respect the university’s right to conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation into this incident. However, we are troubled by the fact that members of only one of the student groups involved in the protest, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), were singled out for disciplinary proceedings while several other student groups, including the local Jewish Voice for Peace and Black Lives Matter, participated with the SJP students in voicing their objections.  This raises the possibility that the SJP group has been singled out in a selective and discriminatory manner. We also question your administration’s decision to refer this incident along with the names of SJP-affiliated students to the Orange County District Attorney’s office for investigation and possible criminal prosecution. Again, this selective prosecution, instead of an independent internal investigation, further points to a discriminatory treatment of SJP students. We are deeply troubled that a potential criminalization of constitutionally protected peaceful protest activity will threaten the first amendment rights of all UCI students and have a chilling effect on dissenting voices.

As members of the academic community, we are shocked by the treatment that the students have received because of their participation in a campus protest activity.  We feel that universities must uphold and defend the principles of academic freedom and serve as sanctuaries for the free expression of ideas and opinions, however controversial. We recognize the rights of those who organized the screening of the documentary on May 18, 2016, and expect you to recognize the rights of the students who chose to engage in peaceful protest at the screening. University administrators should not be swayed by external interest groups and undermine the vigorous exchange that is essential to the preservation of free speech, the protection of academic freedom and the mission of our institutions of higher education.

As NLG has correctly pointed out in its letter “your public comments constitute a threat to the students’ due process rights and serve to sanction hostility against pro-Palestine and Black Lives Matter students, who are routinely subject to unprecedented levels of harassment and intimidation across the country, including on UC campuses.” We therefore call on you to retract your remarks to the campus community that the protesting students “crossed the line of civility.” We further call on you to publicly affirm that all students regardless of race, religion, or political beliefs, may exercise the right to protest and enjoy the right to a fair and impartial investigation when accused of serious infractions.  Finally, we urge you to retract the referral to the Orange County District Attorney’s office to investigate this incident, and we call on you to refrain from referring such incidents to law enforcement authorities in the future.

We look forward to your response,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita

Department of Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Sonhale@ucla.edu

Ahlam Muhtaseb

Professor of Communication Studies
Graduate Coordinator

Interim Director, Center for Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies
California State University, San Bernardino

amuhtase@csusb.edu

Lisa Rofel

Professor of Anthropology

Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics

Director, Middle East Studies Program

Dean Emerita, College of Arts and Humanities

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.

July 13, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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