Letter from California Scholars for Academic Freedom to Professor Ikhleif Tarawneh, President of the University of Jordan
University of Jordan
Amman 11942, Jordan
Dear President Tarawneh,
California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* a group of 150 academics committed to academic freedom on university campuses, is very concerned about the aftermath of a student project–a film about student-to-student sexual harassment–that was created on your campus in December 2011 and posted to YouTube in June 2012.
Here are the facts as we understand them. After the film was posted to YouTube, the vice president of the University of Jordan phoned Professor and Dean Rula Quawas, for whose class the film was made, and angrily demanded an explanation. Dean Quawas wrote a letter of explanation to you, the President of the University of Jordan, but received no response. The four students who made the film suffered reprisals from other students in the form of stares and slanders. No one in the university administration spoke out publicly either to defend the students’ right to make the film or to condemn the catcalls and sexual comments that the young women said they had endured and the social stigma they subsequently suffered.
If the above facts are wrong, we would appreciate hearing corrections.
We are further aware that when in September Professor Quawas lost her job as Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, no advance notice and no explanation was given to her. When considered together, your failure to respond to her June letter, your failure publicly to support the students who made the film, and your failure to contact her before replacing her may reasonably lead observers to believe that Dean Quawas’s dismissal was the result of her staunch defense of her students’ project.
Although one cannot prosecute a young man for saying inappropriate things to young women as they walk by, one can encourage the young women to fight back with speech of their own, including academic speech, as did the young women in Dean Quawas’s class. What administrators must not do, if they truly support an open learning environment, is appear to punish the women for speaking back and publicizing what hurts them. The vice president’s initial anger and your subsequent demotion of Dean Quawas together create the appearance of punishment. As such it sends the wrong signal to harassers and legitimate academic speakers alike.
We call on the University of Jordan fully to investigate the manner in which this case proceeded and the reasons for Dean Quawas’s dismissal. We further call on the University to work harder to create a campus climate that truly nurtures freedom of academic research and expression. Please defend students who take risks in their projects and reward the professors and deans who enable them.
Thank you for your consideration.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Katherine King, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of California Los Angeles firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Levine, Professor of History, University of California Irvine email@example.com
* CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM 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.
Her Royal Highness Princess Basma Bint Talal, Head of the Jordanian National Commission
Chairperson of the Board of Trustees at the University of Jordan: His Excellency Professor Khalid Touqan
Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, Her Excellency Asma Khader
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, His Excellency Professor Wajih Owais