California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox re. course on campus

Chancellor Kim Wilcox

University of California

Riverside, CA 92521

Dear Chancellor Wilcox,

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, is disturbed to learn that you have yet to make a public defense of academic freedom in the case of the fully vetted student-run R’course on Palestine offered on your campus.   The students involved in this course, and the faculty person sponsoring the course, Professor David Lloyd, are under a malicious and discriminatory attack by extreme Zionist groups in an effort to violate their academic freedom. They have received hate mail in a coordinated campaign, including Islamophobic messages, and have been pilloried on websites that accuse them of anti-Semitism.

The groups that have attacked the course (including the AMCHA Initiative, Accuracy in Academia, the David Horowitz Freedom Center and Stand With Us)  sent a complaint about the course to your administration ( http://www.independentsentinel.com/uc-riverside-offering-anti-semitic-course-taught-by-sjp-leader/ ) that is inaccurate in its charges, ignorant about the course and its intents, and based on groundless assumptions both about its content and its tenor.  If you were to examine the course, you would realize that in fact it addresses a wide range of views on the Palestine/Israel situation.

The complaint about this course is slanderous.  Its goal is censorship: to silence those who might have criticisms of Israeli state policies towards Palestinians.  Those who lodge this complaint have engaged in many years of ongoing harassment and charges, all of which have been judged without any merit.  Yet they persist, hoping that the harassment itself will silence people.

The students involved in the course, as well as Professor Lloyd, have been subjected to hostile and even racist email.  The student running the course has been accused in the most hateful manner of wishing the annihilation of Jews.  Most troubling is the fact that UCR students have been listed on a website, http://www.donotlink.com/canarymission.org , which maliciously conflates their activism with anti-Semitism and seeks to prevent them from gaining employment.

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. 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 non-violent manner.

Any organization, internal or external, that seeks to limit the free and full deliberation of any viewpoint, or the representation of perspectives inimical to it, trespasses on a principle of academic life so fundamental that the university would be unimaginable without it.  It is a principle which cannot and must not promise that in all situations students or faculty will feel intellectual comfort: indeed, mental and moral discomfort are often essential conditions for serious learning and thoughtful consideration of views that challenge our preconceptions.  This is not, however, the same thing as slanderous and intimidating attacks, intended to silence rather than to promote debate and inquiry.

UC APM 210, Appendix B, affirms the rights of students to “free inquiry and exchange of ideas; the right to examine, present, and discuss controversial materials relevant to a course of instruction” and to the “enjoyment of constitutionally protected freedom of expression.”  UCR’s Principles of Community commit us to “equitable treatment of all students” and affirms “the right of each of us to live, study, teach, and work free from harassment or denigration on the basis of race/ethnicity, age, religious or political preference, gender, transgender, sexual orientation, nation of origin, or physical abilities. Any violation of this right by verbal or written abuse, threats, harassment, intimidation, or violence against person or property will be considered a violation of the principles of community.”

Given how this course has been travestied, along with its faculty sponsor, as anti-Semitic and extremist and received unusual and controversial public attention, and given that no public statement in their defense from you leaves the students – and faculty –exposed to continuing intimidation, it is urgent that you make a strong public stance in support of academic freedom. While we appreciate the fact that your spokespersons have affirmed that the course does not violate UC academic policies, such a statement does not offer the same protections as a strong and public statement condemning such violations of the academic freedom of students and faculty.  In our long experience, the most effective way for an administration to protect its faculty and students from such attacks is to respond strongly and publicly.

We look forward to hearing your public response.

Yours,

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

lrofel@ucsc.edu

Professor Katherine King

Department of Comparative Literature and Classics

University of California, Los Angeles

king@humnet.ucla.edu

Professor Richard Falk

Research Fellow

University of California, Santa Barbara

falk@global.ucsb.edu

Professor Suad Joseph

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Davis

sjoseph@ucdavis.edu

Professor David Klein

Department of Mathematics

California State University, Northridge

dklein8@gmail.com

The above signatures are included for contact purposes. The letter represents the collective statement of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom.

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of over 150 professors at universities and colleges throughout California.  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.

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June 11, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment