CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
March 31, 2017
Dear Vice-Chancellor Joughin,
Thank you for your response to our protest of your cancellation of Professor Richard Falk’s talk at your university. However, we continue to find the reasons given for the cancellation of these talks — that they were not organized according to “procedure” or that they pose concerns for “public safety” — utterly unconvincing and disingenuous. Those who have convinced you to cancel these talks are clear about their motive—to suppress criticism of Israeli state policies. Their disingenuousness lies in equating valid criticism of state policies with anti-Semitism.
A talk should not be cancelled on the mere supposition that there will be security issues since that would constitute prior restraint. If there are security concerns, the university has the obligation to provide security. Your university also surely has the capability of providing such security on any amount of notice, no matter how short.
The cancellation of Professor Falk’s talk thus signals an accession to growing threats to academic freedom. To repeat, at this moment in history, universities must stand as the strongest possible bulwark of free speech, academic freedom and public debate. We feel that your actions signal precisely the opposite. Your action sets a dangerous precedent, and could very well curtail other forms of speech that you would very much like to see protected by law.
In your response, you wrote “we would happily consider welcoming Professor Falk to our campus on another occasion.” We look forward to learning about a renewed invitation to Professor Falk.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Maxine Elliot Professor, Department of Comparative Literature
University of California, Berkeley
Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Department of Comparative Literature
Professor, Department of Anthropology
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.
Letter from Vice-Chancellor John Joughin of University of East London in Response to our letter about the cancelled talk by Richard Falk
Dear Ms Rofel
Thank you for your email and letter regarding the cancellation of Professor Richard Falk’s book launch at our campus.
It was obviously disappointing to have to cancel this event at such short notice. Unfortunately, we were left with no other choice because we were only made aware of the event the day before. Given the protests likely to occur at the event, there was a clear need to assess and manage the risks involved. However, the lack of notice provided by the organiser meant that we were unable to do so.
This has obviously caused disappointment for both staff and a range of external stakeholders who were booked to attend. As you will have seen online, it has also provided a platform for certain interest groups to claim that we cancelled the event at their request. This is emphatically not the case and we would happily consider welcoming Professor Falk to our campus on another occasion.
UEL has long hosted a wide variety of events and speakers on our campus, often sparking fierce debate and discussion. I feel very strongly that universities must remain a place of debate and free speech and this is a critical part of what we offer to our students, staff and wider society. However, we cannot do this unless we ensure the appropriate procedures are followed which allow us to exercise due diligence and prioritise the safety and wellbeing of those involved. We don’t seek to prevent protests, but we must take reasonable steps to manage their potential impact.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to me about this important issue.