California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block urging him to speak out against the efforts by the website Canary Mission to abrogate the free speech rights of 18 UCLA students

  CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

image.jpgimage-2.jpg

April 26, 2018

Chancellor​ Gene Block

University of California, Los Angeles

Dear Chancellor Block:    

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)**, an organization of more than 200 academics who teach in some 20 California institutions and who are committed to the defense of academic freedom at our institutions.  We urge you to speak out forcefully against the efforts by the anonymously authored website Canary Mission to abrogate the free speech rights of 18 UCLA students. These are students currently profiled on the CM website, where they are falsely defined (along with nearly 2000 other named individuals, both students and professors) as “racists” or “terrorists” because they have spoken critically about Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. 

We are especially concerned—and believe that you should be as well– by the Canary Mission authors’ explicit goal of harming your students’ prospects of employment because they hold views critical of Israel’s policies and belong to a legitimate campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).  Tarnishing such students’ reputations in the eyes of future employers is one of Canary Mission’s major aims, as the authors explain in a You Tube video produced soon after the website went live in 2015 and addressed to those who might hire students:  “It is your duty to ensure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.”  For more background on the Canary Mission, see the Middle East Studies Association informative and firm statement.

Recently, at your campus, students in SJP who are defamed on Canary Mission have been reporting that they are facing difficulties gaining internships and jobs; and one of your undergraduates, a political science major named Robert Garland, has told us that a person actually called his former employer urging that Mr. Garland be fired for engaging in “anti-Semitic” activities.  The false accusation rests on a common CM tactic of conflating any criticism of Israel’s policies, or any expression of support of the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, with anti-Semitism.  That gross conflation has been widely questioned in academic, legal, and journalistic venues.  It would be distressing to see it being effectively (and consequentially) tolerated by leaders of a major research university such as UCLA.   We therefore call on you to issue a statement supporting the UCLA students who, along with 3 UCLA professors, are now profiled by Canary Mission—a site that scorns the principles of academic freedom and inquiry by allowing for no intellectual discussion or debate. The website has been critiqued in respected journals including The Guardian and The Forward for using ”McCarthyist” black-listing methods.  

With hopes that you and your colleagues will respond to this letter and support the members of the UCLA community who are targeted by Canary Mission, we are 

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Margaret Ferguson

Distinguished Professor of English

Professor Emerita

University of California, Davis

mwferguson@ucdavis.edu

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

Professor Manzar Foroohar
Professor Emerita
History Department
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

**** 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.

Cc: President Janet Napolitano

Advertisements

April 27, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Fresno State President Castro calling for a statement recognizing the right of Professor Randa Jarrar to free speech and academic freedom

​​

  CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

image.jpgimage-2.jpg

April 23, 2018

Dear President Castro,

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of over 200 academics from California institutions of higher education focused on protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression, is writing to express our deep concern over your most recent response to Professor Randa Jarrar’s twitter statements. Professor Jarrar had used her private twitter account to express her opinion about a matter of public concern, the death of the former first lady Barbara Bush.

Professor Jarrar’s statements were made on her personal twitter account while she was on leave from her teaching position. As you correctly acknowledged in your first statement, she spoke as a private citizen about a matter of public interest. This was well within her protected speech as a citizen.  

As pointed out by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the fact “that her speech offended some or many is not a lawful basis to penalize its expression. Speech cannot be restricted because of its offensive nature.” https://www.thefire.org/fresno-state-university-wont-and-cannot-punish-professor-for-barbara-bush-tweets/ 

It is alarming that you changed your position on April 18, 2018, in response to public complaints, by stating that Professor Jarrar’s comments went “beyond free speech” for being “disrespectful,” thereby implying that they were not protected speech. Even more concerning were your comment that “a professor with tenure does not have blanket protection to say and do what they wish” and Provost Zelezny’s assertions that Professor Jarrar will be investigated for her comments on twitter and “termination is not out of the question.”  https://www.thefire.org/coalition-of-civil-liberties-organizations-to-fresno-state-first-amendment-doesnt-have-a-disrespectful-exception/

Legally and ethically, Professor Jarrar’s commentary is protected speech and a public university cannot punish protected speech. In a vibrant democracy, public commentary is often unpopular and may even be construed as disrespectful and offensive to some yet it is not to be censored, in any way, in any circumstance, and least of all in a university. On the contrary, university administrators should make it their foremost mission to resist public pressures to limit free speech rights of their faculty, precisely because they are in charge of an institution in which free speech and academic freedom intersect in ways that benefit and nourish the society.

It is therefore your responsibility to explain to the public that professor Jarrar’s speech is protected by the First Amendment and the liberty of speech clause of the California Constitution, by which Fresno State is legally bound. Faculty and students on your campus need to feel confident that your administration supports and protects their free speech, as is the case in all public universities. 

We join the civil rights organizations in calling upon you to end the investigation and issue a public statement, in which you retract your most recent statements, and clarify publicly that Professor Jarrar has the right and freedom to express her opinions however disagreeable they may be to some. We encourage you to turn this into a teachable moment by organizing a campus-wide forum to explain the meanings of freedom of speech and indeed academic freedom, clarifying that universities are to develop and safeguard critical independent thought.

We look forward to your response.

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Nancy Gallagher

Research Professor of History

University of California, Santa Barbara

gallagher@history.ucsb.edu

Sondra Hale

Research Professor 

Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

Vida Samiian

Professor and Dean Emerita

Department of Linguistics

California State University, Fresno

vidas@mail.fresnostate.edu

Cc   Provost Lynette Zelezny

       Dean Saul Jimenez-Sandoval

  

April 24, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment