California Scholars for Academic Freedom

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

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  CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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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

  

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

Letter to Dr. Leslie Wong, President of San Francisco State University, re contrition re unspecified states concerning zionists, asking for clarification of the statement

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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March 10, 2018

Dr. Leslie Wong, President

San Francisco State University

president@sfsu.edu

Dear President Wong,

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 have written to you previously to express our concern about the ongoing defamation, intimidation, and assaults against academic freedom of SFSU faculty members (especially Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi) and students by the Zionist organization,The Lawfare Project, but we have never received a response from you or your office. [See our letter of June 28, 2017, attached]. We are therefore all the more disturbed to read your recent public statement expressing contrition regarding unspecified statements concerning Zionists. In particular, it is not clear from your letter which unwelcoming comments about Zionists you are referring to, whether or not they were made in public, and in which occasion you declared Zionists officially unwelcome at San Francisco State University. We therefore invite you to release as soon as possible a public clarification about the circumstances you are referring to in your letter.

Although this clarification will be necessary​ for a full evaluation of your statements, we cannot but be puzzled by the very fact that you felt it necessary to assert in a public letter that: “Zionists are welcome on our campus.” Such a statement flatly contradicts not only the actions of your administration, which has clearly made Zionists feel quite welcome to attack the academic freedom of your faculty (as in the case of Prof. Abdulhadi referred to above), but they also run counter the very mission of any university. This mission is not to welcome or unwelcome the adherents of any belief on the basis of any judgement regarding that belief, but it is to guarantee the academic freedom of all of its members. So, if you had expressed discontent and made unwelcoming comments towards some Zionist spokespersons or groups on account of their documented attacks on the academic freedom of your faculty and students, you would have been eminently in your right to have done so. What your “re-welcoming” comments have done, instead, is to further jeopardize the academic freedom of those who have been subject to harassment by those you have been so eager to welcome.

As you well know, both the faculty and students of the College of Ethnic Studies and the Program in Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies have been subject to a series of attacks over many years, ranging from frivolous lawsuits brought by expressly Zionist organizations, to campaigns of defamation and intimidation. Your stating that “Zionists are welcome on our campus” has therefore singled out for special treatment the adherents of one political philosophy whose actions have all too often had a pernicious effect on academic and personal freedom to study and research on your campus, at a time when your response to that very group’s ongoing campaign of harassment that injures many of your community has been singularly inadequate. From our perspective of faculty concerned with the academic freedom of all members of your university community, and quite aside from the circumstances that prompted it, your public statement has added insult to injury, and violated your responsibility to offer equal protection and space to the persons and to the ideas that compose the campus community.

On account of all of the above we urge you to offer immediately a public explanation for the circumstances that have led to your issuing your statement about welcoming Zionists to SFSU, taking into serious consideration the offence and pain it has already caused to faculty and students whom you have failed to defend in the face of attacks by those you have welcomed. We also ask that you clarify that your personal welcome to Zionists does not and cannot reflect the policy of the university as a whole, and that it is not tantamount to a declaration that either Zionism, as a political philosophy that privileges one ethnicity above others, or the state and policies that it justifies should be exempt from criticism, or that the actions of its proponents should be exempt from peaceful protest.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Claudio Fogu

Associate Professor of French and Italian

University of California, Santa Barbara

claudiofogu@ucsb.edu

Sondra Hale

Research Professor of, Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor of English

University of California, Riverside

dclloyd@ucr.edu
cc: Timothy White, CSU Chancellor:  twhite@calstate.edu

Christine Miller, Chair of the CSU Academic Senate (ASCSU): millercm@csus.edu

Thomas Norman, Chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee: tnorman@csudh.edu

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of more than 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  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.

March 26, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Pres. Melvin Oliver and Board Chair Harold Brown of Pitzer College re: Overturning the decision of the Pitzer Student Union to boycott companies that profit from the Israeli state’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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February 26, 2018

President Melvin Oliver

Board Chair Harold Brown

Pitzer College

Dear Board Chair Brown and President Melvin Oliver:

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom (CS4AF), a group of over 200 scholars from California institutions,**  write out of grave concern for the violation of academic freedom by the Pitzer College Trustees and its President,  in overturning the decision of the Pitzer Student Senate to boycott companies that profit from the Israeli state’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.  Given that there is no other known case of the Trustees and the President overturning a Student Senate decision in the entire history of Pitzer College, the claim that this decision was content-neutral is not credible.  Put simply, to take such action not on a content-neutral principle, but because the Student Senate spoke and acted in support of a Palestinian cause, evidences a clear disregard for principles of unfettered debate and dialogue on U.S. college and university campuses.  There can be no question that the Board’s and President’s action enacts a chilling effect on speech at Pitzer.  Indeed, there are already several reports of faculty, staff, and students at Pitzer retreating from participation in engagement with the official “Working Group” the College has established in response to the Board’s and President’s decision and from discussion of Palestine-Israel more generally, as a result of a climate of intimidation against critics of the Israeli state fostered by the Board’s and President’s decision.

CS4AF thus supports the call you heard on Saturday morning of February 17th, from Students for Justice in Palestine on your campus, to reverse your past rescission of the Student Senate’s BDS resolution, and to do so on or before the deadline given you by the SJP students, of March 23, 2018.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you, in order to work with you to restore a climate that robustly fosters academic freedom on your campus.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom​​

Contact Persons:

Lisa Rofel,

Professor, Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Dennis Kortheuer,

Cal. State University, Long Beach, emeritus

dkortheu@gmail.com

David Lloyd,

Distinguished Professor of English, U.C. Riverside

dclloyd@ucr.edu

Cc: Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle

Professor William Anthes, Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee

Professor Claudia Strauss, Chair of the Pitzer College “Working Group on Israel-Palestine”

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine

**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.

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