California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to UC President Yudof regarding Campus Climate Report on situation of Jewish, Muslim and Arab Students

Dear President Yudof,

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom** write to urge you not to adopt the recommendations of the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report. We find the report’s recommendations pose a clear threat to academic freedom at the University of California. First, the report is based on sloppy methodology and clear bias. A comparison with the Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate Report is instructive. The latter explains exactly how many people they spoke with, how they were put in touch with them, and lists their names and affiliations. The Jewish Student Campus Climate Report merely implies that they spoke with a range of people but never specifies with whom and how they were chosen. In fact, the two people who conducted the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report appear to have spoken almost exclusively with those who would like to silence criticism of Israel on UC campuses.

Second, the Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate Report explains in great detail the exact nature of the discrimination that Muslim and Arab students experience on UC campuses, while the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report quotes unnamed people as feeling upset about criticisms of Israel. In fact, the report focuses almost exclusively on criticism of Israel as a supposedly objective measure of anti-Semitism while giving short shrift to the broad range of Jewish student experiences on UC campuses. The Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, despite a brief one-sentence disclaimer, essentially equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, despite having to acknowledge that much of this criticism comes from Jewish faculty and students.

Indeed, one key piece of harassment is missing in this report: the harassment conducted by those who do not want to hear any criticism of Israel voiced at all on UC campuses. The harassment by these individuals has been intense, both against Muslim and Arab American students and faculty and against other Jewish students and faculty who criticize Israel. This harassment has occurred on all the UC campuses. Case in point: the UC Santa Cruz campus. Two individuals at UCSC mobilized thousands of emails to criticize faculty who exercised their academic freedom of speech to criticize Israel. These harassers are the ones who equate Jewish students and faculty who criticize Israel with Nazis.

They also claim bias in these events and lack of “balance,” despite the fact that they have organized numerous events that are propaganda for the state of Israel. More recently, individuals who try to suppress academic freedom of speech in relation to Israel have tried numerous campus avenues and legal means to try to suppress this speech.

Finally, the Muslim and Arab Student Climate Report has a range of sensible recommendations, including a streamlined reporting system for reports of discrimination, multicultural centers for dialogue across cultural and religious differences, more accommodations for religious observance, and enhanced educational opportunities about the Middle East and Islam. In contrast, the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report basically recommends censorship: developing a policy against “hate speech” and banning campus sponsorship of offensive activities. Given that this recommendation comes in the context of a report that focuses almost exclusively on debates about Palestine/Israel, this recommendation is certainly too one-sided.

Indeed, we are concerned that the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, given its almost exclusive focus on Israel, will yet again make Muslim and Arab students feel unheard and unwelcome at the University of California.

The fact that you appointed Richard D. Barton, National Education Chair of the Anti-Defamation League, to carry out the “research” for the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report ensured a one-sided, biased report not based at all on objective research. The Anti-Defamation League is famous for its activism in the United States to suppress criticism of Israel. Barton’s leadership on this report meant from its inception that its sole goal would be to try to suppress criticism of Israel on the UC campuses. Otherwise, you would have appointed a neutral person with a history of conducting objective research.

The conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-semitism has become a common tactic by those who want to silence any criticism of Israel. We would never dream of equating criticism of the authoritarian government in China or the Free Tibet movement with anti-Chinese racism, despite the fact that many of our Chinese students identify strongly with mainland China and Chinese culture. We would never dream of equating criticism of authoritarian governments in Africa with racism against African Americans. More recently, we have not worried that criticisms of Egypt’s government or of Syria is a form of anti-Arab racism. The only way to counter speech we do not agree with is to encourage more speech.

Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom includes the freedom of professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech. (The latter is a right enjoyed by everyone within the jurisdiction of the U.S. constitution, but is the third leg of the principles of academic freedom because professors should not be professionally penalized for non-academic speech that they engage in beyond the academy.)

The Jewish Student Campus Climate report points toward a dangerous trend of attempts to criminalize any speech discussing boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or settlements in the occupied territories, echoing a new law in Israel that punishes any public discussion of these activities. We do not want this abrogation of freedom of speech to be applied in California or by extension in the United States.

The courts have signaled that universities have a special responsibility to harbor even extreme speech. We urge you to affirm that the University of California strives to be a leader with regard to academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Yours,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Lisa Rofel
Department of Anthropology
UC, Santa Cruz
LROFEL@ucsc.edu
831-459-3615

Professor Nancy Gallagher
Department of History
UC, Santa Barbara
Gallagher@history.ucsb.edu
805- 893-3467

Professor David Klein
Professor of Mathematics
California State University, Northridge
dklein8@gmail.com

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a four-year-old group of more than 134 academics who teach in over 20 California institutions of higher education. The group formed as a response to a rash of violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were 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 and students based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

August 14, 2012 Posted by | Academic Freedom | Comments Off on Letter to UC President Yudof regarding Campus Climate Report on situation of Jewish, Muslim and Arab Students

8/10/12 Letter to Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour Regarding the Threat to Tenure

10 August 2012

Allan Gilmour, President, Wayne State University Allan.Gilmour@wayne.edu,
Wayne State Board of Governors c/o Julie Hearshen Miller <julie.h.miller@wayne.edu>,

Dear President Gilmour,

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to withdraw your administration’s proposal that tenured faculty may be disciplined and/or terminated by a single administrator without benefit of tried and true procedures for peer review and due process. Such a policy would be a disaster for academic freedom, and we therefore join the AAUP/AFT’s opposition to it.
Reportedly, you have stated that you support academic freedom, but the proposal’s terms are sufficiently ambiguous to allow you or any future president to politicize all evaluation procedures at Wayne State.  How do you define “serious professional misconduct”?  What “professional responsibilities” other than teaching and research might, in the breach, constitute “adequate cause for termination”?  How would you determine “generally accepted academic standards and principles” without faculty input?  What is “employment related misconduct” [sic]?  What does “financially based reduction[s] in force” mean?  To us it suggests that an administrator could arbitrarily decide to reduce the numbers of a department whose faculty were researching and discussing issues in ways disagreeable to him or her, without knowing anything about the field.  Such an administrator could therefore use university (and taxpayer) money to do whatever s/he wants, with no accountability whatsoever.
Your proposal further states that “adequate cause for termination of faculty and academic staff shall also include . . . forcibly interrupting the normal daily teaching, research or administrative operation of the University or directly inciting others to engage in such actions.” Besides attempting to stifle long-established traditions of peaceful civil protest on university campuses, such a policy would also threaten violation of First Amendment rights, since “directly inciting” is notoriously difficult to construe with precision. The consequences would include expensive civil litigation and the heightening of tension and distrust at your university. Since studies have demonstrated that the best ideas—the most innovative and the most viable–originate in atmospheres tolerant of critique, we also note how vital freedom of thought and expression is to the quality and reputation of any university, Wayne State included. The disadvantages of the proposal heavily outweigh any benefits that might accrue from it, since nothing less than the usefulness of Wayne State to its students, its business partners, and the citizens of Michigan, is at stake.
You have reportedly said that even one bad employee is too many; but your wish to root out a few bad employees must not trump the higher goals of academic excellence and integrity, and constitutionally-protected freedoms. The advancement of knowledge is a good that transcends (but does not oppose) considerations of “efficiency” and “cost-cutting.” Universities cannot be managed like corporations. Through trial and error, they have developed careful systems of evaluation to ensure that the best scholarship is encouraged and research fields continue to advance over time.  What makes universities unique is the diversity and complexity of their goals and expertise. They bring together hundreds of very different, sophisticated, ever-evolving methodologies, working environments, and research topics, in the hope that interdisciplinary relations will (as studies of creativity suggest) spark previously unimaginable insights. No single administrator has the knowledge to evaluate any one of these diverse specializations or the work done by any individual within them, let alone to appreciate how cross-fertilizations and out-of-the-box thinking and behavior might be bringing along the world of tomorrow.  What is required instead is the very combination of specialist expertise, interdisciplinary consultation and administrative input that constitutes university assessment procedures today.
Academic freedom is either there, or it isn’t.  Only if academic freedom and due process are protected absolutely will the parents, alumni, scholars, professionals, policy-makers and innovators so vital to the prosperity of our universities be able to trust in the integrity of your faculty’s teaching and research.  History has taught us that autocracy does not encourage the openness to exploration that is the university’s raison d’être. To err is human; like the legislative process, peer review was designed precisely to prevent hasty, prejudicial or ill-informed decision-making.  Scholars must be able to brave controversy; had we not, for example, given the concept of neuroplasticity a chance, we would not now be benefiting from the new perspectives on the aging brain that promise to extend our productivity and well-being beyond previous expectations.  Academic freedom, and the peer review that protects it, are the guarantors of, not obstacles to, the quality and trustworthiness of the work performed at any university.
If your administration’s proposal is forced on the faculty, the outcome will be a rapid plunge in the prestige and quality of Wayne State.  It will undo decades and decades of hard work by your predecessors.  Please think again.

Sincerely yours,
Aranye Fradenburg, University of California Santa Barbara (lfraden@english.ucsb.edu)
Dennis Kortheuer, California State University Long Beach (Dennis.Kortheuer@csulb.edu)
Mark Levine, University of California Irvine (mlevine@uci.edu)

For California Scholars for Academic Freedom
**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a four-year-old group of more than 134 academics who teach in over 20 California institutions of higher education. The group formed as a response to a rash of violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were 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 and students based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

August 13, 2012 Posted by | Academic Freedom | Comments Off on 8/10/12 Letter to Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour Regarding the Threat to Tenure