California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter in response to letter from Prof. Kramer about Lila Sharif’s cancelled talk at the Freie Universitat

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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December 20, 2017

Dear Professor Krämer,

Thank you for your response to our letter.  We members of California Scholars for Academic Freedom** appreciate your efforts to explain the reasons for cancelling Dr. Lila Sharif’s invited talk at the Freie Universität’s Graduate School, Center for Muslim Cultures and Societies on November 23, 2017. We understand that you took your actions because of concerns for the “mobilization” that a blogger had caused “against the event,” which may have led to an attendance far greater than the number of places (25) available at the selected venue. In addition​, we welcome your frank admission that the blogger’s accusations against Dr. Sharif were slanderous and groundless.  However, we are at a loss to understand how these accusations “jeopardized the reputation of the Free University of Berlin,” and we are seriously concerned that this cancellation has violated Dr. Sharif’s academic freedom, and, as well, may have an impact on her career.

To begin with, it is difficult to see how the reputation of Frei University has been jeopardized by the senseless accusations of a blogger. It seems to us that the only way for your Center and Frei University not to have had its reputation smeared was to invite Dr. Sharif to give her talk in a larger venue at a mutually agreed new date and time, and to pay her expenses, even if she had to travel from the US.

By letting the event be cancelled and by not publicly denouncing the blogger’s campaign against Dr. Sharif, your Center has implicitly accepted limiting the boundaries of what constitutes legitimate scholarship on Palestine. This is particularly serious considering that Dr. Sharif is a recent PhD who is junior faculty and, therefore, far more vulnerable than other more advanced scholars. By contrast, under the same circumstances, few institutions would dare cancel a lecture by a senior scholar, especially without rescheduling. If you chose not to consider it important to issue a public statement denouncing the smear campaign against Dr. Sharif, it would have helped to have re-invited her immediately. We are worried that your cancellation is already likely to have undermined her scholarship and standing in the academy.

We hope you will reconsider making a public statement of condemnation of the blogger who attacked Dr. Sharif and re-issuing an invitation to her to speak in a larger venue.  This would commit Freie University and your Center to protecting her free speech and academic freedom and preventing her from being silenced by a well-orchestrated social media campaign.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact persons:

Rabab Abdulhadi

Director and Senior Scholar,

Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, SFSU

Ria55@sfsu.edu

Claudio Fogu

Associate Professor of Italian Studies,

University of California Santa Barbara

cfogu@ucsb.edu

Nancy Gallagher

Professor Emerita, History Department

University of California, Santa Barbara

gallagher@history.ucsb.edu

Sondra Hale,

Professor Emerita/Research Professor,

Anthropology and Gender Studies Departments, UCLA

sonhale@ucla.edu

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of over 200 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.

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December 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to American Academy of Religion re last-minute decision to cancel a scheduled panel at the AAR annual meeting

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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December 8, 2017

American Academy of Religion

825 Houston Mill Road NE, Suite 300

Atlanta, GA 30329-4205​​

To the Executive Committee, Executive Director, and President of the AAR:

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom,** a group of over 200 scholars in various institutions of higher education in California, are writing to express our profound disappointment over the AAR Executive Committee’s last-minute decision to cancel a scheduled panel at the AAR annual meeting this past month, which was to examine the faith community and movements supporting boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli occupation. While we are aware that you were still willing to allow an informal exploratory session to take the place of the panel, and announced your willingness to allow such a panel to take place at next year’s meeting, we find it highly problematic and a violation of the principles of academic freedom that the Executive Committee of the AAR would refuse to allow a formally-recognized panel to take place as it appeared in the conference program. Whether intended or not, your actions have given the impression that the panel somehow lacked the legitimacy of comparable panels at the conference, which was precisely the intention of the participants who pulled out at the last minute.

We understand that your decision was prompted in part by two roundtable participants who oppose BDS suddenly removing themselves from the panel during the week prior to the conference, prompting concerns that the panel was then dominated by those supportive of various forms of BDS. This establishes a disturbing precedent whereby panel members with a particular ideological orientation now know it is possible to convince the AAR executive committee to cancel or postpone a panel simply by refusing to participate and thereby creating an unbalanced panel which no longer fulfills the “originally stated aims of the session,” which the EC has cited as the basis of the decision.

Moreover, it is our understanding that this is the first time the Executive Committee has ever removed a recognized panel from the official program immediately prior to the start of a conference. The nature of the decision, therefore, raises concerns that it was made for political reasons, thereby constituting a further serious violation of academic freedom.

Furthermore, given the lag time between the deadline for panel and paper proposals and an annual meeting, it is certainly not unusual for the final product to be at some variance with “the originally stated aims of the session.” In fact, if one checked the contents of conference participants’ presentations with their submitted titles and abstracts, we all know a significant percentage of the presentations would differ from their initial descriptions. Using this as an excuse to cancel the gathering again begs the question as to why such changes were seen as a problem in this particular case, raising concerns that the decision to effectively cancel the roundtable was ideologically-driven.

Given that conference roundtables (more so than paper panels) are often focused on controversial contemporary issues and thereby will include scholars from other fields as well as non-academics, including those from advocacy organizations, it is troubling that their inclusion was apparently seen by some as problematic in this particular case, in which policies of a government considered to be strategic ally of the United States are challenged by some of panelists.

We would appreciate a thorough explanation as to why the Executive Committee– which has apparently allowed other panels to go ahead as scheduled in which the final makeup did not fully cover the original stated aims of the session, which included individuals who were not scholars of religion, and which a minority of panelists had withdrawn—decided to cancel this particular one.

Similarly, we ask for reassurance for those invited to participate in future AAR panels dealing with controversial issues that they won’t also suddenly find that their panel is cancelled less than 48 hours prior to the start of the annual meeting. Given the time and expenditures it takes to participate in a national academic conferences, and the importance in terms of career prospects of being part of an official program for grad students and tenure-track faculty, your decision as it stands serves to discourage scholars from proposing or taking part in any panel covering controversial issues. We certainly hope this was not the intention behind your decision on the BDS panel.

It is critically important that learned societies such as AAR make clear they will not be intimidated by pressure from corporate interests negatively impacted by BDS, supporters of the Israeli government, anti-Arab racists and Islamophobes, or any other opponents of academic freedom.  We insist that you offer a formal apology to panel participants and offer guarantees that nothing like this will happen in the future.

We look forward to your response,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:

Lisa Rofel, Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Mark LeVine, Professor

Department of History

University of California, Irvine

mlevine@uci.edu

Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics and Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno

vidas@csufresno.edu

**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.

December 10, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Free University (Berlin) President Dr. Peter-Andre Alt re cancelled talk by Lila Sharif

 

 

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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December 6, 2017

Free University President: Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt

Email: praesident@fu-berlin.de

 

Director of the Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gudrun Krämer

Email: gudrun.kraemer@fu-berlin.de

Dear Professors Alt and Krämer:

 

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM**, a group of over 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions, is writing to express our concern about the Freie Universtät’s recent decision to cancel the invited lecture of our colleague, Assistant Professor Lila Sharif. Professor Sharif was scheduled to deliver a lecture at the Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies on November 23, 2017 at 19:00 entitled “Olive Insurrections: Palestinian Survival in a Vanishing Landscape.”

 

At 9:12 on November 23, 2017, @FU_Berlin tweeted that “because of higher than expected attendance and associated organizational problems, BGMCS has decided to cancel the lecture.” We are concerned that the cancellation of Professor Sharif’s talk was due to community pressure and the allegation that Professor Sharif’s views represent a “one-sided and untenable defamation contributing to the stigmatization of Jews,” as Levi Salomon put it. Mr. Salomon is the spokesperson for Berlin’s Jüdisches Forum für Demokratie und gegen Antisemitismus (https://www.salonkolumnisten.com/kein-herz-fuer-israelkritiker/).

 

We find this allegation itself to be a defamation of Professor Sharif’s work and we strongly object to the silencing of Professor Sharif’s serious critical scholarship on Palestine.  If the FU’s decision was in fact the result of “organizational problems,” the failure of the FU to re-schedule or otherwise accommodate Professor Sharif’s talk would appear to be an assault on academic freedom and critical scholarship. This contradicts the FU’s reputation for supporting academic freedom.

We urge FU to reissue the invitation to Professor Lila Sharif so that she can share her important work on the history of Palestinian struggles to preserve their landscape and culture in the midst of a decades-long military occupation.

 

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza
Professor of Sociology
University of California, Merced

tanyaboza@gmail.com

Ignacio López-Calvo, Ph.D.

Professor of Latin American Literature

University of California, Merced

lopezcalvo@msn.com

Fatima El-Tayeb
Professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies
University of California, San Diego

feltayeb@ucsd.edu

**California Scholars for Academic Freedom was formed as a response to the increasingly frequent violations of academic freedom and attacks on progressive educators in California. Our goal has however grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom nationally and internationally. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

December 8, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment