CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
Rudy Fichtenbaum, President
Henry Reichman, First VP and chair of Academic Freedom Committee
Nancy McKenney, IV District Council Member
B. Robert Kreiser, IV District Council Member
Gregory F. Scholtz, Academic Freedom Committee staff
Dear AAUP Colleagues,
On behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom*, an organization with over 150
members, we urge you to keep the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on your list of
censured administrations. Although we are pleased that the UIUC has acknowledged its
wrongdoing to the extent that it has granted monetary compensation to Professor Steven Salaita
for illegally firing him, we are troubled that the administration has so far refused to make whole
the department it deprived of his services. There is only one way for the UIUC to certify full
academic freedom on campus: the administration must restore to Professor Salaita and the
American Indian Studies Program the position it took away in August 2014.
Although it relieves the financial distress of a deserving colleague, the recently announced
settlement is hardly a victory for academic freedom. Considering the amount of money at the
disposal of the donors who forced the cancellation of his hiring, $875,000 is quite literally
chump change and can be very easily absorbed as the cost of doing business by those who
wanted him out. Indeed, this whole process could act as a deterrent to faculties operating on the
academic margins, such as indigenous studies or other routinely attacked disciplines. Given
what has happened at UIUC, will such disciplines not think twice before choosing to hire
scholars who directly challenge the views of outside economic interests, which have increasing
sway over corporatized universities?
We are reassured to read on the AAUP website that Henry Reichman, chair of the AAUP’s
Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, does not believe that the settlement with
Professor Salaita automatically entitles UIUC to change its current status as a censured
institution. We hope that Professor Reichman, as he “work[s] with the university to see it get off
the censure list,” will keep in mind the above issues and all the issues raised by the “Statement of
Academics,” to which we fully subscribe. UIUC must remain a censured institution until it gives
Professor Salaita the choice to take up the position for which he was originally hired.
California Scholars For Academic Freedom*
Katherine King, Comparative Literature, University of California Los Angeles, AAUP Member,
Rose Marie Kuhn, French California State University Fresno, AAUP Member, email@example.com
* California Scholars for Academic Freedom is a group of scholars who defend the academic
freedom and first amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond,
recognizing 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.
November 2, 2015
Mildred Garcia, President
California State University, Fullerton
Fullerton, California 92834
Dear President Mildred Garcia,
We, California Scholars for Academic Freedom,** are writing to express our strong support of California State University, Fullerton Professor Alain Bourget’s case currently under review by a panel of faculty on your campus. We believe Professor Bourget’s reprimand for choosing a textbook, inconsistent with a vague and questionable Math Department policy, is a clear violation of his academic freedom. More specifically, we believe the Math Department violates its faculty’s academic freedom when imposing textbook unanimity based on a department decision dating back to 1984 and involving financial gain to textbook authors who are department chair and vice chair. Professor Bourget’s request for the removal of a reprimand letter from his file is reasonable. We urge you to help restore academic freedom on your campus and bring this case to a fair resolution by heeding Professor Bourget’s just request.
We also request that you issue a statement confirming individual academic freedom of all faculty in selecting textbook and instructional material appropriate to their courses, thus confirming California’s Higher Education Act of 1978 (HEERA). HEERA explicitly defends the principle of academic freedom in California’s institutions of higher education: “It is the policy of the State of California to encourage the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, and learning through the free exchange of ideas among the faculty, students, and staff of…the California State University and Colleges. All parties subject to this [law] shall respect and endeavor to preserve academic freedom in the California State University and Colleges” [Section 3561(c)].
California Scholars for Academic Freedom**
California State University, Fullerton
Dean Emerita, College of Arts and Humanities
California State University, Fresno
Research Professor and Professor Emerita
University of California, Los Angeles
** California Scholars for Academic Freedom is a group of over 150 professors at universities and colleges throughout California. The group formed because of the 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 of these attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East and/or 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.
To: The UC Regents
We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, representing over 150 scholars in California universities, urge you not to adopt the State Department definition of anti-Semitism as part of your policy on tolerance for the University of California. The State Department definition equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It also equates a Jewish identity with the policies of the Israeli government. We urge you to make the strongest possible stance in support of academic freedom. The State Department definition was never meant to apply to universities, as it is quite clear that it will interfere with the university’s core mission: to pursue the truth through scholarly research and teaching. Debate and disagreement are part of the life of the university, whether one is discussing new scientific discoveries or the history and contemporary situation of international relations. Academic freedom means freedom of faculty and students from administrative interference and also freedom of the university from government interference.
In recent years, there have been numerous attempts to silence debate about the Israel/Palestine situation by using the charge of anti-Semitism. But all such charges have been dismissed. The charges brought in a court of law, under the Department of Education’s Civil Rights purview, against UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Irvine for supposedly fostering an anti-Semitic atmosphere were all dismissed for lack of compelling evidence. Should the University of California adopt a tolerance policy that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the door will be opened for a further flood of litigious cases that will continue to waste thousands and thousands of taxpayers’ money as well as the tuition fees that students work so hard to be able to pay.
Will the University of California really be able to distinguish “double standard” and “demonization” in the current debates taking place across the country as well as within the UC system about Israel? On what basis will the university decide which criticisms are legitimate and which are not? Or will a blanket exception be made in the case of Israel? Will the University of California accuse the numerous Jewish faculty and students who are critical of Israel of anti-Semitism? Or will they reserve that charge for non-Jewish faculty and students? Will the University of California then open the door to charges of “double standard” and “demonization” when criticisms of other countries face objections?
There has been a great deal of harassment on all University of California campuses in recent years, targeting those who criticize Israel. These attacks have included the threat to deny tenure; efforts to sanction or suppress the activities and even existence of organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine or the Muslim Students Association; attempts to “eliminate” classes deemed to be biased against Israel and to prevent speakers from appearing on campus; and threats to individual students and professors. The organization Palestine Legal as well as Jewish Voice for Peace have both documented the increasing harassment.
The charge of anti-Semitism has been opportunistically invoked, even when there is no evidence whatsoever that the criticisms of Israel have in fact been anti-Semitic. The charge is meant to harass and silence criticism and open debate. Nearly all of the harassment is one-sided: against those who are critical of Israel.
Despite the fact that much of this criticism is voiced equally by Jewish and Muslim faculty and students, it is the latter who have borne the brunt of the harassment. This harassment invokes Islamophobic rhetoric and is racist in its language and effects. This harassment interferes with academic freedom in that it stifles free inquiry and the pursuit of truth.
Academic freedom is the freedom of faculty and students to reach conclusions that contradict previous dogma, whether within the academy or throughout the larger society. Academic freedom is both the freedom of professors and students from administrative or political interference with research, teaching, and governance, and the constitutional academic freedom that insulates the university in core academic affairs from interference by the state.
First Amendment doctrine recognizes the danger to a democratic political process if officials proscribe some subjects or modes of expression. Government officials are not the best judges to decide which ideas are out of bounds. Academic freedom means that the way to challenge apparently dangerous ideas is to engage in debate, rather than suppression. Finally, many recognize the value to the individual citizen of being the sole legal arbiter of what she shall say, read or think; such freedom and responsibility defines a meaningful democracy.
Invoking the apparatus of the state to proscribe broad categories of speech in hubs of innovation and disruption like public universities will have the paradoxical effect of chilling public exchange while heating up zealotry.
As Rabbi Dev Noily recently stated: “When principled opposition to Israeli government actions is labelled as ‘anti-Semitic,’ the term itself loses its credibility.” (See JewishVoiceforPeace.org).
California Scholars for Academic Freedom urges the UC Regents to maintain their original statement on tolerance and not cave into pressure of any sort to make an exception for any speech.