California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Chancellor Christ, UC Berkeley, re Dr. Hatem Barzian

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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To Chancellor Christ, University of California Berkeley                                                      December 1, 2017

Dear Chancellor Christ,

 

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom,** a group of over 200 scholars in various institutions of higher education in California, write to raise our alarm both about the content of the retweeted cartoon which we find unequivocally objectionable, and also the concerted action by right-wing Israeli lobby groups such as Campus Watch, Canary Mission and Stand with Us, against Professor Hatem Bazian.

Dr. Bazian is an internationally acclaimed scholar whose Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at the Center for Race and Gender has become the global leader for such critical scholarship. He is also a co-founder and editor of the Islamophobia Studies Journal. He is well known in academic circles for his high ethical standards, integrity, uncompromising moral compass and strong commitment in words and deeds against all forms of racism and racial discrimination, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Blackness, erasure of indigeneity, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination – a principled record we also in California Scholars for Academic Freedom share and defend.

Professor Bazian inadvertently forwarded a tweet with offensive memes which he had not carefully read. He immediately deleted the post once it was brought to his attention, explained the circumstances of his mistake, and issued a public apology on his social media accounts for unintentionally sharing the images with what he acknowledged to be anti-Semitic and racist caricatures, believing it contrary to the values and principles he upholds.

As you know, extra-mural speech is protected by the First Amendment and is not subject to the same standard that governs the compact of civility that defines the mission of the university. In our view, personal social media should not be surveilled by university administrations or become the basis of disciplinary action, both because it is a protected right of free speech and, lacking the rigor of academic work, it is a minefield of occasions for error and misrepresentation. For instance, although Professor Bazian deleted that tweet from his account, it has continued to appear as an apparent effort to ignore his decision to remove the tweet and issue a public apology.

Regardless, we wish to remind you that Professor Bazian’s extramural speech, however objectionable in this particular error on his part, is protected speech according to the AAUP. The recent findings of the AAUP on the Salaita Case can provide guidance on this issue.

The constellation of right-wing groups mentioned above is using Professor Bazian’s admitted mistake to escalate its campaign to disingenuously link those critical of Israel with the frightening rise of anti-Semitic incidents, seeking with that argument to curtail the academic freedom of all faculty, and targeting and silencing in particular Palestinian scholarship and advocacy for justice in/for Palestine on U.S. campuses. We are alarmed by the increasingly aggressive surveillance, harassment and cyberbullying by these groups of scholars like Dr. Bazian who, unfortunately, has become a recurrent target of these groups.

 

We call on you to respect Professor Bazian’s academic freedom to do research and teach on issues of his choice, to affirm his extra-mural rights of free speech, and to reaffirm to him your commitment to do so.  In his research and teachings, he has challenged the legitimacy of Zionism while never defending or promoting anti-Semitism.  We, like Professor Bazian, are unequivocally opposed to anti-Semitism, as well as Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism, and other bigoted forms of discrimination.  We condemn the images that he retweeted, but we do not accept that on the basis of that error he should have his employment jeopardized or be subject to disciplinary measures that encroach on his freedom of speech (which include the freedom to make errors such as these and to have his apology accepted in good faith).

 

In our view, university administrators must not exhibit partisan political commitments that contravene upon either the academic freedom or the First Amendment rights of its faculty. We applaud your refusal of these attempts to silence and intimidate Professor Bazian, and your respect for his academic freedom to do research and teach on issues within his area of expertise over and against those who would curtail that right for political purposes.  In our view, it is important that the University of California not allow itself to be pressured to sanction faculty in response to external pressures such as these.

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

Sondra Hale,

Professor Emerita/Research Professor,

Anthropology and Gender Studies Departments, UCLA

sonhale@ucla.edu

Dennis Kortheuer

History emeritus

California State University, Long Beach

Dennis.kortheuer@csulb.edu

Lisa Rofel

Professor, Department of Anthropology

Co-Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

lrofel@ucsc.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 1, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Follow up letter to Barnard College Pres. Sian Beilock re Dr. Fleischer dismissal

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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November 6, 2017

To: Barnard College President

Sian ​Beilock

Dear Barnard College President Sian Beilock,

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, are following up on our promise to remain attentive to the case of Dr. Fleischer—object of our October 18 letter—and are writing to you today on account of new information we have received about the arbitration process initiated by Barnard with the Barnard Contingent Faculty union (Local 2110 UAW).

We have learnt from a credible source that the matter of Dr. Fleischer’s dismissal has been referred to an arbitrator who has declared himself not to be able to hear the case until April 2018, a full year after her dismissal. This is an extremely and unusually long time for a labor dispute to be heard, and the contract signed by Barnard with the union contains a specific clause that calls for the parts to go to the next arbitrator on the list, in case the first one were not available to hear the case. We understand that the union leadership has already asked three times for a new arbitrator to be chosen and, according to information we have received, the selected arbitrator himself has suggested that Barnard and the union move to the next one in order to secure an expeditious process. Everything seems to suggest that Barnard is dragging its feet and entering into a war of attrition with Dr. Fleischer and her union that will benefit no one.

While we are still hoping you will reinstate Dr. Fleischer before any arbitration takes place, on account of the injury she has suffered to her academic freedom, which we discussed in our previous letter, we now appeal to you to declare the current arbitrator “not available” so that a new one be chosen expeditiously. To drag out this dispute unnecessarily for a year will not benefit Barnard in any way. It will only add retaliatory insult to the injury already suffered by Dr. Fleischer and will severely hurt Barnard’s chances to establish a productive and collaborative relation with the newly established Contingent Faculty Union.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact persons:

Eileen Boris

Hull Professor and Distinguished Professor of Feminist Studies

Professor of History, Black Studies, and Global Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

eboris@ucsb.edu

Rush Rehm

Professor, Theater and Performance Studies, and Classics

Artistic Director, Stanford Repertory Theater (SRT)

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

mrehm@stanford.edu

Lisa Rofel

Professor, Department of Anthropology

Co-Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Susan Slyomovics

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages & Cultures

University of California, Los Angeles

Barnard ‘71

ssly@anthro.ucla.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.

November 9, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Dr. M. Brian Blake, Provost, Drexel University, expressing deep concern over the removal of Dr. Ciccariello-Maher

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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November 7, 2017

Dr. M. Brian Blake,

Provost

Drexel University

3141 Chestnut Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

Dear Provost Blake:

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)**, a group of over 200 academics from different California institutions of higher education focused on protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression, is writing to express our deep concern over the removal of Dr. Ciccariello-Maher, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Global Studies, Drexel University from his classroom as a new condition of the administrative leave imposed upon him on October 9, 2017. Drexel University should never have put Dr. Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave, an act that violates its own rules of faculty governance and those of the American Association of University Professors.

We strongly urge Drexel University to reconsider this path as an inadequate response to threats to freedom of speech and academic freedom posed by the new landscape of internet mobbing and outside pressures. We remind you that Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s extramural speech is protected speech as are his political views expressed in the classroom and in all publications. As of this writing, students in Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s classes have been denied the presence of their teacher while the Professor himself labors under a cloud of your making. No less authoritative a body than the AAUP has urged you to respect the learning and expertise of this scholar by returning to this scholar the full enjoyment of his rights to academic freedom. In this case, “security” cannot be a cover for administrative retreat from the facts.

You cannot at this date be unaware that a Russian troll farm is responsible for the bulk of the email outrage garnered by Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s extramural speech.  According to a well-researched article by the conservative Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

“@TEN_GOP, was not, as it claimed to be, the organic anger of Republicans from Tennessee. Rather, @TEN_GOP was the product of the Internet Research Agency, a Russia-based “troll farm” not heretofore known to employ many Americans hailing from the Volunteer State. Instead, it was, as described by The New York Times in 2015, “employing hundreds of Russians to post pro-Kremlin propaganda online under fake identities, including on Twitter.” According to a report first made by Russia-based RBC, citing documents and both current and former employees of the agency, @TEN_GOP was one such fake account. Reporters with the Daily Beast — Betsy Woodruff, Ben Collins, Spencer Ackerman, and Kevin Poulsen — confirmed @TEN_GOP’s Internet Research Agency origin, citing a source familiar with the account and evidence purporting to show that the account was linked to a Russian cell phone number.”

That said, the source of the attacks, embarrassing as it may be, is not the main issue.  What is at stake is the violation of the rights of a member of faculty to academic freedom and to protected freedom of expression.  Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s critique of gun control fetishism and equally of blind support for militarism remain protected speech whether expressed in the classroom or in an extramural venue. No reasonable person would misunderstand his tweets, the norms of the venue that is Twitter, nor the insidious intent of the attacks on Professor Ciccariello-Maher. You well know that his earlier tweet regarding “white genocide” was, in essence, a satirical citation of the absurd white supremacist dictum that because “white” women have fewer children than other women, there is a “genocide” afoot. Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comment was neither ill-advised nor outrageous. It was simply feminist and anti-racist.

In these times when our democracy is imperilled by foreign meddling and home-grown corruption, academic freedom and freedom of expression may seem like quaint and innocent values. They are not. Though we may not all share Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s taste for acerbic rhetoric, there can be no argument on the facts and no respectable claim that his criticisms of US policy, political piety or rank white supremacy are outside the norms of political expression. The online trade journal, Inside Higher Ed, reports “Drexel has criticized his statements, and also said that the university was losing some prospective students and donors because of the furor over the tweets”. We at cs4af wonder why the university would see fit to criticize the comments of a tenured expert in political science when those comments in their substance if not their tone reflect arguments well represented in liberal and leftist traditions? University administrators must not exhibit partisan political commitments that contravene the academic freedom of the professoriate nor should such commitments and still less the fear – or excuse — of losing donor dollars be used as a basis for ignoring faculty governance. The AAUP has made public its letter to you detailing discussions with Drexel University over six months and in which the AAUP has attempted to persuade your administration to adhere to common baseline standards of respect for faculty governance and institutional norms.

We at cs4af do hope that Drexel University will choose to restore Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s right to his classroom and to defend the values that found and continue to anchor institutions of higher learning. We will support you in this endeavour.

We look forward to your response,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita

Department of Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Sonhale@ucla.edu

Lisa Rofel

Professor of Anthropology

Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.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.

November 7, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments