California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Open Letter to Chancellor Wise of UIUC re firing of Steven Salaita

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

August  8, 2014

Chancellor Phyllis Wise

Office of the Chancellor

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Swanlund Administration Building

601 E. John Street

Champaign, IL 61820

Dear Chancellor Wise,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom* is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred fifty faculty at universities and colleges throughout California. 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.

We are therefore extremely disturbed by the account published in Inside Higher Education, which states that your institution, having publicly confirmed the hiring of Professor Steven Salaita as Associate Professor (with tenure) of American Indian Studies after the customary full review, subsequently withdrew the offer.  This action on your part has reportedly been taken on account of tweets and other public statements made by Professor Salaita regarding the recent Israeli offensive on Gaza.

We are both concerned and perplexed by this action, which would be tantamount to firing a tenured faculty member without review or stated grounds.  In particular, we are disturbed that Professor Salaita’s constitutionally protected expression of his views, not disseminated in the name of the university or at its expense, may have served as the pretext for his dismissal.  We have been unable to discover anything in the cited tweets that exceeds the limits of strongly expressed and sometimes satirical modes of speech and found nothing that a reasonable and impartial reviewer could consider to be injurious or racist speech. Indeed, if there were questions about Prof. Salaita’s “civility” or “collegiality” that would have impacted his work as a teacher or scholar, it is hard to imagine that they wouldn’t have been discovered and addressed far earlier in the hiring process by the committee that vetted his scholarly work, which has made no secret of his opinions, or his teaching record. But neither “decorum” nor “civility”, highly subjective judgments in any case, have any bearing on the essential right to freedom of expression.  Censure or censorship of such political rhetoric would seriously infringe on the range and manner of allowable expression and subject any professor who participates in the public sphere to an alarming degree for precarity, merely for practicing the kind of public critical exchange that we hopefully still encourage our students to engage in as citizens.

Yet more alarming is the strong evidence in the current climate that Professor Salaita’s dismissal comes in response to the pressure of interested lobbying by individuals or organizations who are opposed to his political views. Increasingly, such groups are intervening in campus matters across the nation, and they do so with the intent of chilling freedom of expression.  Usually, however, their claims are made in the name of protecting the ethnic or religious sensitivities of students, usually by intemperate and exaggerated characterizations of the statements or scholarly work of those they target. While both federal and state law as well as university policy protect students from discrimination or antagonism based on their religious, ethnic, gender and other identities, no law could possibly protect students or faculty from hearing challenges to their political, religious or cultural beliefs simply on the grounds of their identification with them, so long as such discourse is conducted in a non-coercive and non-violent manner.

To assert the existence of such protections constitutes a profound infringement of the freedom of intellectual inquiry and deliberation on which the university is based. Any organization, internal or external, that seeks to limit the free and full deliberation of any viewpoint, or the representation of perspectives inimical to it, trespasses on a principle of academic life so fundamental that the university would be unimaginable without it.  It is a principle which cannot and must not promise that in all situations students or faculty will feel intellectual comfort: indeed, mental and moral discomfort are often essential conditions for serious learning and thoughtful consideration of views that challenge our preconceptions.

If, as there is strong reason to suppose, your dismissal of Professor Salaita is based on such pressures, you have failed to defend crucial principles of academic freedom on grounds that have no place in the university.  If your dismissal was based on the fact or content of Professor Salaita’s expression of his views in the public sphere, you have infringed both on his rights as a member of the university community and on his first amendment rights.  We urge you to reverse this peremptory decision without delay and to apologize publicly for the pain and anxiety that you have caused Professor Salaita and his family.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Jess Ghannam, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, jess.ghannam@gmail.com

Mark Levine, Department of History, U.C. Irvine, mlevine@uci.edu

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English, U.C. Riverside, david.lloyd@ucr.edu

Susan Slyomovics, Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles, ssly@anthro.ucla.edu

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of over 150 professors at universities and colleges throughout California.  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.

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Open Letter to Address Violations of the Right to Education and Academic Freedom of the People of Gaza

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

An Open Letter to Address

Violations of the Right to Education and Academic Freedom

of the People of Gaza

California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred fifty faculty at universities and colleges throughout California, strongly condemns the ongoing Israeli government assault on Gaza. At this moment of temporary ceasefire, Israel’s assault has killed nearly1900 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including hundreds of children. Like all people of conscience, we deplore above all the loss of life and the injury to people, whether Palestinian or Israeli, and condemn unequivocally the conduct of warfare by any party in a manner that inevitably and willfully leads to the slaughter of innocent civilians.

As an organization of scholars, however, it is our mission to note that, as in previous assaults, the Israeli government has targeted schools and universities, including at least three United Nations facilities that were being used as shelters by civilians who had been forced out of their homes by Israeli military threats and had no other refuge.  Beyond these strikes, which the UN condemns as possible war crimes, at least 167 schools and six universities have been damaged by the month-long Israeli assault, including most recently the Islamic University of Gaza. While the Israeli government characteristically claims that these incidents were the result of the use of these schools by Hamas combatants or activists, or of the proximity of these facilities to active combat, no evidence has been produced to corroborate these claims, and the United Nations has documented its very numerous communications of its schools’ locations to the Israeli forces.  

We deplore these assaults both on civilians and on educational infrastructure in the ongoing Israeli government assault.  However, we equally condemn the continuous if less manifestly violent and destructive measures that the Israeli government has adopted against the basic educational rights of the Palestinian population of Gaza.  In the course of its blockade of Gaza since 2006, a blockade largely considered illegal under international law and expressly planned to reduce the entire civilian population to the most minimal levels of subsistence, Israel has not only denied essential construction materials for the rebuilding of educational institutions destroyed in its previous campaigns, but even prevented the importation of such basic educational supplies as pens and paper. Its act of sustained collective punishment also targets basic medical supplies, foodstuffs, and other necessities of life that inevitably affect the well-being of young people and children who form a very high proportion of the civilian population on whom this petty and vicious war of deprivation has been inflicted.

Furthermore, having so drastically curtailed the basic means to education, the Israeli government has denied to students in Gaza the right to travel in order to take up scholarships for study abroad or to continue their education at more advanced levels than Gazan institutions can offer by attending universities on the West Bank.  Those who attempt to do so are labeled infiltrators and risk arrest, deportation or even incarceration.  Israel has denied to faculty the right to travel to conferences or to do research on arbitrary grounds and generally infringed in a daily and systematic manner on fundamental rights to academic freedom.  

Nor has Gaza been the only area in which universities and schools have recently been occupied or targeted by Israeli forces. In the lead up to the current offensive, using what is now admitted to have been the mere pretext of the abduction of three settler youths, as reported by the Palestinian policy institute, Al-Shabaka, the Israeli army raided the campuses of five institutions of higher education, including Birzeit University near Ramallah, the Arab American University in Jenin, Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, and the Polytechnic University of Palestine in Hebron.  In the course of these raids, heavily armed Israeli soldiers attacked and arrested students, detained university guards, destroyed university property and equipment, and confiscated student organization materials. The Israeli army also raided and subsequently used the Palestine Ahliya University as a holding ground for detainees arrested during a separate raid of Dheisha Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. These assaults on educational institutions are not exceptional, but constitute a long-standing aspect of the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of the West Bank as well as Gaza.

This is the third time in five years that the Israeli government has unleashed its enormous military power, funded and supplied by the United States, on a sliver of land that houses nearly two million people who have no means of escape, whose most fundamental means to life, including water and power, have been steadily deteriorated, and whose homes have been systematically destroyed.  The current offensive on Gaza, in its apparently deliberate targeting of civilians, is the most extreme manifestation of the deprivation of the Palestinian people of Gaza of even the most fundamental rights to life.  But it is continuous with the Israeli government’s ongoing assault on the Palestinians’ ability to maintain their cultural and intellectual life also.  

In addition to the unspeakable violence of the last three weeks the military assault on a predominantly civilian population, and the great loss of life that this has entailed, we deplore and condemn the deleterious impact the blockade and the violence has had on educational opportunities for Palestinians.

We therefore urge our university and college presidents and our elected representatives to speak forthrightly against the Israeli government’s denial to Palestinians of educational facilities and opportunities by violence and blockade.  Many of them, with the pretext of defending academic freedom, have recently condemned non-violent efforts by academic associations and student organizations to boycott or divest from Israel’s academic or economic institutions.   To say nothing now in the face of Israel’s egregious destruction and invasion of educational facilities in Palestine is to condone a gross and ongoing humanitarian disaster and to be complicit in the continuing denial of fundamental freedoms, including academic freedoms, to a profoundly vulnerable civilian population.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact persons:

Professor Larry Gross, School of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, lpgross@asc.usc.edu

David Lloyd, Department of English, University of California, Riverside,

david.lloyd@ucr.edu

Ahlam Muhtaseb, Associate Professor, Communication Studies,

California State University, San Bernardino, AMuhtase@csusb.edu

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of over 150 professors at universities and colleges throughout California.  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.

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Assembly Member Shirley Weber and Campus Climate Committee

August 1, 2014

Assembly Member Shirley Weber, Ph.D.

Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate hearings

State Capitol, Room 3126

Sacramento, CA  95814

To Assembly Member Shirley Weber and the Campus Climate Committee:

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom is writing to express our concern that your final hearings addressing racism on college campuses not be hijacked by false accusations that equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and that call for infringement of academic freedom.  California Scholars for Academic Freedom is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California.

We support and applaud the establishment of your committee in the wake of the blatant and shocking racism suffered by Mr. Williams that occurred on the San Jose State University campus when three white students placed a bike lock as a noose around Mr. Williams’s neck, after having bullied him for several weeks prior to that incident.

We are disturbed that the first hearings that were to address a broad range of racism on California college campuses were hijacked by Ms.Tammi Benjamin and her group, AMCHA.  Over the past ten years, Ms. Benjamin, in the name of her organization, has falsely accused both Arab and Jewish students and faculty of anti-Semitism whenever they address the Palestine/Israel conflict and whenever there are criticisms aired of Israel.  Ms. Benjamin, in the name of her organization, has brought three frivolous lawsuits against various California college campuses, accusing these campuses of having fostered anti-Semitism whenever they allow debates about the Palestine/Israel conflict to take place. AMCHA has wasted a great deal of taxpayers’ time and money with their relentless political cause that aims to silence and censor students and faculty rather than address true anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Indeed, Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students and faculty have experienced AMCHA’s attacks as themselves a form of racism.  One of Ms. Benjamin’s speeches, which appears online, reflects a clear and unequivocal racist attack on Muslims.

We urge you to prevent the misuse of claims of racism and protect students and faculty from this virulent targeting.  We do so with a profound consciousness, reinforced by repeated instances, of the long-lasting damage and injury that frivolous but attention-grabbing accusations made by AMCHA and similar small but fanatical and well-funded organizations do to faculty and students, both psychologically and in terms of their capacity to function as students or professionals.  It is not only that  such complaints, however frivolous or trivial they may be, necessitate investigation and waste significant amounts of time for all parties involved—time that could be better spent dealing with more substantial issues relating to campus climate. It is also that they have an impact on individuals that extends far beyond the investigative process that is undertaken and resolved on campus.  We are aware of numerous cases in which the accusations leveled by AMCHA and similar groups have been found groundless and yet the accused faculty member continues to be harassed, denigrated and, in alarmingly frequent cases, threatened with violence. Such threats, often explicitly racist in their nature, usually are delivered anonymously, on websites or by email, and have the tendency of all such media to proliferate and to have an afterlife that continues long after the issue appears to be resolved.   This is clearly very damaging psychologically and materially affects the capacity of faculty to teach, to lead a normal life on campus, and to fulfill the pedagogical mission to which they are dedicated.

Unfortunately, the understandable administrative desire to accommodate all parties in such accusations, and to proceed with fairness, can give credence to baseless charges whose end it is to create a climate of fear around issues that the accusers would prefer not to be discussed openly and freely.  In our experience, faculty are best protected from harassment of this kind when university administrators clearly and unambiguously repudiate the charges and robustly defend their faculty.  Failure to do so leaves faculty vulnerable to continuing abuse and to potentially life-threatening incitement and constitutes a serious undermining of the climate of safety and of open and critical  intellectual inquiry that ought to characterize campus life.

We urge you to return to the original intent of the committee hearings, which is to address the broad range of racism that has occurred on California college campuses and to reiterate the state legislature’s protection of the right to access education without explicit or implicit racism and support for academic freedom of speech.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Craig Reinarman

Department of Sociology

University of California, Santa Cruz

craigr@ucsc.edu

Professor Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor

Department of Psychiatry, and

Global Health Sciences

University of California, San Francisco

School of Medicine

Jess.ghannam@ucsf.edu

Professor and Chair James Quesada
Department of Anthropology
San Francisco State University

jquesada@sfsu.edu

Professor David Klein

Department of Mathematics

California State University, Northridge

david.klein@csun.edu

Professor Sondra Hale

Research Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

Edmund Burke III

Research Professor of History

University of California, Santa Cruz

eburke@ucsc.edu

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

On March 21, 2014, at the SJSU campus climate hearing convened in response to the hate crimes suffered by Mr. Williams, a right-wing funded off-campus group, the AMCHA Initiative, hijacked the proceedings. Attempting to silence legitimate on-campus criticism of Israeli government policies and undermine the hearing. Members of AMCHA falsely reported as anti-Semitic, peaceful pro-Palestinian student projects. As a result, the attention was taken from the virulent racism experienced by Black students on campus, Palestinian and Arab students who face racism and targeting were attacked and the very serious history of anti-Semitism was misused to silence opposition to today’s racism and state-sponsored massacres.

**California Scholars for Academic Freedom is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom.  and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California

August 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

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