Committee on Academic Freedom – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 28 Jun 2024 04:39:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.10 Opposing a Bill Proposed by National Union of Israel Students to make Criticizing Israeli Gov’t a Firing Offense https://www.juancole.com/2024/06/opposing-students-criticizing.html Fri, 28 Jun 2024 04:04:21 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=219293 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association | =

Elhanan Fellheimer
Chairman, National Union of Israeli Students

Prof. Arie Zaban
President of Bar-Ilan University
Chairperson of Association of University Heads – VERA

President Zaban, Chairman Fellheimer,

We write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our profound concern over the National Union of Israeli Students’ proposed bill and billboard smear campaign against faculty in Israeli higher education institutions who are critical of Israeli government’s actions and policies. The proposed bill and billboard smear campaign appear to target, in particular, Professor Anat Matar and Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian (about whom we sent letters on 9 November 2023, 21 March 2024, and 6 May 2024).

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has close to 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and the freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Contrary to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression, the National Union of Israeli Students’ vaguely worded draft bill of 19 May 2024 proposes that: “Academic institutions will be obliged to immediately fire a lecturer, a teacher or researcher who expresses or acts in a manner that includes denial of the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racism, violence or terrorism and/or support for an armed struggle or an act of terrorism against Israel.” The draft bill also stipulates that even tenured faculty can be terminated immediately without compensation and that any institution refusing to abide by the proposed law by not firing a faculty member could lose state funding. To promote this bill, the National Union of Israeli Students has also funded what appears to be an expensive public campaign, which includes posters and billboards placed in various parts of Tel Aviv and its vicinity with quotes from Matar and Shalhoub-Kevorkian and which call for such faculty to be fired without compensation.

This flagrant disregard for the basic values that underpin academic scholarship is detrimental to Israeli academia in general and its struggle to remain relevant globally. On 21 May 2024, the Committee of University Heads of Israel (VERA) published a detailed, five-page letter to convince Spanish institutions not to boycott Israeli institutions, in which they argue that they share the “commitment to peace and justice in the region and […] agree with you that the situation in Gaza is tragic.” If VERA wishes for its claims to be taken seriously, campaigns promoting undemocratic, fascist policies against academics and students must be strongly and publicly resisted.

While it was indeed important that VERA published a letter on 3 June 2024 opposing the bill and calling on members of Israel’s parliament to reject it, further actions are required to protect academic freedom and the freedom of speech. VERA must stand behind faculty and students who are being attacked on campuses and in the public sphere. Furthermore, opposition to the war or any other Israeli policy must remain legal if, indeed, the academic sphere is to be described as liberal and democratic, committed to peace and justice in the region. Students, staff, and faculty, both Jewish Israeli and Palestinian, must be permitted to express themselves regarding the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, which is far more than simply “tragic.”

We call upon the National Union of Israeli Students to stop threatening critical voices at the country’s universities, thereby exacerbating student and faculty fears for their safety on and off campus, and instead promote open, democratic academic settings. Further, we urge VERA to be true to its own words and stand behind the effort to block the National Union’s dangerous proposed bill. A pluralistic political environment that ensures academic freedom for all requires nothing less.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California

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Protesting the U of Minnesota Reneging on Job offer to Genocide Specialist Raz Segal over Gaza https://www.juancole.com/2024/06/protesting-minnesota-specialist.html Wed, 19 Jun 2024 04:02:17 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=219125 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association | –

Jeff Ettinger
Interim President
University of Minnesota
upres@umn.edu . . .
 
Dear President Ettinger and colleagues: 
 
We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern about your decision to rescind the offer which the University of Minnesota (U of M) made to Dr. Raz Segal to assume the directorship of its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS). This action, the result of your capitulation to political pressure from groups based outside the university which had attacked Dr. Segal for his assessment of Israel’s war in Gaza, starkly contravenes your administration’s avowed commitment to academic freedom and to respect for the integrity of the faculty hiring process.
 
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the prestigious International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and outside of North America.
 
Dr. Segal, Associate Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Endowed Professor in the Study of Modern Genocide at Stockton University, is widely regarded as a leading scholar in the academic fields in which he works. After a thorough search conducted in full accord with U of M procedures and policies, he was deemed the most qualified candidate for the directorship of CHGS and offered the position. Two members of the CHGS board resigned in protest, citing an October 2023 article in which Dr. Segal had described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “a textbook case of genocide.” Organizations and media outlets based outside the university, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, then launched a campaign to block Dr. Segal’s appointment. 
 
Rather than defend academic freedom and the principle that faculty should make hiring decisions based exclusively on scholarly criteria, without interference by individuals or organizations pursuing their own political agenda, your administration first “paused” and then rescinded the offer to Dr. Segal. The video recording of President Ettinger’s 14 June 2024 report to the Board of Regents explaining his decision, available here (starting at 19:23), clearly indicates that the university surrendered to the campaign against Dr. Segal.
 
We note the statement issued by the U of M chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) on 12 June 2024 expressing alarm at the withdrawal of the offer to Dr. Segal and declaring that “the central administration has rewarded the brinkmanship of two faculty members acting outside the norms of acceptable faculty conduct, overruled a comprehensive faculty-led process of evaluating candidates for this position, and violated established policy and precedent regarding collegiate hiring practices.” The statement went on to characterize your action as “an appalling violation of academic freedom and a stain on the U’s record. If it goes uncorrected it will have a chilling effect on academic freedom at this institution, not only for faculty but also students and staff, by showing that our central administration will side with outside groups when they demand actions that violate academic freedom.” We also call your attention to the open letter signed by nearly a thousand faculty at universities across the United States and beyond, which noted that “by overruling the faculty experts who selected Dr. Segal, the University of Minnesota’s administrators have effectively issued a vote of no confidence in its own faculty. This move endangers the University’s reputation as an internationally-renowned research institution.”
 
We must remind you of the statement on “Academic Freedom in Times of War” issued by the AAUP on 24 October 2023, which is directly relevant to the current circumstances:
 
“It is in tumultuous times that colleges’ and universities’ stated commitments to protect academic freedom are most put to the test. As the Israel-Hamas war rages and campus protests proliferate, institutional authorities must refrain from sanctioning faculty members for expressing politically controversial views and should instead defend their right, under principles of academic freedom, to do so.”
 
We therefore call on you to immediately reinstate the offer made to Dr. Segal and apologize to him for surrendering to the smear campaign against him. We further urge you to publicly and forcefully reaffirm your commitment to the principles of academic freedom and to the integrity and independence of your institution’s faculty hiring process.
 
We look forward to your response.
 
Sincerely,
 
Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School
 
Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California
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Protesting San José State University’s Suspension of Professor Sang Hea Kil, Advisor of Students for Justice in Palestine https://www.juancole.com/2024/06/protesting-universitys-suspension-professor.html Wed, 05 Jun 2024 04:06:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218914 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association | –

Cynthia Teniente-Matson
President, 
San José State University
sjsupres@sjsu.edu . . .

Dear President Teniente-Matson and colleagues:
 
We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern at the decision of the San José State University (SJSU) administration to suspend Professor Sang Hea Kil of the Department of Justice Studies from all faculty duties. There is good reason to believe that this action constitutes an egregious violation of Professor Kil’s academic freedom as well as of her right to free speech. 
 
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the prestigious International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and outside of North America.
 
Professor Kil served as faculty advisor to SJSU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and has acted as a liaison between the students and your administration. On 25 April 2024 SJSU’s Title IX Office informed Professor Kil that she was being investigated because she had allegedly “engaged in behavior that disrupted the university’s business operations and encouraged students to do the same” at a 19 February 2024 protest event organized by SJP. On 24 May 2024 Professor Kil received an amended “notice of investigation” citing another alleged instance of potential misconduct, on 8 May 2024. Neither notice provided any details or evidence of the alleged misconduct. Nonetheless, on 24 May 2024 – the very same day on which SJSU issued its amended notice – Senior Associate Vice President for University Personnel Joanne Wright informed Professor Kil that she had been placed on administrative leave with pay and barred from her office, “for reasons related to the disruption of programs and/or operations, the safety of persons or property, and investigation for formal notice of disciplinary action.”
 
Professor Kil has vigorously denied that she engaged in what your administration characterized, in its letter suspending her, as “unprofessional and exploitative conduct towards students and others…engaging in harassing and offensive conduct and comments directed towards colleagues individually and as a group, targeting at least one colleague and/or a group of colleagues for engaging in their work duties by publicly posting their picture and/or group description with inflammatory comments and creating a risk of harm to them; and activities with and/or directives to students for your own personal interest or gain.” Article 17 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the California Faculty Association and the California State University system requires “strong and compelling evidence” to justify the suspension of a faculty member, yet no such evidence, or even specific details of what Professor Kil is alleged to have done, have been adduced. The allegation that Professor Kil somehow manipulated the members of SJP with whom she worked as faculty advisor to serve her own ends is also disturbing. We are therefore led to conclude that your decision to suspend Professor Kil, without a full and transparent investigation of the allegations against her conducted in accordance with commonly accepted norms and procedures, constitutes a violation of her academic freedom and of her right to speech.
 
In these fraught times university leaders have a heightened responsibility to protect the freedom of speech, academic freedom, and physical safety of all members of the campus community. We call your attention to the statement issued by MESA’s board of directors and its Committee on Academic Freedom on 6 May 2024 which denounced actions by university leaders to delegitimize and repress campus advocacy opposing Israel’s war in Gaza. We also remind you of the statement on “Academic Freedom in Times of War” issued by the American Association of University Professors on 24 October 2023, which is directly relevant to your disciplinary action against Professor Kil:
 
“It is in tumultuous times that colleges’ and universities’ stated commitments to protect academic freedom are most put to the test. As the Israel-Hamas war rages and campus protests proliferate, institutional authorities must refrain from sanctioning faculty members for expressing politically controversial views and should instead defend their right, under principles of academic freedom, to do so.”
 
We therefore call upon you to immediately rescind Professor Kil’s suspension, formally apologize to her for the abusive treatment to which she has been subjected, and publicly reiterate your commitment to protect the academic freedom and the free speech rights of all members of the SJSU community.
  
We look forward to your response.
 
Sincerely,
 
Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School
 
Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California
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Protesting U of Texas-Dallas Arrest and Suspension of Faculty and Students Peacefully Protesting against Gaza War https://www.juancole.com/2024/05/protesting-suspension-peacefully.html Wed, 22 May 2024 04:04:12 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218674 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association | –

Dr. Richard C. Benson
President, 
University of Texas at Dallas
president@utdallas.edu . . .

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern over your administration’s recent actions with respect to the peaceful student encampment at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) in support of Palestinian rights. We are particularly distressed by your decision to call the police to campus on 1 May 2024, resulting in the arrest and brutalization of several students and faculty on your campus, including Professors Ben Wright, Rosemary Admiral and Ali Asgar Alibhai. We note that Professors Alibhai and Admiral are members of the Middle East Studies Association. 
 
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region North America and elsewhere.
 
On the early morning of 1 May 2024, students at UT Dallas began an encampment at Chess Plaza in support of Palestinian rights, joining other university encampments across the country and around the world. By all accounts, this was an entirely peaceful protest. At an Academic Council meeting at UT Dallas that same day, university leadership affirmed its commitment to freedom of speech on campus; however, a few hours later your administration reversed its stance, threatening students with expulsion and calling in the police.
 
We are deeply troubled by reports from various sources that police officers from five different departments, including a SWAT team, raided the encampment with excessive force, assaulting students and faculty. Twenty individuals were arrested and face potential six-month jail sentences for criminal trespassing. We note that the police not only handcuffed the arrestees but also shackled their wrists, feet and legs, and detained them in an unventilated vehicle for 30 minutes before taking them to be booked. Moreover, although the arrests occurred in Dallas County where the university is situated, those arrested were taken to jail in neighboring (and more conservative) Collin County, where they were held for 24 hours and subjected to unacceptable conditions and racist language by arresting officers. 
 
We are dismayed that your administration has prohibited at least one of the arrested faculty members from entering campus, requiring them to teach online for the rest of the semester. We further note that one of the students arrested was arbitrarily removed from your university’s graduation event by police and threatened with a second charge of criminal trespassing. In both these cases, these actions were not mandated by the conditions of their release from jail.
 
Your decision to call in the police to break up a peaceful encampment on its very first day contravenes your university’s Academic Freedom policy (UTDPP1121), which guarantees “the freedom to learn, the freedom to teach, and the freedom to develop and share knowledge with the community – all without fear of censorship or retaliation.” That policy also states that “UT Dallas concurs with the AAUP 1940 Statement that ‘the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.’ No UT Dallas policy or procedure shall infringe on academic freedom, due process, or other protected rights.” 
 
We remind you of the statement on “Academic Freedom in Times of War” issued by the AAUP on 24 October 2023, which is directly relevant to your decision to have some of your students and faculty arrested and disciplined:
 
“It is in tumultuous times that colleges’ and universities’ stated commitments to protect academic freedom are most put to the test. As the Israel-Hamas war rages and campus protests proliferate, institutional authorities must refrain from sanctioning faculty members for expressing politically controversial views and should instead defend their right, under principles of academic freedom, to do so.”
 
We therefore echo the demands of a letter signed by numerous UT Dallas faculty calling on your administration to drop legal and disciplinary charges and procedures against everyone involved in the 1 May 2024 encampment and subsequent protests, to refrain from initiating additional sanctions, and to allow all students and faculty barred from campus to return to their studies or their work. We also call on you to issue an immediate apology to the students and faculty for creating an unsafe and harmful environment on campus by using excessive force to break up a peaceful demonstration. We further ask you to refrain in the future from adopting any policy, or taking any measure, which is likely to exert a chilling effect on the right or ability of students, faculty and staff to freely express their opinions on matters of public concern and to advocate for whatever cause they wish. Finally, we urge you to publicly and forcefully reaffirm your commitment to respect and defend the free speech rights and the academic freedom of your faculty, students and staff, and to fully protect the safety and well-being of all members of your campus community. 
 
We look forward to your response.
Sincerely,
 
Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School
 
Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California
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Washington U.: Protesting Severe Beating by Police of Prof. Steve Tamari, Arrest, Suspension of Faculty and Students https://www.juancole.com/2024/05/washington-protesting-suspension.html Thu, 09 May 2024 04:02:41 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218467 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association

Dr. Andrew Martin
Chancellor, Washington University in St. Louis
admartin@wustl.edu . . .

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our shock and revulsion at the brutalization by the police of Professor Steve Tamari of nearby Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as he peacefully participated in a protest for Palestinian rights on the Washington University in St. Louis (WU) campus on 27 April 2024. We also register our deep concern over the suspension of six of your faculty members for alleged participation in the same protest, as well as the arrest and suspension of many of your students. 
 
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region North America and elsewhere.
 
On 27 April 2024 Professor Tamari was documenting police arrests of activists at a student encampment supporting Palestinian rights and calling on Washington University to sever its relationship with Boeing because it supplies weapons systems to Israel. Without provocation, several police officers violently attacked Professor Tamari, resulting in his hospitalization with nine broken ribs and a broken hand; he will need surgery to repair the damage to his hand. 
 
Your decision to call in the police to break up the encampment, resulting in the severe injuries to Professor Tamari as well as numerous arrests and suspensions, came despite ongoing attempts to resolve the situation peacefully. Dr. Megan-Ellyia Green, the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and an adjunct professor at your university’s Brown School of Social Work, noted in an 28 April 2024 Facebook post that student organizers had asked her and Alderwoman Alisha Sonnier to intercede to open communications with WU leadership. Dr. Green wrote that “we approached the police line to ask to speak with the vice chancellor who was on the other side of the police line, only to be threatened with arrest.” They were later able to speak with the vice chancellor and told him that the students wanted to communicate with the administration. The vice chancellor indicated that he would report the students’ request to his colleagues in the administration; however, police arrived 15 minutes later and began to make arrests, in many cases using excessive force. Alderwoman Green noted that members of six different police departments were present on campus that day.
 
In a week that witnessed police attacks on faculty and students at peaceful protests at campuses around the country, the violence inflicted on Professor Tamari stands out as by far the most grievous that we have heard about. Moreover, your administration’s sanctioning of several of your own professors was similarly called out as exceptionally harsh. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education noted on 30 April 2024 that “while professors have been arrested or disciplined at a handful of other colleges, including Emory, New York and Indiana Universities….the number of professors involved and the severity of the punishment at Washington University stands out.”  Six WU professors have been placed on paid administrative leave and forbidden from contacting students.
 
Several of the suspended faculty have contested the allegations leading to their suspension. Two of them have been accused of using their swipe cards to facilitate the entry into university buildings of people unauthorized to be there; they contend that they entered campus buildings that were unlocked to use the bathroom. Another faculty member, accused of helping to set up the student encampment, insists that he had never joined it but only participated in a march before it was erected; he asserts that he was arrested while filming Professor Tamari’s brutalization. In its 30 April 2024 article the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted a statement by the executive committee of Washington University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) declaring that it “defends the right of faculty to due process, and has not seen that our suspended colleagues’ actions threatened the community in any way that required emergency exception to that process.”
 
The brutalization of Professor Tamari is inexcusable, and your administration’s decision to call in the police even as city leaders were trying to mediate cannot be justified. We remind you of the statement on “Academic Freedom in Times of War” issued by the AAUP on 24 October 2023, which is directly relevant to your decision to have members of WU’s student body and faculty arrested and disciplined:
 
“It is in tumultuous times that colleges’ and universities’ stated commitments to protect academic freedom are most put to the test. As the Israel-Hamas war rages and campus protests proliferate, institutional authorities must refrain from sanctioning faculty members for expressing politically controversial views and should instead defend their right, under principles of academic freedom, to do so.”
 
We therefore call on you to issue an immediate apology to Professor Tamari for the severe injuries that the police inflicted on him and offer to assist him should he choose to pursue legal action. We also call on you to immediately rescind the suspensions of your faculty and students, and to seek the dismissal of criminal charges against all those arrested for peacefully protesting. At the same time, we urge you to review all disciplinary measures and procedures taken against them to ensure that they are in conformity with longstanding university policies and the right to due process. We further ask you to refrain from adopting any policy, or taking any measure, which is likely to exert a chilling effect on the right or ability of students, faculty and staff to freely express their opinions on matters of public concern and to advocate for whatever cause they wish. Finally, we urge you to publicly and forcefully reaffirm your commitment to respect and defend the free speech rights and the academic freedom of your faculty, students and staff, and to fully protect the safety and well-being of all members of your campus community. 
 
We look forward to your response.
 
Sincerely,
 
Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School
 
Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California
 
Cc: 
 
Dr. Dennis Barbour, Chair, Faculty Senate 
Cecilia Hanan Reyes, manager of the Faculty Senate 
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Protesting Israel’s Arrest and Continued Questioning of Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian https://www.juancole.com/2024/05/protesting-continued-questioning.html Wed, 08 May 2024 04:06:00 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218452 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association

Asher Cohen
President, Hebrew University of Jerusalem . . .

We write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS) to express our grave concern over the 18 April 2024 arrest and detention of Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian by Israeli police officers, and her subsequent interrogations. Police also searched her home, confiscating her mobile phone, laptop, and other personal items. This escalation is a direct result of decisions by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI), including demanding in November 2023 that Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian resign from her position for signing a petition and illegally suspending her employment in March 2024 while denying her due process. MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom has written to you regarding these two incidents (see its letters dated  9 November 2023 and 21 March 2024). While the HUJI reversed Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension, the incident has compromised her security and safety, and that of her family members and students. Indeed, many extreme right-wing activists in Israel have threatened her and called for her to be prosecuted, most notably the Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, who oversees the Police. Following her release from detention, she was summoned for further questioning by the Israeli police on 28 April 2024, 30 April and 2 May. Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest and the investigations into her opinions and academic work are a direct outcome of the university’s actions and threats. 
 
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has close to 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and the freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
 

The Association for Middle East Women’s Studies is the leading organization in academia dedicated to scholars and individuals with an interest in women and gender studies in the Middle East and North Africa. AMEWS is affiliated with the Middle East Studies Association of North America and, likewise, supports academic and free speech, human rights, equality and justice in the region and in the world. AMEWS publishes the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies at Duke University which furthers transnational feminist, gender, and sexuality scholarship. 

Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest, based on charges that are both politically motivated and unsubstantiated, sets a dangerous precedent for the persecution of critical Israeli academics, especially the Palestinians among them. The charges rely on a podcast interview with her, as well as her numerous academic works, which are internationally renowned. According to the tenets of academic freedom and freedom of speech, Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian has the right to express her views and protest the actions of the Government of Israel and its military forces. Moreover, Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s scholarly work should not be the basis of the criminal case against her. The appropriate venue for discussion and debate about scholarly work is the academy and not criminal courts or the biased press. Particularly alarming is HUJI’s involvement in this overt encroachment by the police on the academic sphere. Specifically, President Asher Cohen, Rector Tamir Shaefer, and Dean of Social Work Asher Ben Arieh are responsible for inciting the public campaign against Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a tenured professor at the HUJI. Such actions contribute to eroding the values of academic freedom and freedom of thought that should be at the heart of the mission of any university.
 
We therefore call upon you to desist from further engaging in or encouraging the persecution of Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian.  We also call upon you to publicly apologize for your involvement in the disturbing events described above, welcome Prof. Shalhoub-Kevorkian back at HUJI, and support her and her students, especially those undertaking doctoral studies. Finally, we urge you to safeguard the basic rights of freedom of opinion and expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that make academic scholarship and debate possible. 
 
We look forward to your response.
 
Sincerely,
 
Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School
 
Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California
 
Sherine Hafez
AMEWS President
Professor, University of California Riverside
 
Miriam Cooke
Chair, Human Rights Task Force, AMEWS
Professor, Duke University 
 
 
cc:
 
Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
 
 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, MENA section
 
James Heenan, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramallah
 
The Honorable Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
 
Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
 
Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories
 
Noha Bawazir, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative, UNESCO Liaison Office, Ramallah, Palestinian delegation to UNESCO
 
Josep Borrell-Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
 
Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights 
 
European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine 
Viktor Almqvist, Press Officer, Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), European Parliament 
 
Kati Piri, Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament
 
Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights 
 
Yoav Kisch, Minister of Education, Israel
 
Gali Baharav-Miara, Attorney General, Government of Israel 
 
Amit Aisman, State Attorney, Government of Israel 

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Informed Comment suggests a supplementary Video:
Democracy Now! “”No Palestinian Is Safe”: Renowned Feminist Scholar Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian Arrested in Jerusalem”

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Our Alarm at Escalating Repression of Protest on Campuses (Middle East Studies Assn. / CAF) https://www.juancole.com/2024/04/escalating-repression-campuses.html Thu, 25 Apr 2024 04:02:38 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218220 Middle East Studies Association | Committee on Academic Freedom

MESA Board Joint Statement with CAF concerning escalating repression of protest on campuses

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association and its Committee on Academic Freedom view with increasing alarm the growing number of attempts to intimidate, repress, and criminalize campus protests against the ongoing Israeli state violence against Palestinians and the US diplomatic, military, and economic support for it. Federal, state and local government officials—from the president, to congressional members, to governors and mayors—have exacerbated the threats on campuses by encouraging university administrators to violate basic commitments to freedom of expression, while casually smearing overwhelmingly peaceful protesters with unsubstantiated claims of violence or discriminatory speech. University leaders should constitute the first line of defense for students and faculty in the face of forces seeking to vilify, harass, and silence them. Instead, we regret that several university boards of trustees, presidents, and their administrations have acquiesced in the ugliest of campaigns targeting their students and faculty for engaging in what have been peaceful protests, joined by a wide cross-section of their campus community.

As Palestine solidarity and anti-war demonstrations have proliferated and intensified, sweeping characterizations of them as violent, dangerous, and antisemitic have been deployed as part of a campaign that has weaponized the language of “safety” to delegitimize, intimidate, and forcibly disperse legal, peaceful dissent. University administrations, most egregiously at Columbia, New York University, and Yale have—in some cases, in violation of their own university policies—called in the police to break up protests and arrest tens of students, some of whom have been summarily suspended and evicted from university housing. At NYU, faculty, too, were arrested. The University of Southern California cancelled the valedictorian’s commencement address after a slanderous hate campaign was launched against her for her pro-Palestinian views; the University of Pennsylvania revoked Penn Against the Occupation’s status as a registered student group; Harvard has now banned that university’s Palestine Solidarity Committee. Given the developments of the past several weeks, we are extremely concerned about what these disturbing events portend as commencement season approaches.

Attempts by universities to limit or suppress Gaza war-related speech and protest have been all too common since shortly after the 7 October attack. But the growing securitization and outright repression on campuses have reached levels not seen since the 1960s. We are witnessing a situation in which, in the name of security, it is university leaders themselves who have become the primary threat to the rights and safety of members of the campus community. The appeasement of malign forces seeking to destroy academic freedom, faculty governance, and curricular diversity, in which Columbia’s president Nemat Shafik so willingly participated during her 17 April congressional hearing, must not be allowed to metastasize. Today the goal is to suppress speech on Palestine, but the battle over free speech and academic freedom on our campuses did not begin, nor does it end, there.

We therefore call upon college and university boards of trustees, presidents, and administrations across the country immediately to clearly and forcefully recommit themselves to the freedom of inquiry, expression, and protest on campus that have been pillars of the US academy for decades. As the massive killing and destruction in Gaza continue, we also demand that you fulfill your responsibility to your profession and your campus community to defend peaceful protesters, uphold academic freedom, and reject all pressures seeking to criminalize peaceful encampments and demonstrations against this horrendous war—and our government’s complicity in it.

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Expressing Outrage at USC over its Decision to cancel Asna Tabassum’s Valedictory Address at Commencement https://www.juancole.com/2024/04/expressing-valedictory-commencement.html Fri, 19 Apr 2024 04:04:11 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218112 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association | –

Carol Folt

President, University of Southern California
president@usc.edu
Andrew Guzman

Provost, University of Southern California
atguzman@usc.edu
Errol G. Southers

USC Associate Senior Vice-President of Safety and Risk Assurance
southers@usc.edu

Dear President Folt, Provost Guzman and Associate Senior Vice-President Southers:

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our outrage regarding the 15 April 2024 announcement by the University of Southern California (USC) that valedictorian Asna Tabassum will not be permitted to speak at this year’s commencement. Suppression of Ms. Tabassum’s valedictory address constitutes a serious violation of academic freedom, and it also sends a chilling message to the campus community about what kind of speech and which speakers the university values and protects. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the prestigious International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and outside of North America. 
 
On 5 April 2024 President Folt named Asna Tabassum as valedictorian for USC’s May 2024 commencement. Ms. Tabassum, who identifies herself proudly as a Muslim woman of South Asian origin, will graduate with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in USC’s interdisciplinary “Resistance to Genocide” program. Selection for this honor requires a minimum GPA of 3.98, a record of active involvement in the USC university community and submission of an essay reflecting on the student’s personal and intellectual journey while at USC. This year, nearly 100 students were considered for this honor by the Valedictorian and Salutatorian Selection Committee, composed of three faculty members. The committee’s selection of Ms. Tabassum was forwarded to and accepted by Provost Guzman.
 
Shortly after the announcement of her selection as valedictorian, Ms. Tabassum began to be targeted by a number of campus and off-campus groups, among them We Are Tov, Trojans for Israel and the Lawfare Project, which falsely accused her of antisemitism based on social media posts that were critical of the State of Israel and supportive of Palestinian rights, and called for the university to revoke its designation of her as valedictorian. The posts these organizations cited cannot plausibly be construed as antisemitic. As we have explained on numerous occasions, including in a letter to USC regarding another academic freedom issue in 2020, criticism of Israel or of Zionism must not be conflated with antisemitism. Such conflation threatens the constitutionally protected right to free speech as well as the academic freedom of faculty and students at USC. 
 
The USC administration has justified the decision to cancel Ms. Tabassum’s valedictory address by the need “to maintain the safety of our campus and students” and by its “fundamental obligation to keep our campus community safe.” We note, however, that at no point has USC offered any specific information about the character or extent of any threats to safety which it might face if Ms. Tabassum spoke. Surrendering to attacks and threats by politically motivated groups seeking to silence the expression of opinions with which they disagree perverts the notion of community defense. Moreover, your claim that maintaining campus safety required the suppression of Ms. Tabassum’s valedictory address is difficult to reconcile with USC’s apparent ability to ensure security at a variety of high-profile events where threats might well be anticipated. As Ms. Tabassum put it in an eloquent statement
 

I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university – my home for four years – has abandoned me. In a meeting with the USC Provost and the Associate Senior Vice President of Safety and Risk Assurance on April 14, I asked about the alleged safety concerns and was told that the University had the resources to take appropriate safety measures for my valedictory speech, but that they would not be doing so since increased security protections is not what the University wants to “present as an image.” 

Your assertion at the end of your 15 April 2024 announcement that you intend to rethink the process of valedictorian selection offers further evidence that it was not the safety of Ms. Tabassum or anyone else that you sought to secure; rather, it appears that your intent was to silence her and what she represents at USC, in the process appeasing those who have vilified and threatened her. Your administration’s actions – including your failure to even mention Asna Tabassum by name in your announcement cancelling her valedictory address – thus constitute a shocking abdication of moral and professional responsibility and make a mockery of your avowed commitment to the safety and well-being of your students.
 
In these fraught times university leaders have a heightened responsibility to protect the academic freedom of all members of the campus community. This is all the more important now, when violence is raging in the Middle East, our own government is so deeply involved in what is happening, and various individuals and organizations with a political agenda are seeking to vilify and silence faculty and students with whom they disagree. 
 
We therefore call upon you to immediately apologize to Asna Tabassum and allow her to deliver the valedictory address at commencement. We also call upon you to initiate a transparent and impartial review of the process by which you have brought the USC community to this terrible juncture; your campus community is entitled to a thorough explanation of how and why your administration chose to acquiesce to ugly and baseless charges of antisemitism, leading to the silencing of its duly selected valedictorian.
 
We look forward to your response.
Sincerely,
 
Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School
 
Zachary Lockman
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom — North America wing
Professor, New York University
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Protesting Columbia University’s Arbitrary Suspension and Eviction of Students https://www.juancole.com/2024/04/protesting-universitys-suspension.html Tue, 16 Apr 2024 04:02:47 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218060 Committee on Academic Freedom | Middle East Studies Association | –

Minouche Shafik
President, Columbia University
officeofthepresident@columbia.edu 
 
Dennis Mitchell
Provost, Columbia University
dml48@cumc.columbia.edu . . .
Dear President Shafik and colleagues:
  
We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our alarm at Columbia University’s harsh and ill-advised response to a student-organized event that took place on 24 March 2024. Your administration’s excessive actions manifest a distressing disregard for your students’ right to free speech and for the principles of academic freedom.
 
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the prestigious International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and outside of North America.
 
On 3 April 2024 Columbia University suspended four students and ordered them evicted from university housing within twenty-four hours as a consequence of their alleged involvement in a 24 March 2024 event titled “Resistance 101.” In a statement issued on 5 April 2024 President Shafik justified the suspensions by claiming that the university had twice barred the event from taking place on campus and that it had “featured speakers known to support terrorism and promote violence.” We note that President Shafik’s statement offered no evidence that the event actually featured such speakers, nor did it specify which university policies the students had allegedly violated. 
 
Media reports indicate that the four students ultimately suspended and evicted from campus housing began receiving email messages from the administration on the morning of 2 April 2024 identifying them as “an individual involved in organizing, planning, promoting, hosting and/or attending” the event in question. The messages demanded that the students contact private investigators working for a firm hired by the university by 5 p.m. that same day “to be interviewed in connection with this matter” or else “face immediate disciplinary action.” 
 
It is distressing that Columbia chose to outsource its preliminary investigation of an alleged violation of university policies to a private company whose employees are unlikely to have any experience in dealing with students, may not be knowledgeable about academic standards and may not be adequately respectful of due process or of students’ right to freedom of expression and to privacy. Requiring your students to subject themselves to such a flawed investigative process constitutes a denial of the rights properly afforded them through commonly accepted disciplinary processes developed and approved by faculty. These include the right to choose an advisor before a disciplinary hearing, the enumeration of the specific charges brought against them, sufficient time to review and respond to charges, and the right to appeal the findings of an investigative and/or disciplinary body. We are aware of reports that other students have been, and continue to be, subjected to this highly irregular investigative and disciplinary process.
 
Your arbitrary creation of an ad hoc disciplinary procedure in this case thus strikes at the heart of due process. It is all the more distressing that this was done in response to students’ exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly in order to express their viewpoints about developments in the Middle East and beyond, thereby not only violating their rights but creating a hostile environment on campus for anyone else contemplating advocacy for a position of which your administration disapproves. Your administration’s conduct in this regard comes in the wake of several prior policy changes that have significantly restricted the freedom of speech and assembly, and the academic freedom, of Columbia University’s students, faculty, and staff. 
 
We have also been informed that several of the students subjected to this investigative and disciplinary process were coerced into surrendering their personal cellphones to employees of this firm, who were also given access to the students’ university email accounts. This raises serious concerns about potential violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as well as the chilling effect it will have on the use of electronic means of communication to exercise freedom of speech and assembly, whether on campus or outside it. We note too that the suspension and eviction from campus of students without fair and transparent investigative and disciplinary processes, in conformity with commonly accepted standards, not only denies these students the right to reasonable due process but effectively deprives them of both housing and food. 
 
We recognize that Columbia’s administration is under a great deal of pressure in the run-up to President Shafik’s appearance on 17 April 2024 before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. We are concerned that the harsh and arbitrary actions taken against these students may have been intended to demonstrate to the committee that Columbia – presumably in contrast to the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and MIT, whose presidents testified in December 2023 – is cracking down on student activism with regard to Palestinian rights, which Republican members of that committee have opportunistically and tendentiously framed as manifestations of antisemitism and calls for genocide. We echo the sentiments expressed in the 5 April 2024 letter signed by 23 Jewish faculty members at Columbia in which they characterized the real purpose of the hearings as “falsely to caricature and demonize universities as supposed hotbeds of ‘woke indoctrination’” and urged you to resist “decades-long bad-faith efforts to undermine universities as sites of learning, critical thinking, and knowledge production.”
 
This country’s institutions of higher education should be places in which all members of the campus community can express their views and seek knowledge freely. In these fraught times university leaders have a heightened responsibility to protect the freedom of speech and academic freedom of all members of the campus community. This is all the more important now, when violence is raging in the Middle East, our own government is so deeply involved in what is happening, and various individuals and organizations with a political agenda are seeking to vilify and silence faculty and students with whom they disagree. 
 
We therefore call on you, as the leadership of Columbia University, to rescind the suspension and eviction from university housing of the four students allegedly involved with the 24 March 2024 event until a fair, open and transparent investigation of this incident can be conducted, in conformity with reasonable disciplinary procedures and the right to due process. We also call on Columbia to refrain from adopting any policy, or taking any measure, which is likely to exert a further chilling effect on teaching, learning and freedom of expression on campus. Finally, we urge Columbia to publicly and forcefully reaffirm its commitment to protecting the free speech rights and academic freedom, as well as the safety and well-being, of all members of the campus community.
 
We look forward to your response.
Sincerely,
 
Aslı Ü. Bâli 
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School
 
Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California
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