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Academic Freedom Tag

This could be a series. In fact, with this post, maybe it is a series. We have covered many times the faculty members who demand the boycott of Israeli academic institutions (BDS) -- which necessarily involves boycotting the individuals who work at those institutions -- and then complain when the boycotters become the boycotted. Controversial professor Steven Salaita had his contingent offer of employment to join the American Indian Studies Department at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rejected by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees after Salaita went on a multi-month Twitter rant.  Salaita, a leader of the anti-Israel academic boycott, claims academic freedom for himself as he seeks to deny it to others. (Salaita's federal lawsuit is going through motion and discovery practice now.) As a result of the Salaita non-hiring, an academic boycott of UI-UC was organized, to the cheering of pro-Salaita pro-BDS UI-UC professors in the Humanities and Social Sciences. But something funny happened on the way the the boycott -- it turned out that the only people hurt by the boycott of UI-UC were the pro-Salaita folks in the Humanities and Social Sciences. As we reported in Academic boycotter doesn’t like being boycotted, UI-UC professor and anti-Israel academic boycott supporter Susan Koshy, an associate professor of English, Asian-American studies, and South Asian and Middle Eastern studies at UI-UC, complained:
For someone like me, who is inside the university and supports Salaita, the boycott [of UI-UC] represents an experiential impasse. I find myself in the impossible position of being the target of a boycott as a member of an institution whose actions I and many others here have challenged. Unlike faculty members outside Urbana-Champaign whose safe target is another university, our target is our own. The frequently repeated joke here—How do we boycott ourselves?—captures this problem. How do you oppose your own institution yet protect valuable parts of it at the same time?

It’s only been a few weeks since the last scandal and already UCLA is embroiled in yet another controversy over its alleged anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist campus climate. Back in February, in an incident that generated media headlines and a tidal wave of condemnations, several student government leaders questioned sophomore Rachel Beyda’s eligibility for a seat on a council judicial board because of her Jewishness. Legal Insurrection broke the story and had the good wisdom to cache the videotaped meeting. LI later provided the incriminating evidence to the media. Now some faculty and community members are up in arms over a conference honoring the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), one of the preeminent Jewish theologians, public intellectuals, and civil rights activists of our time. The conference, titled “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity,” will take place on the UCLA campus on May 3 and 4. Sponsored by UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and co-sponsored by Hillel, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, the Center for the Study of Religion, and the Departments of History and English, the two-day conference brings 24 top-flight scholars to the UCLA campus. It’s obvious that this is going to be a serious academic event, with a rigorous scholarly program and a star-studded guest speaker and panelist lineup. Except that one of these academic superstars—Cornel West, a Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus, Princeton University—is also a notorious intellectual hero of the BDS movement and an outspoken critic of Israel. And he’s been invited to give the keynote address.

It’s getting tougher to be a Jew in Britain. According to a report by the UK’s Community Security Trust, anti-Semitic incidents have skyrocketed in 2014, reaching the highest levels ever recorded. The Simon Wiesenthal Center reports that British Jews are increasingly afraid to visit Jewish-owned stores. A recent UK study finds that almost half of those surveyed believe at least one negative stereotype about Jews is true, including such statements as “Jews chase money more than other British people” and “Jews have too much power in the media”. In March, an angry mob attacked a London synagogue. And earlier this month, the deputy director of a London-based interfaith organization told The Guardian that:
In the last few months, the tone on my Facebook feed has changed. There’s more fear being expressed, and some friends won’t go to events at a synagogue or Jewish community centre now because of the security aspect…Three Faiths Forum works with about 10,000 young people a year. Over the past few months, their questions have become more pertinent and can lead to very challenging discussions. Questions we’ve had to Jewish speakers include: ‘You said Jews believe in charity—do you also believe in killing Palestinian babies?’ and ‘Why do Jews keep money under their hats?’ We had to explain that the man the student had seen was probably just adjusting his kippah under his hat, and that Jews keep money in pockets just like everyone else.”
It’s a lot of awful. Which is why for many British Jews the recent cancellation of a blatantly anti-Zionist and BDS-promoted conference at the University of Southampton has been cause for celebration.

Back in September, Prof. Jacobson asked How long before Bill Maher is banned on campus? It turns out the answer is... about a month. Greg Piper of the College Fix reported yesterday:
UC-Berkeley students try to derail Bill Maher from speaking at graduation Comedian, pundit and HBO host Bill Maher is scheduled to speak at the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation, and students are already lining up to get him disinvited, citing his controversial remarks on Islam, the Daily Californian reports:
The petition was authored by ASUC Senator Marium Navid, who is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, and Khwaja Ahmed, an active MEMSA member. The petition, which urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking, has already gathered more than 1,400 signatures as of Sunday. … “It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,” Navid said. “The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.” … “(Jon) Stewart and (Stephen) Colbert are critical of religion, too, but Bill Maher has, on several occasions, said to rise up against religious people and religious institutions and take action,” Ahmed said.
Here's an example of what's gotten Maher into trouble with Berkeley students. (language warning – NSFW) If you watched the video, you may have noticed that Maher mentioned Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

We have covered the American Studies Association academic boycott of Israel since inception, and compiled the definitive list and accompanying statements of universities and associations rejecting the boycott.  Scroll through the ASA Tag for the full history. The short version is that the boycott targeted all Israeli academic institutions, and importantly, faculty and scholars acting on behalf of the institutions either as representatives, ambassadors or by virtue of administrative status. From the earliest days of the ASA boycott, ASA tried to make a distinction between individuals and institutions, as if boycotting an institution was not also boycotting the people who worked there. That was a critical charade, because the boycotting of individuals was too odious even for many people supporting the academic boycott.  So ASA could have a boycott of individuals while pretending it was not boycotting individuals. That ASA distinction was set forth in a December 4, 2013 statement of the ASA National Council supporting the boycott and advocating for membership approval:
Our resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the Association in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or on behalf of the Israeli government ....
That is a distinction ASA made throughout its public statements and position papers -- if you were a representative of an Israeli institution, or if you had an administrative title, you were boycotted. For example, a form letter ASA distributed to members to be given to university administrators made the same distinction:

The fight over the academic boycott of Israel in the United States mostly is confined to professional associations in the Humanities and Social Sciences, where anti-Israel activist faculty have some ability to rig the system in their favor through control of key committees and programs. Unlike in the real world at universities, the faculty who take control of professional organizations are not counterbalanced by the faculty as a whole, students, administrators, trustees, parents and alumni.  Professional organizations are the perfect vehicle for anti-Israel activists for this reason. The activists have the ability filter the debate and tailor the information provided to membership so as to provide a one-sided view. That's what happened at the American Studies Association, which passed a boycott resolution but refused to distribute to the membership materials requested by the pro-Israel side. The resolution passed with less than 20% of the total membership voting for it, because of low overall participation.  Since then the ASA has turned into a full-time boycott entity, with its executive board calling for a complete boycott of Israel in all aspects, and an entire day of boycott organizing scheduled alongside its Annual Meeting. At the Modern Language Association debate last January on a resolution critical of supposed Israeli travel restrictions on academics, the panel discussion at the annual meeting was limited to anti-Israel activists. At the house of delegates, pro-Israel faculty did get a chance to argue against the resolution, and with that the resolution -- which had been expected to pass easily -- barely passed, and only after the language was watered down. When put to the entire membership, the resolution failed to gain the needed votes, and failed. Rigging the debate appears to be happening now at American Anthropological Association for an upcoming debate, as Haaretz reports, U.S. academics bemoan 'rigged’ fight in battle against BDS:

We have covered the anti-Israel academic boycott movement so many times, the easiest way to come up to speed is to scroll through the American Studies Association Tag starting at the earliest date. The short version is that anti-Zionist, anti-Israel academic activists for years have maneuvered to take over professional organizations in order to bring the war against Israel home to campuses. Their biggest success to date is the ASA, but they continue their efforts elsewhere. The loudest mouths get all the attention, while the majority of people in academia who do not support academic boycotts (of Israel or any other nation) mostly go about their business and watch from the sidelines. There have been strong institutional expressions against academic BDS, most prominently by over 250 university presidents, the American Association of University Professors, and numerous higher education associations. Now, a Petition is circulating that gives individuals on campus an opportunity to go on record against the academic boycott of Israel.   [caption id="attachment_100289" align="alignnone" width="600"] (Click on Image to go to Petition page)[/caption] You don't have to be "pro-Israel" to sign.  You only need to be pro-academic freedom, pro-fairness, pro-intellectual honesty, pro-education and pro-peace. The Petition quietly went live online last week, and already has over 500 signatures, including some very prominent academics from a wide variety of academic disciplines: International Petition to Oppose Boycotts of Israel's Academic Institutions, Scholars and Students. Legal Insurrection reader crowdsourcing was critical in responding to the ASA boycott.  We can do it again by spreading the word as to the Petition on Facebook, Twitter and by personal contacts. Here's an excerpt from the Petition:

Prior to a few minutes ago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had not commented publicly about the reasoning behind the decision not to complete the hiring process for Professor Steven Salaita. There was a lot of protest, including a petition and academic boycotts, meant to pressure the university into changing its mind.  That does not appear to be happening, from the latest news report. That, of course, does not preclude some sort of financial settlement, which might take into account that Salaita resigned his prior tenured position at Virginia Tech before learning his contingent offer from UI-UC would not be approved. The Urbana-Champaign News-Gazette now reports that Chancellor Phyllis Wise has sent a campus-wide email:
In her first public statement about Professor Steven Salaita, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise said her decision to not forward his appointment to trustees for formal approval was not influenced by his criticism of Israel. The university, she said, cannot tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” “We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals. A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education,” Wise sent in a mass e-mail to the campus community Friday afternoon.
(Update) In addition, later in the afternoon, the Board of Trustees, the Chancellors of the Chicago and Springfield campuses, numerous university senior officials, and the President of the Faculty Senates, issues a statement supporting the decision. The full Chancellor email, as reprinted by the News-Gazette, is as follows (added -- original email here):

If reports are true, Steven Salaita's horrific and bizarre Twitter feed cost him a job offer at U. Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As of this moment, the reason behind the denial of a position is not known, but that hasn't stopped Salaita's supporters from portraying the denial as based on Salaita's anti-Israel views. As if there is some new blacklist against anti-Israel views, despite the fact that so many faculty members are anti-Israel and proud to express those views. One thing about Salaita's tweets -- he said how he feels. And how he feels is that Israel should be destroyed ("decolonized" in his lingo). That's what the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement really is all about -- it's struggle until Israel is gone. There are some naive dupes who actually believe that academic boycotts are about changing Israeli policies, but the leadership knows that it's about destroying Israel. The reaction to the denial of an offer to Salaita has been furious. One supporter of the academic boycott of Israel now wants a boycott of UI-Urbana-Champaign. Another professor is refusing to show his film there. The American Association of University Professors has weighed in against the denial, although it admits "a number of facts concerning this case remain unclear." There has been an attempt to portray Salaita as a world-reknowned scholar, but that's an exaggeration. Most of his work was simply devoted to bashing Israel in a now-typical melding of political activism and academics. Whether Salaita's initial selection was political to begin with is being questioned. Much of the organizing has been focused on a Petition for Corrective Action on posted by Rima Merriman: Salaita Petition Rima Merriman

For background on the controversy surrounding Steven Salaita, who was denied a job offer at U. Illinois at Urbana-Champaign allegedly due to his tweets, see my prior posts: No one knows for a fact why his job offer was denied at U. Illinois, but the presumption is that it concerned his bizarre, vulgar and unhinged tweets. His defenders try to portray this as viewpoint discrimination, as if he lost out just because he criticized Israel; at this point that is entirely speculative as to the basis for the university's actions. For more background see arguments for the denial of a job offer, and against the denial of a job offer. [See video discussion here, couldn't be embedded due to formatting problems][new embed code added - thanks to commenter] The whole thing may come down to contract law.

The attacks on a University of Virginia law professor for expressing legal views not in keeping with the views of some LGBT activists and much of the political establishment has created a stir in legal academia. In Jamaica, a somewhat analogous case is developing regarding a recently retired professor who was fired from his continuing HIV/AIDS research position after filing an accurate, but politically incorrect, expert report in a highly contentious case in Belize (h/t Blazing Cat Fur). The case has received almost no attention outside the Caribbean press, and none in the U.S. as far as I can tell. The background is that the Belize Supreme Court is considering a court case seeking to overturn Section 53 of the criminal code, which bans some forms of homosexual behavior, specifically male-on-male sodomy. Argument was held in May 2013 but there has been no decision as of this writing. The highly charged nature of the case pits a coalition of international gay rights activists against some Christian churches and groups. Enter Dr. Brendan Bain, who retired as a Professor in 2013 from the University of West Indies.  While still a professor, in 2012 Dr. Bain submitted testimony in the form of an Expert Report in the case (embedded in full at the bottom of this post). Dr. Bain is one of the pioneers in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, as detailed in the introduction to his Expert Report, and in the numerous news reports referenced later in this post. [caption id="attachment_87310" align="alignnone" width="454"]Dr. Brendan Bain by Steve Shapiro for the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference (Dr. Brendan Bain,by Steve Shapiro for the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.)[/caption] Among other things, even after his retirement as a professor Dr. Bain was director of the U.S.-funded Regional Coordinating Unit of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART), which he helped create.  Here is his bio from 2013 from the CHART website: