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AAUP Backs Iymen Chehade, Supports Academic Freedom at Columbia College Chicago

Iymen Chehade, a professor at Chicago's Columbia College.
Iymen Chehade, a professor at Chicago’s Columbia College
By Eva Bartlett | Palestine Chronicle | March 28, 2014

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Illinois statement of support for Iymen Chehade, a professor at Chicago’s Columbia College, marks the latest, and most significant, step forward in the fight against pervasive attempts to control discourse on Occupied Palestine, via stifling academic freedom on college and university campuses.

Chehade, employed by Columbia since 2007, has taught three different courses on the Middle East, but by far most popular has been his Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, a course he designed in 2010.

“The class is popular on campus. Students hear about it from other students and try consistently enroll in it,” says Chehade. “Its one of those history classes that is not history, it’s actually present, its also future. As we are speaking, history is being made.”

Considerable student demand for the course led to Chehade’s teaching three sections of it at one point. As of fall 2013, Columbia offered Chehade two sections to his Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

As part of his course content in fall 2013, Chehade showed his students the award-winning documentary 5 Broken Cameras.

“The film itself is about the occupation of the village of Bil’in, the occupation of Palestine. My objective in showing the film was to humanize the issue,” says Chehade. “Student reaction was very positive.”

In spite of student demand for the course and student interest in the documentary, not long after showing it in his class, one of Chehade’s two spring 2014 sections was canceled.

“I received an email from the Chair’s office saying that they wanted to speak to me about an issue. Before going his office, I checked my mailbox and saw I’d been assigned two sections of the course for spring 2014.”

At Chair Steven Corey’s office, Chehade was told a student had complained of “bias” in his class. The student’s identity was not revealed, nor was Chehade able to discuss the allegation with the student. Corey instructed Chehade to be “more balanced” in his class, and asked him to produce his teaching qualifications, a request Chehade says is not in itself unusual. “But in the context of the situation, that makes it alarming.”

The week following the meeting with Corey, Chehade’s two sections were posted for Columbia’s spring 2014 offerings. Yet, within a couple of hours, one section of the course was eliminated, in violation of his contract with Columbia.

Chehade took the matter to the union, who brought the cancellation up with administration. “So they gave me another class,” says Chehade. “The class was The Middle East Up To Mohammad, which is 1400 years ago, 1300 hundred years removed from when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began.”

According to Academic Vice President and Provost Louise Love, the college supported Chehade’s showing of the film, which she lauded as “widely acclaimed” and noted provided “an important perspective.” However, in her statement, she went on to note that the elimination of sections “reflect a multitude of factors such as overall student enrollment, targets for average class size.”

“If their objective was to reduce classes, and increase class sizes, why did they give me a different class?” asks Chehade. “Whether they like the film or not is not the issue. Eliminating the opportunity for a professor to teach his perspective is the issue here. That’s exactly what they did.”

Since the sudden cancellation of his section, support has grown rapidly for the professor and for the larger issue of academic freedom. Chehade and the AAUP Illinois Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure maintain that the cancellation was an act of academic stifling.

“We have over 6000 signatures on our petition for academic freedom,” says Chehade. Signatories include supporters from around the world, as well as Columbia faculty, current and former students, and academics nation-wide. “Many people have volunteered their time on this campaign. Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace at Columbia College have been very active in bringing this issue to light.”

Regarding the cancellation, one former student, Alex Quiroz, notes: “I took this class knowing absolutely nothing about the conflict. Professor Chehade explained everything in a balanced and honest way. It would not be fair to other students who want to take this class.”

Noting the impact of pro-Israeli lobby efforts on college and university campuses nation-wide, Jewish-American Peter Cohen, signs “I find it unacceptable that a small, extremist and highly moneyed lobby that claims to represent my interests be allowed stifle legitimate voices and opinions in academia.”

Love, herself, has been at the heart of prior incidents repressing academics. Notably, in 2006, as the associate provost at Roosevelt university, Love supported Susan Weininger (then Chair of the Department of History, Art History, and Philosophy) in her firing of World Religions professor Douglas Giles.

“Weininger was upset with him over for allowing his students to have this open forum,” says Chedhade, noting that  it has been publicly documented that Weininger said to Giles, “What disturbs me is that you act like Palestinians have a side in this. They don’t have a side…they are animals…they are not civilized.”

Love in turn defended Weininger as “passionately defending” her position, Chehade notes.

“Imagine if she said that about an African-American or if she said that about a Jew? She would be fired. She should not be let within 1000 feet of an academic institution. Racism is racism. What type of message us Columbia College sending when you have this supporter of racism as one of the main heads of this institution?”

For Chehade, a Palestinian-American, Weininger’s comment and Love’s defense of her position is extremely insulting.

“I was sitting in front of this woman who I was grieving my issue to, knowing that she supported someone who said this about Palestinians. Columbia College should not have hired her. ”

In its letter to Louise Love, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Illinois first cites the Columbia College Collective Bargaining Agreement, which includes prohibiting “explicit or implicit threat of termination or discipline for the purpose of constraining a faculty member in the exercise of his or her rights under such principles of Academic Freedom. [CBA art. V (1), (2).”

Highlighting the standard norm of dealing with student complaints, the AAUP statement notes that the alleged complaint against Chehade “trespassed on the academic freedom of a professor and should have been referred back to the instructor for resolution.” Critically, the statement notes that “neither Dr. Steven Corey, the chairperson of the Department of Humanities, History and  Social Science nor School of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Deborah Holdstein directed the student to take the complaint to the instructor,” calling their actions “a violation of widely accepted norms of academic due process.”

According to the AAUP, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is “not easy pedagogy because of the passions it arouses among disparate groups in the United States….It is beyond dispute that the film 5 Broken Cameras was directly related to the course topic.”

In response to Chair Corey’s admonition to Chehade that he be “balanced,” and Provost Love’s questioning Chehade whether he presented his material in a “balanced” manner, the AAUP notes that the issue of “balance is “frequently used to reign in a professor from critical thinking…towards a consensus approach that is more acceptable to elite or mainstream opinion.”

Similarly, for Chehade, the term “balance” is a loaded term. “When it is applied to the academic context, and specifically to the context of teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is extremely problematic. This is an issue that lacks balance. It’s an asymmetrical issue: there are a people that are occupied,millions who have no civil rights.  As a professor in a college, how do you present that as “balanced”? It would be like presenting the African-American struggle for liberation from the Jim Crow laws in the South as a“balanced” issue, where you have African Americans who are trying to gain rights, and you have white, southern oppressors who have institutionalized and systemized laws that violate their rights. How do you present that as “balanced”?  If somebody asked that from an African American professor, who presents the African-American struggle for liberation, it would be ludicrous.”

In the detailed account of the cancellation of one of Chehade’s sections, the AAUP Illinois finishes its statement by noting that the six days between Chehade’s meeting with Corey, and the subsequent removal of the second section are “linked events.”  Notably, the AAUP reiterates “we conclude that Professor Chehade’s academic freedom was violated as a result.”

In line with Chehade’s own expectations, the AAUP asks that Columbia College reinstate both sections of Chehade’s popular Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in fall 2014. They also emphasize the need for a “strategic reassessment” of Columbia’s policy of handling student complaints, noting that at present the system for doing so is “clearly broken and conducive to academic freedom violations.”

Chehade, who wants to ensure that other professors who speak about Palestine in a fact-based manner are not stifled, applauds the AAUP statement.

“I would like to thank the AAUP for their conclusion. Discussing the Occupation of Palestine is not an exception to the rule of Academic Freedom at Columbia College or any college campus in the United States.”

March 28, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-boycott academics demonstrate lack of excuses in supporting Israel

By Dr Sarah Marusek | MEMO | December 16, 2013

In recent days, a group of American scholars have been debating publicly whether or not to boycott Israel. According to the New York Times, the American Studies Association (ASA) will disclose today the results of its members’ vote on a resolution to endorse an academic boycott of Israel that was approved unanimously by the association’s National Council on 4 December. This follows a decision last April by the Association for Asian American Studies to endorse the academic boycott, which only focuses on institutions, so does not include Israeli scholars as long as they do not represent Israeli universities or the government.

Meanwhile, last week the president of Palestine categorically rejected any boycott of Israel. Speaking to reporters in South Africa, President Mahmoud Abbas stated firmly that, “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” citing the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with Tel Aviv. Instead, Abbas only supports boycotting products made in illegal settlements.

By confining the Palestinian people to a “we” that only consists of the PA, based in the West Bank, Abbas is symbolically ceding East Jerusalem to the occupiers, since under the Oslo Accords the PA is prohibited from carrying out any activities there. In addition, he is turning his back on those Palestinians in Gaza who are suffering under a draconian Israeli-led siege, a fate far worse than any proposed boycott. He is also abandoning the millions of Palestinian refugees who are being denied their right of return, as upheld by UN resolution 194.

Indeed, by placing the relationship that the PA has with Israel above the daily humiliations the Palestinians are forced to endure under Israel’s military occupation, Abbas has clearly put aside the rights of his own people, reaffirming once again his own illegitimacy (his term of office actually expired in 2009).

With these remarks Abbas has illustrated that he is out of touch not only with the Palestinian people, but also with the international community. The world is increasingly supportive of the boycott of Israel as called for by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), launched in Ramallah in 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals, as well as the wider international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005.

Indeed, this week Haaretz cited “new research published by the Molad Centre for Renewal of Democracy”, a progressive Israeli think tank, which “addresses Israel’s standing in the world”. The group’s research findings suggest that “Israel is particularly vulnerable to sanctions and boycotts by Western countries due to the animosity of neighbouring countries, and because 40 per cent of Israel’s Gross National Product is based on exports, primarily to Europe.” The findings, adds Haaretz, also “show that Israeli businessmen, artists and academics are confronting increasing refusal of international agencies and potential partners to collaborate with them.”

But at least Israel still has the support of Abbas, who continues to carry out the charade of a US-brokered “peace process” while Israel carries on building more illegal settlements.

Interestingly, both Abbas and the whole “peace process” share the same framework as those American scholars who have campaigned to reject the ASA resolution to endorse an academic boycott of Israel; this is no coincidence. All those refusing the boycott are employing a “rights-based” framework that seems to recognise the rights of everybody but the Palestinians.

Members of the ASA had until 15 December to decide whether or not to back the boycott resolution; opponents of the boycott have been tireless in making their case against it. Similar to Abbas and the “peace process”, they all end up denying Palestinians their rights, either directly or indirectly.

For example, only two days after the ASA resolution was proposed, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called upon ASA members to vote down the motion. In an open letter, the president and vice president of AAUP argue: “In seeking to punish alleged violations of academic freedom elsewhere, such boycotts threaten the academic freedom of American scholars to engage the broadest variety of viewpoints.”

Of course, the “alleged violations” of Palestinians’ academic freedom include the fact that the occupation authorities place unfair bureaucratic obstacles on Palestinian universities, close institutions by military orders, ban textbooks, and prevent Palestinian students and their lecturers from travelling to and from class. During the 2006 aggression against Gaza, Israel deliberately bombed the Islamic University, as well as 18 schools. Despite this, when efforts are proposed to try to redress these injustices, the AAUP says no because it will infringe upon the rights of American scholars.

Although the AAUP letter also reaffirms the association’s “stand in opposition to academic boycotts as a matter of principle”, it gave active support to the boycott against South Africa’s apartheid regime. As David Lloyd, a professor of literature at the University of California, points out, “That movement did call for individual boycotts of South African scholars, cultural workers, and sports persons,” whereas “PACBI’s call is specifically and exclusively institutional.” So it seems pretty clear that the AAUP’s position is not related to the rights of scholars, but only to the rights of American scholars; it is not a principled stand against boycotts per se, but a stand against the boycott of Israel in particular.

To take another example, in an open letter to the president of ASA, Claire B. Potter, a professor of history at The New School, suggests: “Scholars of any nation ought to be free to travel, publish and collaborate across borders; I consider this to be a fundamental human right, and so does the United Nations. We in the American Studies Association cannot defend some of those human rights and disregard others.”

The irony of such a statement is acute. By only granting the right of education to “scholars of any nation” Potter is denying this right to Palestinians, as well as to all stateless persons, whereas the UN insists that “all peoples and all nations” have this right. Thus, her position is actually doing precisely what she warns against – defending the rights of some and disregarding others. Considering America’s history of trampling the rights of Native Americans and African Americans, Potter’s turn of phrase is especially ill-thought.

And although Potter does recognise that there are people who are “suffering under, and threatened by, the exclusions, violence and expulsions that are characteristic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands”, she argues that the proposed boycott would impact on “anti-occupation academics, including Palestinian scholars employed by Israeli institutions.”

While it is nice that Potter is at least trying to think about the rights of Palestinian scholars, a recent Haaretz survey of Israeli research universities “found few Arab scholars in the highest professional level at each university. Hebrew University has two Arab professors at the highest level out of 20 senior faculty members. Ben-Gurion University has 13 Arab professors out of 451, five at the highest level and eight in lower positions. Haifa University has two Arab professors at the highest rung and 10 in lower levels, out of 265 professors.” Tel Aviv University officials said that they have about 25 senior Arab faculty members there. The university boasts a 25:1 ratio of student to faculty, so with 30,000 students this means that it employs around 1,200 professors in total. At “Bar-Ilan University there are two senior Arab faculty members. Ariel University’s 80 professors include not a single Arab.”

Considering that Palestinians comprise around 20 per cent of the Israeli population, and almost 50 per cent of the total population when including the occupied Palestinian territories, these numbers are even more shocking. The opportunities for Palestinian students are almost as limited. According to a special report published by the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, Palestinians make up just 11.2 per cent of all undergraduates, 6.1 per cent of all master’s students, and only 3.5 per cent of all PhD students.

Thus it seems more than a bit unfair to privilege the rights of a few dozen anti-occupation scholars while ignoring the rights of millions of Palestinians, regardless of their politics.

In yet another example of an American scholar using a “rights based” framework to promote the rights of some over others, Mark Rice, a professor of American Studies at St. John Fisher College, says that he opposes the ASA boycott because “the primary role of a professional academic organisation is to advocate for the needs and concerns of its members within their professional lives.” Again, he too is presenting the argument that the rights of American scholars ought to come first, in this case to enhance our own professional careers, thus perhaps raising the tyranny of “rational choice theory” to a whole new level.

Rice also rejects the boycott because he thinks that ASA members will be “discouraged from pursuing Fulbright research or teaching opportunities in Israeli universities, as Fulbright opportunities typically require explicit affiliation with host institutions. That, to my mind, is a restriction of the academic freedom of individual scholars.”

This seems a reasonable concern. That is, until you look at the countries where Fulbright grants are being offered. During the 2014-2015 academic year Fulbright awards will not be available to scholars wanting to study in: “Algeria, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the West Bank, or Yemen.” What Middle East countries are left? Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and the United Arab Emirates; all are current allies of the US government. One can only wonder if Rice has anything to say about that.

Of course, there are also American scholars who are adopting a much cruder framework for completely rejecting any boycott of Israel. For example, Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard University and former US Treasury secretary, suggests simply that targeting Israel is “anti-Semitic in effect”. Furthermore, while he insists ardently that boycotts are against the principle of academic freedom, he also hopes that universities will stop funding faculty participation in ASA if the resolution is passed.

Regardless of whether ASA members choose to uphold the boycott or not, what having this public debate highlights more than anything else is that those who continue to support Israeli apartheid and occupation are quickly running out of excuses.

December 16, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment