‘California Scholars for Academic Freedom’ challenges UCLA on censure of prof who linked to BDS website

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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The organization California Scholars for Academic Freedom sent the following letter in response to the UCLA faculty Senate’s action against Professor David Delgado Shorter for linking to a website advocating for the culture boycott of Israel on an online syllabus.

April 18, 2012

Andrew Leuchter, Professor, Psychiatry 
Chair, Academic Senate
UCLA

Dear Professor Leuchter:

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM** (CS4AF) is a group of 134 scholars at twenty California institutions of higher education.  We are writing to express our concerns about your handling of the events surrounding Associate Professor David Delgado Shorter’s, World Arts and Cultures course website which followed a complaint by a well-known partisan duo who have been harassing California faculty for some time (Amcha).  

Our concerns involve the possible violation of academic freedom; the overstepping of your authority as Chair of the Academic Senate; honoring of complaints by a clearly partisan political group over collegiality and protocol regarding treatment of tenured faculty at UCLA; and setting up Prof. Shorter to be judged in the “court of public opinion” by releasing information to the press without his knowledge. 

Here are the events as we understand them and as the documents that we were provided clearly indicate:  Professor Shorter taught W33: “Tribal Worldviews” in the Winter quarter, 2012, and used a course website provided to professors for course materials. That course covers indigenous uses of media around the globe to assert their claims of sovereignty.  His course website contains pages of source materials and URLs for struggles on multiple continents and includes United Nations documentation (2000; 2009) on Palestinian people as “indigenous.” That course ended in March, as did access to that site, which is only viewable to students.  

On April 4, 2012, Prof. Shorter was contacted by his departmental chair, Professor Angelia Leung, and was told that his course website was being reviewed for inappropriate materials pertaining to the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  Leung asked if he had any further information to provide.  Shorter emailed her his syllabus and an URL about organizations targeting US professors for their Palestinian course materials.  On April 11th, Leung asked Shorter to come to her office where she told him that he could either teach about a petition or be a signer of a petition, but that he could not do both.  Shorter expressed the myriad of problems with that decision and said that he would have to think about the implications of this decision.  He asked if he could defer the conversation until next year when he would teach W33 again.  His chair asked if he understood what was being asked of him.  He responded that he understood the larger situation, meaning the context of the entire review.  

As we now know, Leung reported back to you, Professor Leuchter as Chair of the Academic Senate, within the hour, saying that David “expressed his understanding of the situation and said he will address this misstep in future course offerings.”   On the 12th of April, you wrote to the complaining party (Amcha) and copied your email to everyone on their original complaint (including U.S. Senators and University Administrators) saying that “posting of such materials is not appropriate. Professor Shorter’s chair assures me that he understands his serious error in judgment and has said he will not make this mistake again.”   Following your reporting to the complaining organization (Amcha), that organization issued a press release about their victory over a professor who was teaching anti-Israel materials at UCLA, quoting you, Prof. Leuchter, verbatim. They framed the issue to read as if UCLA had officially issued a finding that “his actions were inappropriate.” On April 13th, the Los Angeles Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Education contacted Shorter, asking him for a comment about his recent disciplinary action and his stances on Israel.  This was the first Shorter had heard about anyone communicating to outsiders that he had even been talked to about his course.   

As we understand it, you never met with or talked with Prof. Shorter during all of these exchanges and flows of information.  We are curious about what kind of “investigation” you conducted. Certainly, even if you even had the authority to offer “due process,” we believe that your actions do not constitute due process in any meaningful sense of the term, and in fact, constitute a violation of the normal protocols of due process at the University of California or most other universities.

What the California Scholars for Academic Freedom hopes to accomplish in this letter is to receive a response from you regarding the policies and authority of the Academic Senate  in having its Chair “investigate” a member of the UCLA faculty, without his knowledge, reporting to the faculty member’s chair, and requesting that the faculty member’s chair reprimand the faculty member. That is in essence, to censure another faculty member.   We would also like to know the justification for revealing aspects of the case to a partisan organization (Amcha) which has a well-known record of harassment of faculty that clearly and adversely affects academic freedom and to the press, not to mention either you or the Department Chair distorting and/or fabricating statements attributed to Prof. Shorter.   We have here, it seems to CS4AF, not only a probable violation of academic freedom, but also of due process and the faculty Call.  That this string of events was provoked by a biased political group that has been attempting to silence anyone speaking about Palestinian issues only further makes a mockery of the faculty protocol at UCLA. We request that you address these issues.

Sincerely yours,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Cc: Scott Waugh, Executive Vice Chancellor, UCLA
James Waschek, Chair, UCLA Committee on Privilege and Tenure
Jill Klessing, Chair, UCLA Grievance Advisory Committee
David Teplow, Chair, UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom
Angelia Leung, Chair, World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA
David Delgado Shorter, World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA

Contact Persons:  

Carole Browner, Professor, Anthropology Department, University of California, Los Angeles

Lisa Rofel, Professor, Anthropology Department, University of California, Santa Cruz

Gabriel Piterberg, Professor, History Department, University of California, Los Angeles

Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita, Anthropology and Women’s Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a four-year-old group of more than 134 academics who teach in over 20 California institutions of higher education. The group formed as a response to a rash of violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars and students based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

8 Responses

  1. Kathleen
    April 21, 2012, 2:42 pm

    “As we understand it, you never met with or talked with Prof. Shorter during all of these exchanges and flows of information. We are curious about what kind of “investigation” you conducted. Certainly, even if you even had the authority to offer “due process,” we believe that your actions do not constitute due process in any meaningful sense of the term, and in fact, constitute a violation of the normal protocols of due process at the University of California or most other universities.”

    Ruh roh!

  2. DICKERSON3870
    April 21, 2012, 3:35 pm

    RE: “We would also like to know the justification for revealing aspects of the case to a partisan organization (Amcha) which has a well-known record of harassment of faculty that clearly and adversely affects academic freedom… That this string of events was provoked by a biased political group that has been attempting to silence anyone speaking about Palestinian issues only further makes a mockery of the faculty protocol at UCLA…” ~ California Scholars for Academic Freedom

    P.S. This is nothing but a modern day “book burning”, just without the visible flames!

    P.S. This is nothing but a modern day “book burning”, just without the visible flames!
    P.S. This is a “book burning”, just without the visible flames!

    HERE’S THE “JUSTIFICATION”: The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics, by David Theo Goldberg and Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009

    (excerpt)…It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations – including AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish National Fund – are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. The coalition is an overwhelmingly powerful presence on American college campuses for which there is simply no equivalent on the Palestinian or Arab side. Its self-proclaimed mission is not merely to monitor our colleges and universities. That, after all, is the commitment of Campus Watch, which was started by pro-Israel activists in 2002. It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.”
    There is, accordingly, disproportionate and unbalanced intervention on campuses across the country by a coalition of well-funded organizations, who have no time for — and even less interest in — the niceties of intellectual exchange and academic process. Insinuation, accusation, and defamation have become the weapons of first resort to respond to argument and criticism directed at Israeli policies. As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to tikkun.org

    • DICKERSON3870
      April 21, 2012, 3:42 pm

      P.S. This is nothing but a modern day “book burning”, just without the visible flames!

    • Daniel Rich
      April 22, 2012, 1:51 am

      @ DICKERSON3870,

      Q: It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.”

      R: When are they going to learn [no pun intended] that they [pro-israeli students and israel] are judged by their actions and not by mere words?

      P.S. writing words without their proper capitalized letters is not something I do because I’m having my ‘childish moment.’ I simply can’t find it in me to justify making something look good while it stinks into the high heavens.

  3. pabelmont
    April 22, 2012, 9:11 am

    It appears from all this that UCLA faculty sets a “standard” for educators, who are “allowed” to show to their students any written materials at all that are FROM indigenes PROTESTING their occupiers (“That course covers indigenous uses of media around the globe to assert their claims of sovereignty.”) — UNLESS the indigenes are Palestinian protesting Israeli suppression of Palestinian sovereignty.

    Surely this is a hard standard to set forth in an official document of any self-respecting university. I’d like to see it in writing. Make that chairman-of-faculty write it out! Otherwise his ruling is should be ruled void-for-vagueness. ( I wonder who the brave “judge” is that would make that ruling?)

    • CigarGod
      April 22, 2012, 11:52 am

      “Make that chairman-of-faculty write it out!”

      I’ll hold him down….

  4. Mayhem
    April 22, 2012, 6:05 pm

    Aside from the petty wrangling here about proper processes and protocol it was appropriate for Professor Shorter to be cautioned about the misuse of his class website.
    AMCHA has succeeded in bringing the case of Professor Shorter to public attention in order to get UC administrators and faculty to yank their heads out of the sand and grapple with the question of whether the UC academic freedom rules protect a professor who uses his classroom and university resources to engage in political activities, including the boycott of Israel.
    There is all this plaintive preaching about academic freedoms which are not under any threat whatsoever (protected by US constitution) and an avoidance of the far bigger issue of campus anti-zionism and anti-semitism.
    This is another episode in the perennial struggle over widespread campus activities that fundamentally aim to denigrate and demonize Israel, see link to mondoweiss.net and this article link to jsantisemitism.org which deals in particular with antisemitism at the hotbed of the University of California.

  5. MHughes976
    April 22, 2012, 8:12 pm

    The argument of Professor Leung seems to be that you cannot properly, in the course of teaching, mention a controversial document signed by yourself. I would have thought it was rather dishonest not to mention, in the course of teaching, any public commitment on a controversial matter that you’ve made. Students have a right to know where you stand, partly so that they can allow for any bias that may have crept into your brain.

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