‘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.

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