MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on North America

August 11, 2014

Dr. Phyllis M. Wise
Chancellor,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
via email: chancellor@illinois.edu

Dear Chancellor Wise:

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern about the decision of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to revoke an offer of appointment made to Dr. Steven G. Salaita. Dr. Salaita had been offered, and had accepted, a position in your university’s American Indian Studies program and was preparing to move to Urbana-Champaign, only to learn that university officials had decided not to submit the appointment for final approval to the university’s board of trustees, thereby effectively revoking his offer.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

Media reports indicate that the decision to revoke Dr. Salaita’s offer was prompted by concerns about some of the statements that he has made on social networking sites regarding the situation in Gaza. If these reports are accurate – and thus far neither you nor your fellow administrators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have to our knowledge offered any explanation for your decision to revoke Dr. Salaita’s offer in this most unusual manner – we must conclude that the university’s action was in direct response to Dr. Salaita’s statements about Gaza. If so, the revocation violates generally accepted standards and procedures for academic appointments, including the principle that such appointments should be made solely on the basis of academic criteria and not on the basis of one’s political views as expressed on social media or elsewhere.

We note that this principle applies even if some people deem the content or tone of some of Dr. Salaita’s social media comments to be offensive or excessive. The revocation of an academic appointment because of the appointee’s political views or because of the venue in which those views are expressed constitutes not only an assault on constitutionally protected free speech rights but an infringement of the principles of academic freedom as well.

We therefore join with the Illinois AAUP and others in calling on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to honor its offer of appointment to Dr. Salaita. We further call on you to affirm publicly and unequivocally that academic appointments at your institution will not be offered or withdrawn on the basis of scholars’ political views or statements.

Sincerely,
Nathan Brown
MESA President

July 1, 2014

Bob Blumenfield councilmember.blumenfield@lacity.org
Mike Bonin councilmember.bonin@lacity.org
Joe Buscaino councildistrict15@lacity.org
Gilbert Cedillo councilmember.cedillo@lacity.org
Mitchell Englander councilmember.englander@lacity.org
Felipe Fuentes councilmember.fuentes@lacity.org
Jose Huizar councilmember.huizar@lacity.org
Paul Koretz paul.koretz@lacity.org
Paul Krekorian councilmember.krekorian@lacity.org
Tom LaBonge councilmember.Labonge@lacity.org
Nury Martinez councilmember.martinez@lacity.org
Mitch O'Farrell councilmember.ofarrell@lacity.org
Bernard Parks councilmember.parks@lacity.org
Curren D. Price, Jr. councilmember.price@lacity.org
Herb J. Wesson, Jr. councilmember.wesson@lacity.org

Dear Members of the Los Angeles City Council:

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association to express our deep concern about proposed City Council resolution #14-0002-S67, introduced by Council members Blumenfield and Martinez. This resolution condemns the actions of a group of students at UCLA who in spring 2014 called on candidates for election to the Undergraduate Students Association Council to sign a pledge not to accept free or sponsored trips from organizations that they claim “marginalize communities on the UCLA campus.” The proposed City Council resolution also appears to call on the leadership of the University of California system to take action against the students who organized the pledge. We believe that this resolution clearly threatens the free speech rights of UCLA 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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

The proposed resolution, generally referred to in the media as the Blumenfield resolution, is a response to a call by UCLA student activists for candidates for student office to sign what they refer to as the “Joint Statement on USAC Ethics.” Signers of this pledge, who we understand constitute the majority of candidates participating in the election, promised not to accept free or sponsored trips from three organizations or programs: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and Hasbara Fellowship. In addition, the pledge included a promise that candidates would not accept sponsorship of trips from any organization that “promotes discrimination” or that “engages in any form of systematic prejudiced oppression.” The activists argued that the political agendas of the named organizations or programs are tainted by Islamophobia, ties to anti-Armenian groups and/or other elements that they believe “marginalize communities on the UCLA campus.”

Whether or not one accepts the assertions about these organizations and programs made in the “Joint Statement on USAC Ethics,” we believe there are grounds for concern that the proposed City Council resolution threatens students’ free speech rights. We agree entirely with UC Chancellor Gene D. Block’s statement that “The decision to circulate this pledge and the choice to sign it or not fall squarely within the realm of free speech, and free speech is sacrosanct to any university campus.” Moreover, despite claims made in the resolution, no evidence has been presented that students who refused to sign the pledge were subjected to bullying or that the pledge is part of a larger campaign of intimidation; in any case, allegations of harassment or intimidation should be handled in keeping with the appropriate university mechanisms or by local police. The City Council resolution seems to characterize all criticism of Israel, or of certain organizations and programs, as intimidation and harassment, and its call on the UC administration to take additional measures to prevent what it terms “intimidation or harassment of any student” may thus undermine UCLA students’ free speech rights. It also strikes at the responsibility of institutions of higher education to encourage free and open debate among students and faculty, even on the most controversial issues.

We therefore call on you, as city council members, to oppose the Blumenfield resolution and any other resolution that threatens or violates the free speech rights of students in the University of California system.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
MESA President

May 15, 2014

Mr. Jeh Charles Johnson
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
via fax 202-612-1976

Dear Secretary Johnson,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association to express our deep concern about the decision, apparently made at the request of the U.S. government, to deny Dr. İsmail Beşikçi and his traveling companion permission to board a U.S.-bound flight from Istanbul on April 20, 2014, despite their having valid U.S. visas in their possession.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

Dr. Beşikçi is a much published and highly regarded scholar of Kurdish history and society in Turkey. He was invited by the Center for Peacebuilding and Development of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. to give a lecture on April 22, 2014. Dr. Besikci and his traveling companion, Mr. Ismail Gubruz, director of the İsmail Beşikçi Vakfi, a nonprofit cultural foundation, were interviewed at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on April 11, 2014, and received their U.S. visas shortly thereafter. However, when Dr. Beşikçi and Mr. Gubruz went to Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport on April 20, 2014, they were not allowed to board their flight to the United States; airport personnel told them that this denial originated with U.S. authorities.

Inquiries by the media to Ms. Jan Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, have been met with a refusal to comment as to whether the denial of boarding originated with the U.S. government or not. Preventing a recognized scholar and intellectual from traveling to speak on his area of expertise at the invitation of an American institution of higher education is contrary to the principles of academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the free exchange of ideas. To do so with no explanation is even more disturbing and outrages the sensibilities of a democratic society. Dr. Beşikçi has for decades been subject to persecution by the Turkish government for researching, writing, and commenting on Kurdish matters, and for advocating for the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Unfortunately, this recent incident suggests that the U.S. government has become complicit in the Turkish government’s effort to silence a distinguished scholar and prevent him from sharing his views with the American public.

We therefore urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately investigate this incident and to make public whether or not the April 20, 2014 denial of boarding to Dr. Beşikçi came about as the result of a request by the U.S. government or any of its agencies. We further urge you to do all that is within your power to make it possible for Dr. Beşikçi to come to the United States in the near future so that his fellow scholars, and other Americans, can engage with him and his perspectives and thereby become better informed on matters of genuine public interest.


Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
MESA President

cc:
Senator Tom Carper, chair, U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (fax 202-228-2190)
Representative Michael McCaul, chair, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security (fax 202-226-3399)
Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, chair, Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council (AcademicEngagement@hq.dhs.gov, Chancellor_Office@missouri.edu)

 

February 12, 2014

The Honorable Peter Roskam
United States House of Representatives
227 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
via fax: (202) 225-1166

The Honorable Dan Lipinski
United States House of Representatives
1717 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
via fax: (202) 225-1012

Dear Congressmen Roskam and Lipinski,

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern about H.R. 4009, which you introduced on February 6, 2014, and which would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 by requiring the U.S. Secretary of Education to deny institutions of higher education “funds or any other form of financial assistance under this Act if the Secretary determines that such institution is participating in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars.”

This bill would, if enacted into law, subject Department of Education funding to a political test and encourage institutions of higher education to restrict the academic freedom of their own faculty and students for fear of losing such funding. It would penalize colleges and universities if (as the bill puts it) “any organization significantly funded by the institution adopts a policy or resolution, issues a statement, or otherwise formally establishes the restriction of discourse, cooperation, exchange, or any other involvement with academic institutions or scholars on the basis of the connection of such institutions or such scholars to the State of Israel.” These provisions constitute serious threats to the autonomy and integrity of this country’s colleges and universities.

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 nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to defending academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere. MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom has repeatedly protested actions by governments in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran, Israel, Turkey, several of the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority, that we regard as infringing or violating the academic freedom of faculty, students and institutions of higher education. It has also regularly criticized infringements of, and threats to, academic freedom by colleges, universities, government agencies, legislative bodies and other entities in the United States and Canada. All of the committee’s letters since 2001 can be found at http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/index.html.

MESA has not expressed a position on the recent resolutions adopted by several American academic organizations regarding relations with Israeli institutions of higher education, although it has, in the past, objected to an anti-Israel boycott resolution in the United Kingdom (see http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/letters-other.html#roger051305). It is clear to us that, whatever one’s opinion of the campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions, the principles of academic freedom protect the right of faculty and students to speak and act for, as well as against, such boycotts. If enacted, H.R. 4009 would violate those principles by threatening institutions of higher education with negative consequences should their faculty or students issue controversial statements or resolutions regarding issues of legitimate public concern, even when such statements are not made in the name of the institution. In practical terms, the broad language of the bill could potentially apply to anything from an official university decision to boycott Israeli institutions, to a university travel advisory to students or faculty traveling to Israel during times of unrest, to a student organization issuing a well-considered statement objecting to bringing a specific Israeli speaker to campus. Though H.R. 4009 is formally titled the “Protect Academic Freedom Act,” it offers no concrete protections for academic freedom; instead, it appears to seek to restrict it.

We therefore call on you to honor your avowed commitment to the principles of academic freedom by withdrawing H.R. 4009 and by publicly defending the right of colleges and universities, along with their faculty and students, to discuss, debate, and advocate for the policies of academic engagement or disengagement they deem appropriate. Finally, we urge you to speak out consistently and vigorously against all threats to and violations of academic freedom, wherever they occur.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
President

February 12, 2014

The Honorable Sheldon Silver
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
LOB 932
Albany, NY 12248
via email: Speaker@assembly.state.ny.us

Dear Speaker Silver:

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern about New York State Assembly bill A8392A, which you re-introduced on February 6, 2014 and which would prohibit the use of state funds to colleges and universities to “fund an academic entity, provide funds for membership in an academic entity or fund travel or lodging for any employee to attend any meeting of such academic entity if such entity has  issued a public resolution or other official statement or undertaken an official action boycotting a host country or higher education  institutions located in such country.”

As you know, the New York State Senate has already passed a similar bill, S.6438. Because A8392A would, if enacted into law, impose political restrictions on the use of public funds by institutions of higher education in New York and by members of their faculties, we believe that it constitutes a very serious threat to academic freedom and to the autonomy and integrity of the state’s publicly-supported colleges and universities.

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 nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to defending academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere. MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom has repeatedly protested actions by governments in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran, Israel, Turkey, several of the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority, that we regard as infringing or violating the academic freedom of faculty, students and institutions of higher education. It has also regularly criticized infringements of, and threats to, academic freedom by colleges, universities, government agencies, legislative bodies and other entities in the United States and Canada. All of the committee’s letters since 2001 can be found at http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/index.html.

MESA has not expressed a position on the resolutions adopted by the American Studies Association and several other academic organizations regarding relations with Israeli institutions of higher education. However, it is clear to us that whatever one’s opinion of the campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions or of the resolutions regarding that issue adopted by these academic organizations in this country, the principles of academic freedom protect the right of faculty to advocate for, as well as against, such boycotts. We therefore believe that, if enacted, A8392A would violate the academic freedom of faculty at state-supported institutions of higher education in New York State by effectively preventing those institutions from holding institutional memberships in certain academic organizations and by making it impossible for faculty at those institutions to secure funds from their college or university to support their travel to meetings sponsored by such organizations.

Decisions about institutional memberships in academic organizations and funding for travel to those organizations’ professional meetings should be made by the appropriate faculty bodies in keeping with the accepted standards and practices of the academic community, not by elected or other government officials based on their political views of the moment. Faculty in New York as elsewhere should therefore not be subjected to the threat that their home institution’s membership in certain academic organizations might be terminated or that they might be deprived of the funds they need to travel to academic meetings – an essential component of their professional lives as scholars and teachers – just because elected officials deem certain perspectives on the boycott issue beyond the pale.

Accompanying the text of A8392A is a section titled “Justification,” which states that “Academic freedom is a cornerstone of our academic community in New York State’s colleges and universities. Professors and students should be able to teach, study, and pursue research without unreasonable interference.” We agree, and we therefore call on you to withdraw A8392A and to use your position and influence as Speaker of the New York State Assembly to see to it that no similar legislation threatening the academic freedom of faculty in New York State is introduced or adopted by the state legislature. We further call on you to reiterate your firm and unequivocal support for the principles of academic freedom, including the right of faculty to discuss and, if they so choose, advocate for a boycott of Israel academic institutions. Finally, we urge you to speak out consistently and vigorously against all threats to and violations of academic freedom, wherever they occur.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
President

February 6, 2014

Senator Joan Carter Conway
Miller Senate Office Building, 2 West Wing
11 Bladen St.
Annapolis, MD 21401
via email: joan.carter.conway@senate.state.md.us

Dear Senator Conway:

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern about Maryland Senate Bill 647, which you introduced on January 31, 2014, and which would prohibit the use of state funds by colleges and universities to support faculty membership in, or travel to, the academic conferences of “an organization that has issued a public resolution or statement or taken an official action boycotting a country that has ratified a declaration of cooperation with the state or the country’s institutions of higher education.” Because this bill would, if enacted into law, impose political restrictions on the use of public funds by institutions of higher education in Maryland and by members of their faculties, we believe that it constitutes a very serious threat to academic freedom and to the autonomy and integrity of the state’s publicly-supported colleges and universities.

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 nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to defending academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom has repeatedly protested actions by governments in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran, Israel, Turkey, several of the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority, that we regard as infringing or violating the academic freedom of faculty, students and institutions of higher education. It has also regularly criticized infringements of, and threats to, academic freedom by colleges, universities, government agencies, legislative bodies and other entities in the United States and Canada. All of the committee’s letters since 2001 can be found at http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/index.html.

MESA has not expressed a position on the resolutions adopted by the American Studies Association and several other academic organizations regarding relations with Israeli institutions of higher education. However, it is clear to us that whatever one’s opinion of the campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions or of the resolutions regarding that issue adopted by these academic organizations in this country, the principles of academic freedom protect the right of faculty to advocate for, as well as against, such boycotts.

We therefore believe that, if enacted, SB647 would violate the academic freedom of faculty at state-supported institutions of higher education in Maryland by hampering their ability to join certain academic organizations and by effectively making it impossible for faculty at those institutions to secure funds from their college or university to support their travel to meetings sponsored by such organizations. Faculty in Maryland should not be subjected to a political litmus test concerning their involvement in academic organizations, nor should they be subjected to discriminatory rules that deprive them of the funds they need to travel to academic meetings – an essential component of their professional lives as scholars and teachers.

We therefore call on you to withdraw SB647. We further call on you to reiterate your firm and unequivocal support for the principles of academic freedom, including the right of faculty to discuss and, if they so choose, advocate for a boycott of Israel academic institutions. Finally, we urge you to speak out consistently and vigorously against all threats to and violations of academic freedom, wherever they occur.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
President

January 21, 2014

Michael A. McRobbie
President, Indiana University
Bryan Hall 200
107 S. Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405
via email: iupres@iu.edu                                                 

Dear President McRobbie,

I am writing on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern about your response to the recent decision of the American Studies Association (ASA) to “honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”

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 nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to defending academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

MESA has thus far not expressed any position on the decision of the ASA regarding relations with Israeli institutions of higher education. However, MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom is on record as opposing academic boycotts. We refer you in this connection to the committee’s most substantive intervention on this specific issue, its letter dated May 13, 2005 and directed to the Association of University Teachers in the United Kingdom regarding that association’s decision (reversed soon thereafter) to call on its members to “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, or joint projects,” with Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel (available at http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/letters-other.html#roger051305).

At the same time, MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom has repeatedly criticized the Israeli government for its violations of the academic freedom of Palestinian faculty, students and institutions of higher education, and more broadly for its restrictions on the right to education of the Palestinians subject to its control, just as it has regularly criticized infringements of, and threats to, academic freedom by other governments in the Middle East and North Africa as well as by colleges, universities, government agencies and other entities in the United States and Canada. All of the committee’s letters since 2001 can be found at http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/index.html.

In this context, we feel obliged to express our concern about the statement you issued on December 23, 2013, in which you not only condemned “the boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel as proposed by the American Studies Association” but also announced that "Indiana University will contact the ASA immediately to withdraw as an institutional member.” As an individual you are, of course, entitled to express your views on the ASA’s action. However, the unilateral actions that you, in your official capacity, have taken on this contentious issue, without having consulted fully with your faculty, not only appear to violate accepted standards and procedures of faculty governance but may also threaten the principles of academic freedom.

Whatever one thinks of the ASA’s recent decision, we believe that university leaders like yourself have a responsibility to foster free and open discussion of even the most contentious issues. University leaders ought therefore to refrain from taking public stances that, by delineating the bounds of permissible discourse, may send a signal to faculty and students that adhering to or expressing publicly certain positions may have deleterious consequences for them. We also note that your statement vigorously denounced the ASA’s resolution as a threat to academic freedom without in any way attending to the concerns that the resolution expressed about the violations of the academic freedom of Palestinian faculty and students by the Israeli authorities. Finally, we find it disturbing that your statement indicates that you have, apparently on your own, made a decision concerning the academic affiliations of members of your faculty, an action which undermines their academic freedom.

We therefore call on you to reiterate your firm and unequivocal support for the principles of academic freedom, at Indiana University and elsewhere, including the right of faculty and students to discuss and, if they so choose, advocate for a boycott of Israel academic institutions. We further call on you to retract your decision to terminate Indiana University’s institutional membership of the American Studies Association and clarify that you regard this as a matter to be decided by your faculty, with the full participation of those Indiana University faculty members who are members of that association. Finally, we urge you to speak out consistently against all threats to and violations of academic freedom, wherever they occur.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
President, Middle East Studies Association and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

September 10, 2013

Dennis J. Crudele
Interim President
Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road
Boca Raton FL 33431
president@fau.edu

Dear President Crudele,

I am writing on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern about the response of Florida Atlantic University to a protest organized on April 19, 2013, by Students for Justice in Palestine, a student organization at FAU.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

As we understand it, on April 19, 2013, Colonel Bentzi Gruber of the Israel Defense Forces gave a public lecture on the FAU campus about the ethics of the Israeli military, and Students for Justice in Palestine organized a protest in response. According to the information provided to us, the protest consisted of one student interrupting the speaker by making a brief statement, after which she and other student protesters walked out of the hall and continued peacefully protesting outside for about half an hour. Meanwhile, Colonel Gruber’s lecture continued undisturbed inside for another hour and a half. Five FAU students later faced disciplinary proceedings as a result of their participation in the protest.

We are concerned about several specific aspects of the FAU disciplinary process and its outcome. First, there is the question of whether these students’ protest was in fact constitutionally-protected free speech. In a letter to you dated August 12, 2013, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the South Florida chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee set forth some of the constitutional issues involved in FAU’s initiation of disciplinary action against these students. Your blog post of August 19, 2013, raised the general issue of disruptive speech, but it did not directly challenge the students’ assertion that their protest was not disruptive to the speaker in any meaningful way. We would appreciate your response to the arguments made in that letter, since clarifying FAU's understanding of, and policies with regard to, constitutionally-protected speech and academic freedom is crucial to determining whether these students were properly subjected to disciplinary action, and more broadly to ensuring that the full range of political views can be freely expressed on the FAU campus.

We also note that these students seem to have been disciplined for engaging in a form of protest that was milder than other protests that have taken place at FAU in recent years. As we understand it, their protest inside the room in which Colonel Gruber was speaking was quite brief and limited in scope, and there does not seem to have been any significant disruption of the speaker. To the best of our knowledge, FAU has no blanket prohibition on protest during a public event, which raises the question of whether the students involved in this specific incident have been singled out for disciplinary action.

However, we are particularly concerned about the character of the disciplinary action taken against the students. As we understand it, after a four-month investigation five of the protesters, two of whom had withdrawn from FAU in the interim, were allowed to sign an agreement that would keep the incident off their permanent academic records. By the terms of this agreement, two of the three students who are still enrolled at FAU are to remain on academic probation for the remainder of their undergraduate careers and are barred from holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations, and all three are required to take part this fall in the “Campus of Difference” anti-bias training program developed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). One of the students has also agreed to complete twenty-five hours of community service. The two students who have left FAU will  be subject to the same conditions should they return to your institution.

This agreement raises two distinct sets of issues, the first of which concerns the extent to which the students’ acceptance of this agreement was truly voluntary. In your August 19th blog post, you stated that “the University, as part of its student disciplinary process, provides the option for all students engaged in that process to enter into voluntary resolutions that are mutually agreed upon. Any student that objects to a proposed resolution is free to avail him/herself of the University’s full disciplinary process and is not required to accept any condition as part of that voluntary resolution.” However, the students involved have asserted that university officials threatened them with even harsher penalties and a costly legal battle if they refused to accept the conditions specified in the agreement. If this assertion is accurate, the agreement would hardly seem to qualify as a “voluntary resolution” that has been “mutually agreed upon.”

But we are also very concerned about a second issue: the requirement that students undergo the ADL’s “A Campus of Difference” program. As you must know, the ADL is hardly neutral with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; indeed, it has frequently been criticized for routinely conflating virtually any form of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. To require that students who define themselves as activists on behalf of Palestinian rights undergo an anti-bias training program developed by the ADL, which espouses political views diametrically opposed to their own and which, moreover, defines views such as the students’ not as simply misguided but as anti-Semitic, strikes us as highly inappropriate and as a threat to the academic freedom of all members of the FAU community.

Given these concerns, we call upon you to conduct a thorough and transparent review of the disciplinary procedures applied to the students involved in the April 19, 2013, incident as well as of the provisions of the agreement which several of those students signed and how their consent to it was secured, so as to ensure that your university’s response to that incident fully conforms to accepted standards and procedures for disciplinary action with regard to students who have engaged in political protest. More broadly, we call upon you to reiterate Florida Atlantic University’s firm commitment to protecting and upholding the free speech and academic freedom rights of its students, including the right of concerned students to express their views on controversial issues.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore 

 

28 August 2013

Dr. Mamdouh Shukri
President, York University
1050 Kaneff Tower
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada
via email president@yorku.ca

Dear President Shukri:

I am writing on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North American (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern about the response of York University to on-campus political advocacy undertaken by York’s chapter of Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), and in particular by one of its members, former York student Hammam Farah.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

It is our understanding that, following an SAIA demonstration on the York University campus on March 27, 2013, to manifest its support for the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign directed at Israel, SAIA and Mr. Farah were subjected to punitive administrative measures on the grounds that the campus rally had caused a "disruption of academic activities" at the university. 

According to media reports, SAIA had its official campus group status revoked until January 2014, while Mr. Farah was banned from York University property until April 2014. Although SAIA is not the only student organization that the York administration has sanctioned in connection with campus demonstrations around Israel-related issues, SAIA is unique in having its official status revoked while Mr. Farah is unique in having his person banned from York property.

We are concerned that in taking these actions, the York University administration may have selectively and disproportionately -- and therefore inappropriately -- sanctioned advocates of a particular viewpoint, and thereby discouraged the free expression of the full range of political views by members of the York campus community.

We note, too, that in Ontario as elsewhere, off-campus individuals and entities have denounced student activists involved with the BDS campaign. We observe, by way of example, the Ontario Legislature's February 2010 condemnation of campus-based “Israel Apartheid Week” activities. We are concerned that such outside pressures may have played some role in the university's decision to sanction SAIA and Mr. Farah, as well as in the severity of the sanctions.

We call upon the York University administration to publicly explain why it deems the sanctions it imposed on SAIA and Mr. Farah appropriate and consistent both with its own specific policies and with generally accepted practices at institutions of higher education with respect to the right of students to freely express their political views, individually and collectively. We also ask that the administration reconsider its decisions with regard to SAIA and Mr. Farah in the context of clearly and unequivocally reiterating its firm commitment to protect free speech and academic freedom on campus. As we see it, such a commitment entails, among other things, resisting all outside pressures to restrict the free expression of political views, refraining from selectively or punitively sanctioning certain groups and individuals on political grounds, and treating all student organizations and activists equally and in keeping with the principles of academic freedom and free speech.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore 

11 June 2013

Dr. Chad Gaffield
President,
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
350 Albert Street
PO Box 1610
Ottawa, Ont. K1P 6G4
Canada
via email: chad.gaffield@sshrc-crsh.gc.ca

Dear Dr. Gaffield:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to register concern about the way in which the Social Science and Humanities Research Council handled an Insight Grant application submitted by Professor Jens Hanssen of the University of Toronto.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

Professor Hanssen submitted an application to the 2012 Insight Grants competition under the title “Translated agonies and agnostic translations: German-Jewish echoes in Arab political thought.” SSHRC assigned his application file no. 435-2013-1842. In May 2013 SSHRC notified Professor Hanssen of its decision not to approve a grant to support the project, based on the recommendation of the adjudication committee which evaluated the application.

SSHRC’s notification included copies of two anonymous external assessors’ reports that had informed the adjudication committee’s decision; Professor Hanssen has made those reports, and the adjudication committee’s comments, available to the Committee on Academic Freedom. In its comments the adjudication committee explicitly noted, and distanced itself from, what it termed the “inflammatory tone” of the report provided by one of the two assessors, referred to as assessor 5. As we read this assessor’s comments, however, they are not merely inflammatory in their tone but also highly political, rather than scholarly, in their content. They consist largely of tendentious allegations directed against the applicant as well as against Professor Judith Butler of the University of California, Berkeley, and unnamed others, all supposedly engaged in a campaign to attack and destroy the State of Israel. The assessment also included simplistic and ill-informed assertions about Arab intellectual life.

Because assessor 5 apparently evaluated Professor Hanssen’s proposal in light of his or her own political opinions and agenda rather than in light of the proposal’s merits, we believe that SSHRC should have replaced him or her with someone else forthwith, so that the adjudication committee would have at its disposal at least two properly scholarly assessments of the application. We are concerned that, by apparently taking seriously some or all of the comments and/or rankings of the obviously politicized evaluation provided by assessor 5, the adjudication committee’s own evaluation may have been unduly prejudiced, resulting in a flawed assessment process.

We understand, of course, that a fair assessment process would not necessarily mean that the SSHRC would have come to a different decision about this application. We would, however, request that the SSHRC thoroughly review the way in which this application was handled, in order to ascertain whether or not the adjudication committee in fact evaluated this proposal in keeping with the high standards we expect of SSHRC. As we see it, the adjudication committee’s apparent acceptance as credible of such an obviously biased and flawed assessment, and its failure to immediately discard this assessment and secure a second and properly scholarly assessment, puts into question
SSHRC’s evaluation process. More broadly, it casts a cloud over Canadian researchers’ ability to have their proposals for funding evaluated in keeping with the highest scholarly standards when they propose to investigate complex and potentially controversial issues.

We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

 

16 May 2013

Dr. Mohammad Qayoumi
President
San José State University
Office of the President
Tower Hall 207, One Washington Square
San Jose, CA 95192
via fax 408-924-1199

Dear President Qayoumi:

We are writing on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express concern about the response of San José State University to the ongoing controversy surrounding the April 19, 2013 workshop for high school teachers and community college faculty on teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was organized by Professor Persis Karim, a member of your university’s faculty.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

The workshop in question, “Peacebuilding, Nonviolence, and Approaches to Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” was organized by Professor Persis Karim of the Department of English and Comparative Literature with funding from the United States Institute of Peace. The workshop was organized to provide high school and community college educators the opportunity to explore ways of working with students that would help them understand this conflict more fully.

It is our understanding that even before the workshop took place, Professor Karim was subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation by individuals and organizations, mostly based outside San José State, who objected to the workshop’s content and participants. This campaign has continued even after the workshop, most recently by means of the circulation of a fabricated statement falsely attributed to Professor Karim and intended to damage her reputation, but also in the form of a request under the California Public Records Act that Professor Karim make available all documents and correspondence related to the workshop and its funding.

We are concerned that these attacks on Professor Karim and on the workshop have created an atmosphere of intimidation that threatens her academic freedom but that may also have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas at San José State. We are, moreover, concerned that your administration has thus far failed to defend Professor Karim’s academic freedom rights, and denounce the campaign against her, in a vigorous, unqualified and public manner.

As you are no doubt aware, the principles of academic freedom require that the right of faculty at institutions of higher education to engage in research, teaching, and public presentations be vigorously protected, even when some people may deem their views on issues of public interest to be controversial. We would also point out that no single public event sponsored by San José State or any other university can be expected, or should be required, to represent all possible perspectives on a particular conflict. Rather, universities must encourage and protect the expression of many different viewpoints, in different formats and on different occasions, in order to foster the full and free exchange of ideas and opinions.

We understand that the university must comply with all legitimate requests made under the California Public Records Act, but we are concerned that the information this particular request may yield could be used to harass and intimidate individuals involved in the workshop, whether as organizers or as participants. More broadly, we feel that such requests should not be used to further the political agenda of individuals or groups who do not share the perspectives expressed at a university-sponsored event of this kind.

We urge you to issue a strong and clear public statement expressing the university’s support for academic freedom in general and that of Professor Karim in particular, and its firm condemnation of the smear campaign being waged against her. Professor Karim and all those involved with the workshop, as well as your university’s faculty and students, need to know that San José State is fully committed to defending its faculty against efforts to harass and intimidate them when they share their expertise and their informed perspectives, in the classroom and beyond.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

26 April 2013

Pamela Brooks Gann, President
Claremont McKenna College
500 E. Ninth Street
Claremont, CA 91711
via fax: (909) 621-8790

Dear President Gann:

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express concern about the response of Claremont McKenna College (CMC) to an incident that took place on its campus on March 4, 2013, and to urge the CMC administration and faculty to investigate this incident in a thorough and even-handed manner so as to uphold the principles of free speech and 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 International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

As we understand it, Students for Justice in Palestine at the Claremont Colleges, a recognized student organization, was conducting a demonstration on the CMC campus to protest Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, having secured prior authorization from the CMC administration. During that demonstration someone who turned out to be a CMC faculty member is alleged to have urged a security guard to stop the protest and to have repeatedly directed a degrading epithet at a Pitzer student participating in the protest.

The principles of academic freedom protect the right of all members of a college or university community, including students and student organizations, to express their political views and engage in peaceful protest, in keeping with an institution’s reasonable rules and regulations. Those principles also require that such rules and regulations, and any investigation into alleged violations thereof, be applied equally to all; selective application of regulations is itself a violation of the principles of academic freedom and free speech. It is our understanding that the CMC administration’s initial response to this incident was to focus on whether the students had violated college policy on demonstrations, rather than on the alleged incident of verbal assault and harassment, despite a complaint having been lodged regarding the latter. We would point out that CMC’s own Guide to CMC’s Civil Rights Policies and Civil Rights Grievance Procedures deems the use of degrading and insulting epithets directed at people as members of racial, religious, ethnic, gender or other groups, and the creation thereby of a hostile environment for them, to be unacceptable. We also note that such language is particularly troubling when it comes from a faculty member and is directed at a student.

Given this, we urge the CMC administration to conduct a thorough investigation of all aspects of this incident, including the actions of the CMC faculty member involved, and to uphold the right of students at the Claremont Colleges to express their views without being subjected to verbal or physical harassment. More broadly, we urge the CMC administration to publicly reaffirm its commitment to the principles of academic freedom, which require that institutions of higher education protect and foster the vigorous and respectful expression and exchange of ideas and opinions on all topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sincerely,


Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visitin Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

18 February 2013

Dr. Karen L. Gould
President, Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11210

Dear Dr. Gould:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I am writing to express our strong support for your principled stance regarding the public forum on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that took place at Brooklyn College on February 7, 2013. We applaud your decision to resist demands by a number of public officials and outside organizations that the college’s Department of Political Science withdraw its sponsorship of the forum and that it be cancelled, and we commend your firm defense of the principles of academic freedom and of the autonomy and integrity of institutions of higher education.

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 more than 3000 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 elsewhere.

The public event, entitled “BDS: Movement for Palestinian Rights,” was organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, a student organization at Brooklyn College, and featured a Palestinian activist, Omar Barghouti, and an American philosopher, Judith Butler. We commend you for refusing to be intimidated by baseless allegations that the forum was illegitimate because it supposedly fostered anti-Semitism and hate speech, or by threats to the public funding on which Brooklyn College depends. As an academic organization MESA takes no position on the specific issues addressed at the February 7th event; but as a matter of principle we reject the assertion that, for example, criticism of the policies and practices of the State of Israel or advocacy of a Palestinian “right of return” in and of themselves constitute hate speech or manifest anti-Semitism. In any case, whatever one’s opinion of the BDS campaign or of any other issue involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the role of the university to provide a space in which such contentious questions can be discussed and elucidated. This is exactly what Brooklyn College has done in this instance.

Your moral and professional clarity over the last few weeks has been exemplary, inspiring Mayor Bloomberg’s warning to those who would restrict academic freedom so as to silence opinions with which they disagree that if they prefer educational institutions “where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.” We very much hope that other academic leaders will take note of your principled stance and will do their utmost to exercise vigilance in defense of academic freedom and of the autonomy of our institutions of higher education.

Sincerely,


Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

 

13 November 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State 
2201 C Street NW 
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express MESA’s concern about the recent decision by the US Department of State to freeze scholarships in the 2012-13 academic year for students from Gaza who seek to further their studies in the West Bank.  According to Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US Department of State, the scholarships were suspended for this academic year so that American policy can be in compliance with ongoing Israeli policy concerning the issuance of travel permits to Gaza students.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 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 elsewhere.

Members of the CAF committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements upon academic freedom see no justification at all for the US Department of State to strive for compliance with an unjust policy on the part of the Government of Israel.  The blanket travel ban in place since 2000 against students from the Gaza Strip who want to study in the West Bank and the more recent decision by the Israeli High Court that Israel is not obligated to allow Palestinian residents of Gaza to study in the West Bank and may treat them as “enemy citizens” for purposes of passage constitute blatant discrimination based on national origin since they apply only to one community, the Palestinians.  Moreover, the ban and the court decision violate the very human rights conventions to which Israel and the United States are party.

On numerous occasions, most recently in July of this year, CAF has written to the Israeli government to protest its ongoing violations of the rights of Palestinians to education and denial to Gaza students of the possibility to study in the West Bank.  The reasons set forth in these letters are ones CAF members would have expected the US State Department to uphold when interacting with the Government of Israel.   After all, these are principles American citizens have long taken for granted as holding for themselves and ones US officials would defend in relations with other nations.  Nothing in keeping with these principles justifies the compliance voiced by Ms. Nuland and reflected in the decision she defends. 

The US scholarship program, which has been in place for two years, has offered thirty scholarships annually to promising students from under-privileged backgrounds -- students who would not otherwise have had such a life transforming opportunity.  Given that Israel approves approximately 4000 travel permits per month for individuals from Gaza wishing to travel to the West Bank for medical or humanitarian reasons, we suggest the following:  Rather than suspend the scholarship program, work with the Government of Israel to expand the latter’s definition of “humanitarian” to include education

Israel’s violations against the rights of Palestinians are extensive, and the barriers it places before those who seek to further their education are a central part of that record.  Friends of freedom, especially friends of freedom who claim to view all humans as equal, should have no part in furthering the discriminatory practices followed by Israel.  Members of MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom and I therefore urge that you rescind this decision to suspend the scholarship program and pursue the step suggested above.  That will allow the US to return to its time-honored position of defending the rights of all people to academic freedom.

We look forward to your response,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

 

Cc: Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar
Ambassador Michael Oren
Honorable George Mitchell
Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro

 

August 09, 2012

President Mark G. Yudof
Office of the President
University of California
1111 Franklin Street, 12th Floor
Oakland CA 94607                                                                             

Dear President Yudof:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to express our concern about aspects of the recently released report on “University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate” commissioned by the UC Campus Climate Advisory Council.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

MESA rejects all forms of discrimination, bigotry and racism, including anti-Semitism, and it supports prompt and forceful action in response to anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses. We therefore understand the concerns that led to this effort to examine the experiences of Jewish students on UC campuses, and to the parallel report on “Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate.” Nonetheless, we feel that the report and recommendations concerning the UC system’s Jewish students deploy a vague and expansive definition of hate speech, one that seems to encompass the expression of political opinions. As a result they frequently fail to draw a clear distinction between the legitimate expression of political views, on the one hand, and hate speech or anti-Semitism on the other. Criticism of Israel’s policies and of Zionism, including assertions that Israel is an “apartheid state,” are political statements, and even though they may be unwelcome to staunch supporters of Israel they do not constitute hate speech or anti-Semitism.

We recognize that speech and actions expressing intense criticism of Israel’s policies, and even challenging its legitimacy as a state, may make some students, Jewish or otherwise, uncomfortable. This is, however, not sufficient justification for categorizing such speech and actions as hate speech or as anti-Semitic, or for prohibiting or restricting them. We are therefore distressed by the report’s recommendation that UC “push its current harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further, clearly define hate speech in its guidelines, and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus,” apparently in order to make it less likely that Jewish students will encounter opinions that make some of them uncomfortable. We believe that such use of hate speech guidelines clearly threaten not only the First Amendment’s protection of free speech but also the principles of academic freedom that are so central to the mission and functioning of our institutions of higher education.

We therefore call on you to reiterate your commitment, as a matter of university policy, to defend the free expression of political opinions by UC students and faculty, including those that some members of the UC community may find repugnant, even as the university remains vigilant about expressions of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. We further ask that you explicitly disassociate yourself from the language and recommendations contained in this report, because its advocacy of a broad and loose definition of hate speech may undermine the First Amendment rights of UC students and faculty as well as the principles of academic freedom.

We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your response at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,
Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago


RESPONSE

Sent: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 3:15 PM
To: SBS MESA
Subject: RE: Committee on Academic Freedom's concerns about report on Jewish Student Campus Climate

Dear Mr. Donner:

Thank you for your letter expressing the concerns of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom over the University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team Report & Recommendations issued by a fact-finding team as part of my Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion.  I understand MESA’s concerns with the recommendation that UC should adopt a hate speech-free campus policy and I am pleased to respond. 

At the outset, I want to make it clear that I have been and will continue to be the first to defend our students’ and faculty’s right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution.  That was my position as a professor of constitutional law, and it remains my position as president.  And, as I have said on many occasions over the last year, free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and it must be protected with vigilance.

I want to assure you that no decision has been made on this or on any of the recommendations contained in the fact-finding team’s report.  Rather, I have asked my office to review closely the recommendations issued in that report as well as those in the Muslim and Arab student campus climate report that has also been submitted to the Council and to provide me with additional analysis on each.  I have also asked the Vice President for Student Affairs and the General Counsel at the Office of the President to review the policy recom­mendations included in both reports and to submit to me their analysis. 

I believe, however, our current policies set the appropriate boundaries consistent with the First Amendment.  Throughout the review period, I will continue to solicit feedback from the Advisory Council, and continue to welcome constructive feedback such as MESA’s.  To that end, I will be sure that staff in my office receive your letter as the review proceeds.

As we move forward, my Advisory Council will continue to address issues for a broad range of campus community members.  None of this is designed to stifle free speech, but rather to ensure that our campuses are welcoming to a broad diversity of students, faculty, and staff.  While hurtful speech may make that goal difficult to achieve at times, I want to reaffirm my belief that the answer is not to restrict speech, but rather to see that all our community members feel supported by the University and able to take full advantage of the edu­cational opportunities we offer.

I appreciate your sharing MESA’s concerns with me.

With best wishes, I am,

Sincerely yours,

Mark G. Yudof
President
University of California

 

May 17, 2012

Editor, The New York Times
620 Eighth Ave.
New York NY 10018
letters@nytimes.com

To the Editor:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern about a recent advertisement placed in the New York Times by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. While we recognize and support the right of any person or group to exercise their freedom of expression, we are disturbed that the Times would publish an advertisement replete with ad hominem attacks on individual professors, some of whom are members of MESA, without offering those individuals the opportunity to respond in the pages of your newspaper.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote the highest standards of 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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

The Horowitz Center’s advertisement suggested that anyone who supports the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” (BDS) movement established to protest Israeli policies toward the Palestinians is in effect justifying the murder of Jews, promoting anti-Semitism and helping to bring about a “new Holocaust.” In fact, whatever one’s opinion of the BDS movement and the positions it espouses, it is clear that its purpose is to promote non-violent political activism, not to incite any form of hate crime. While Mr. Horowitz has the right to publicize his perspective, the kind of extreme rhetoric used in this advertisement is clearly designed to stifle the expression of opinions different from his own, not to encourage open and free debate about this very important political issue.

Most significantly, the advertisement in question lists 14 professors by name, describing them (in most cases without any specific accusations) as people who “should be publicly shamed and condemned for the crimes their hatred incites.” It thereby suggests that these scholars are complicit in hate crimes merely for expressing their support for the BDS campaign. The advertisement also encourages members of the public to call university presidents to complain about these faculty members.  We regard such action as a threat to the academic freedom that is so crucial to the integrity, autonomy and, indeed, viability of our institutions of higher education.

In response to the Horowitz Center’s advertisement, 151 faculty members signed a Letter to the Editor protesting what they regard as a slanderous attack. Unfortunately, the Times chose not to publish that letter. With this decision, the Times has failed in its duty to act in the public interest by fostering the open and vigorous exchange of ideas and opinions and by giving those who have been subjected to defamation by means of a paid advertisement a reasonable opportunity to respond.

We call on the New York Times to offer the scholars and teachers who have been personally attacked, and those who support them, the opportunity to respond to the vicious allegations made against them by an organization which, unlike those of us in the academic world, seems to possess both the desire and the means to engage in character assassination in the pages of the New York Times.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

copy to: The Public Editor, The New York Times (public@nytimes.com)

 

February 6, 2012

Kenneth Starr
President, Baylor University
Office of the President
One Bear Place #97096
Waco, TX 76798

Fax: 254-710-3557

Dear President Starr:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern about the disciplinary charges which Baylor University has brought against Professor Marc Ellis, and about his removal from his teaching and administrative duties without a hearing. We are concerned that the disciplinary procedures to which Professor Ellis is being subjected, which could result in his dismissal, may not conform to the standards widely accepted at institutions of higher education in this country and may be motivated by Professor Ellis’ views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If so, this would constitute a serious violation of Professor Ellis’s right to free speech and severely undermine 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 International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

Last fall Professor Ellis was removed from his role as the chair of Jewish Studies at Baylor University without the benefit of a hearing. Although a hearing is apparently scheduled for the spring, our understanding of best practices, as defined by the American Association of University Professors, is that suspension of a faculty member before or during disciplinary proceedings is warranted only if “immediate harm to the faculty member or others is threatened by the faculty member’s continuance.” Unless your university can demonstrate a threat of immediate harm, we believe that Professor Ellis should be immediately reinstated and allowed to resume his teaching duties. More broadly, we call on Baylor University to ensure that any disciplinary proceedings against Professor Ellis be conducted in an open, fair and transparent manner, in conformity with accepted standards and best practices at American universities.

We are particularly concerned about the possibility that Professor Ellis is facing selective enforcement of university policies as a result of his political positions. Baylor University officials have denied that the disciplinary measures initiated against Professor Ellis are politically motivated, but we would welcome a statement from you making it absolutely clear that Baylor strongly supports the right to free speech, including on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that it is firmly committed to protecting the academic freedom of its faculty.

Institutions of higher learning in this country and around the world have a responsibility to uphold and defend the principles of academic freedom. They must also be sanctuaries for the free expression of ideas and opinions. We call upon you to reaffirm your commitment to these principles and to ensuring that Baylor will adhere to generally accepted standards and best practices in disciplinary cases. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

November 23, 2011

President Mark G. Yudof
Office of the President
University of California
1111 Franklin St., 12th Floor
Oakland, CA 94607


Dear President Yudof,
I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to express our dismay and concern over the recent use of violence by police officers of the University of California against members of the university community engaged in peaceful protest on university campuses.


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 nearly 3000 members worldwide, including many faculty, students and others in the University of California system. 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 elsewhere.


We are deeply disturbed by recent reports and images of the use of excessive force by police against faculty and students on several University of California campuses, and the clear violation of the right of free speech and of peaceful protest that these actions represent. We appreciate your forthright declaration that such violence has no place at UC and your promise vigorously to investigate the events at UC Davis, Berkeley, Los Angeles and other campuses. We call upon you and your colleagues to ensure:

  • that all committees established to investigate incidents of excessive use of force are fully independent, are representative of the university community, and possess sufficient authority to require that all administration and police officials provide all relevant documents concerning the policies governing the use of force by police officers, and how and why officers on the ground were authorized to use excessive force during these incidents.
  • that any investigation specifically establish clear accountability as to who authorized police in riot gear and clearly primed to use significant force against peaceful protesters who constituted no imminent threat to people or property. For example, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi has publicly accepted responsibility for calling the police, but the nature of that call, who decided on the approach adopted by the police to deal with the protest, including the use of pepper spray, all need to be determined and publicly disclosed, and appropriate disciplinary procedures needs to be initiated against those found responsible.
  • that university administrators be directed to drop all pending charges and disciplinary actions against students, faculty and/or staff arrested during these protests.

 

Finally, we call on you, as president of the University of California, to make it unmistakably clear that you and the institution you lead respect, and will protect, the rights of members of the university campus to engage in peaceful protest on campus.


Sincerely,
Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies
University of California, Davis

cc: Linda P.B. Katehi, Chancellor, UC Davis
Linda Bisson, Chair Academic Senate, UC Davis

November 16, 2011

Ergun Kirlikovali
President
Assembly of Turkish-American Associations
1526 18th Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20036

Dear Mr. Kirlikovali:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern about your letter of October 11, 2011, sent to Kathleen Holder, managing editor of the UC Davis Magazine, and the similar letter that you sent to Professor Catherine Chin, director of the Program in Religious Studies at the University of California, Davis. These letters seemed to suggest that Professor Keith David Watenpaugh, a MESA member who teaches at the University of California, Davis, had defamed the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), and we fear that they may be read as implying that legal action against him might be an appropriate remedy for this alleged defamation. Our concern is heightened by the fact that in an email message to Ms. Holder dated October 20, 2011, ATAA past president Gunay Evinch explicitly alleged that Professor Watenpaugh had libeled him.

We are concerned that such allegations may damage Professor Watenpaugh’s standing as a respected historian of the modern Middle East and undermine his ability to do his work as a scholar and a teacher. More broadly, we are concerned that your letters’ specific references to legal action initiated in another case involving the question of what happened to the Armenians of the Ottoman empire during the First World War may have a chilling effect on academic inquiry and discourse about this important historical episode.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The pre-eminent organization in this field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 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 elsewhere.

Your letters seem to take issue with a single sentence that appeared in Professor Watenpaugh’s response to a letter sent to the UC Davis Magazine by Mr. Evinch after that magazine had published an article by Professor Watenpaugh titled “Armenian genocide gave rise to modern humanitarian movement, UC Davis historian argues.” That sentence reads: “What is most important to understand is that the Assembly of Turkish American Associations has been at the forefront of a Turkish government-sponsored effort in the United States to deny that what happened to the Armenians was genocide.” (Mr. Evinch’s letter and Professor Watenpaugh’s response, as well as a link to Professor Watenpaugh’s original article, can be found at http://ucdavismagazine.ucdavis.edu/issues/fall11/letters.html#letter_4.)

Your letters to Ms. Holder and Professor Chin characterize this sentence as “Professor Watenpaugh’s reckless insinuation that the ATAA is a foreign agent, funded by and under the direction and control of Turkey….” and go on to imply that Professor Watenpaugh had thereby defamed the ATAA, because the latter is not in fact a registered agent of the Turkish government. We do not regard your characterization of Professor Watenpaugh’s remarks, or that advanced by Mr. Evinch in his email message, as accurate: he nowhere asserted that the ATAA was a registered agent of the government of Turkey, nor do we agree that his statement is “precisely the same one retracted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) after it was sued by Professor Guenter Lewy,” as your letter goes on to suggest. In any case, the reference in your letters to Professor Lewy’s lawsuit against the SPLC raises broader concerns regarding the proper way to address disagreements over historical events and their interpretation.

Your organization, and those who hold perspectives different from those expressed by Professor Watenpaugh, certainly have the right to participate in open scholarly exchange on the history of the Armenians in the late Ottoman Empire or any other issue, by presenting their views at academic conferences, in the pages of peer-reviewed scholarly journals or by other means, thereby opening them up to debate and challenge. However, we feel compelled to express our concern when non-academic organizations initiate, threaten or justify legal action against scholars and/or academic or research institutions because of their findings or views on historical issues. We do not believe that legal action is the proper way to resolve disputes about historical interpretation, and we fear that legal action of this kind, or the threat thereof, may undermine the ability of scholars and academic institutions to carry out their work freely and to have their work assessed on its merits, in conformity with standards and procedures long established in the world of scholarship.

We therefore urge the ATAA to refrain from initiating legal action against Professor Watenpaugh or the University of California, Davis. We hope that you will instead devote your organization’s energies to fostering scholarly debate and exchange on this as on all other historical issues, in a manner that conforms to the standards and procedures adhered to by scholars and academic institutions, respects their academic freedom, and strengthens our society’s ability to discuss contentious issues in a civil manner.

Sincerely,

Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies
University of California, Davis

November 3, 2011

Heather Munroe-Blum
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
McGill University
by fax: 514-398-4768

Dear Principal Munroe-Blum:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I am writing to express our concern about reports that McGill University’s administration has exerted undue pressure on members of its faculty who have expressed solidarity with the strike called by the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA). We find it particularly alarming that a number of faculty and students at McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies, including members of MESA, have been threatened with academic and pecuniary sanctions for their reluctance to cross the picket line on campus.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The pre-eminent organization in this field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3,000 members worldwide, including over one hundred members at institutions of higher education across Canada; McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies is an institutional member of MESA. 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 elsewhere.

As you no doubt know, the Quebec Labour Code protects the right to strike and outlaws reprisals against workers who refuse to cross a picket line. A number of McGill University faculty have chosen to hold their classes off campus as a way of respecting the strikers’ picket lines while also fulfilling their obligation to continue to teach their students. We have received reports that the McGill University administration has threatened faculty with various sanctions if they do not resume holding their classes on-campus. We regard such threats as a violation of the rights, autonomy and status of university faculty and of the principles of academic freedom and believe that they cannot be deemed acceptable practice at an institution of higher education.

We therefore call on the administration of McGill University to immediately desist from threatening or imposing sanctions against faculty who choose to hold classes off-campus in order to avoid crossing a legally valid picket line and to reaffirm its commitment to the principles of academic freedom and the rights of all of its employees, including its full-time faculty.

Sincerely,

Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies, University of California, Davis

August 18, 2011

Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA)*
440-C Centre Block, House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Canada

To Whom it May Concern:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern with aspects of the report released on July 7, 2011, by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA), with which you are associated. We believe that the report’s loose and overly broad definition of antisemitism may threaten freedom of speech and violate the principles of academic freedom by defining criticism of Israeli policies, of Zionism or of Israel as a self-defined Jewish state as inherently antisemitic.

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 nearly 3000 members worldwide, including more than a hundred who are scholars, teachers or students at institutions of higher education in Canada. 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 elsewhere.

Vigilance against the spread of antisemitism is necessary and laudable. MESA rejects all forms of hate speech, discrimination and racism, including antisemitism, and it supports prompt and forceful action in response to antisemitic incidents on university campuses. However, we are concerned that the CPCCA report may actually weaken efforts to combat antisemitism by expanding the definition of that term to include an indefensibly broad range of legitimate speech and conduct, and by advancing unsupported and groundless allegations against academic practices of critical inquiry, scholarly discourse and the free exchange of ideas.

The report conflates criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism by depicting these two distinct phenomena as successive points along the same continuum and by suggesting that crude remarks and personal threats that everyone would recognize as antisemitic can be traced to the same sources as criticism of Israel’s policies toward, and treatment of, Palestinians. However, the university leaders who made statements before the CPCCA insisted that they do not in fact view criticism of the state of Israel as antisemitism. As Professor Jack Lightstone, president of Brock University, put it, echoing many of his fellow academic leaders: “Criticism of any government’s policy by anyone must be acceptable, and in universities it is to be encouraged.”

We believe that individuals and student organizations on university campuses, in Canada as elsewhere, should be free to criticize states and governments without a parliamentary commission seeking to marginalize or delegitimize their voices by associating them with a racist ideology; this is as true for critics of Israel as for critics of any other state or government.

The CPCCA report devotes considerable attention to Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual event that began at the University of Toronto in 2005. Organizers of this event point to what they see as similarities between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa and denounce as racist certain aspects of the Israeli state and certain Israeli policies. Whatever one thinks of the organizers’ assertions, we vigorously reject the report’s characterization of these activities and viewpoints as tantamount to political antisemitism. We believe that efforts to demonize academic and other critics of Israel or Zionism by tarring them with the brush of antisemitism may contribute to an already troubling environment of harassment, intimidation and censorship of faculty and students on university campuses, thereby threatening academic freedom and freedom of expression.

We urge the CPCCA to reconsider and revise the language of its report so as to adopt a clearer and more consistent definition of antisemitism and refrain from conflating that pernicious phenomenon with criticism of Israel, Israeli policies and/or Zionism. We fear that a failure to do so may actually undermine the struggle against antisemitism by trivializing it; such a failure may also threaten academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints for which our universities are such a crucial haven.

Sincerely,
Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies
University of California Davis

*CPCCA Inquiry Panel Members: Mario Silva, Scott Reid, Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Lois Brown, Hon. Ken Dryden, Rick Dykstra, Raymonde Folco, Hon. Hedy Fry, Randy Hoback, Hon. Peter Kent, Pat Martin, Hon. Anita Neville, Peter Stoffer, David Sweet, Tim Uppal, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Jeff Watson, Hon. Irwin Cotler (ex-officio), Hon. Jason Kenney (ex-officio). CPCCA Steering Committee Members not listed above: Candice Hoeppner, Hon. Bob Rae. CPCCA Secretariat: Corey Lerman, Dan Rabkin.

cc: Andrew Scheer, Jack Layton, Nicole Turmel

July 05, 2011

Richard C. Levin
President, Yale University

Peter Salovey
Provost, Yale University

Dear President Levin and Provost Salovey,

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern that influence or pressure from, or prejudicial information supplied by, the Bush administration may have played a role in Yale University’s decision in 2006 to reject the appointment of Professor Juan Cole to the Yale faculty, and to ask that you initiate appropriate measures to fully investigate that possibility.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

As you may recall, Professor Cole’s candidacy for a position at Yale attracted considerable hostile attention in some conservative media outlets as a result of Professor Cole’s outspoken criticisms of policies of the governments of the United States and Israel. In a letter dated June 20, 2006 and addressed to Andrew Hamilton, then provost of Yale, we expressed our concern that “politically-motivated pressures outside and inside the university rather than professional norms may have influenced the Senior Appointments Committee’s decision to overrule the recommendation of the two departments” (History and Sociology) that had recommended that Professor Cole be appointed. Provost Hamilton’s response, dated June 30, 2006, stated that “[o]ur criteria for appointment are based solely on an individual’s scholarship, teaching, and service, and an individual’s political views are never taken into account in making appointment decisions.”

We feel compelled to revisit this matter now because on June 15, 2011 The New York Times published an article by James Risen indicating that around the time that Yale was considering Professor Cole for appointment to its faculty – and while those critical of Professor Cole’s views were mobilizing to oppose his appointment – the Bush administration was apparently seeking, in probable violation of the law, to have the CIA collect and provide information that might be used to discredit him. This report raises the possibility that officials of the Bush administration or an intelligence agency, or someone working at their behest, may have communicated with or circulated information to Yale officials and/or faculty members, directly or indirectly, with the aim of affecting the outcome of the university’s deliberations concerning Professor Cole’s appointment.

We are confident that you would agree that any such contact, communication or influence would constitute highly improper interference with the integrity of Yale’s hiring process, an assault on Yale’s autonomy as an institution of higher education, and a flagrant violation of the principles of academic freedom. Given this, we feel it essential that Yale reveal any and all communications between government officials and Yale faculty or staff concerning Professor Cole, and take prompt and transparent action that would enable it to rule out the possibility that it was subjected to any improper government influence in this case.

We therefore request that an independent committee consisting of members of the Yale faculty as well as faculty drawn from other universities be appointed to conduct a thorough investigation of this matter, with unrestricted access to all relevant records, in order to ascertain whether any attempt was made by any government official or agency, or anyone working on their behalf, to influence Yale’s decision-making with regard to Professor Cole’s appointment. In light of what we have learned in recent years about efforts by the Bush administration and its allies to silence or besmirch critics of its policies, it seems only reasonable to ensure that there was no impropriety in this case.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours Sincerely,
Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies
University of California Davis

Cc: Juan Cole
Chronicle of Higher Education
Inside Higher Ed

Response to letter sent July 05, 2011

7 July 2011
 
Professor Suad Joseph
President, Middle East Studies Association of North America
University of Arizona
1219 North Santa Rita Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85721

Dear Professor Joseph:

I write on behalf of President Richard Levin and myself in response to your letter of 5 July 2011 concerning Professor Juan Cole’s candidacy for a faculty position at Yale in 2006. I can assure you in the strongest possible terms that no member of the Bush Administration nor any other government official contacted the President, Provost, or two deans involved in overseeing the appointments process in the case of Professor Cole, nor is there any evidence of inappropriate external interference or other impropriety in this appointment matter. We see no reason to compromise the confidentiality of a faculty deliberation on the merits of an appointment by constituting an external faculty committee to conduct an investigation.

Thank you for writing to us and for your interest in safeguarding academic freedom.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Salovey
Provost
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology

 

February 23, 2011

The Honorable Tony Rackauckas
District Attorney of Orange County
Office of the District Attorney 
401 Civic Center Dr.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Dear Mr. Rackauckas:

I write to you 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 bring misdemeanor conspiracy charges against eleven students at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of California, Riverside, in connection with their disruption of a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine on February 8, 2010. We regard this action as a grave threat to academic freedom and freedom of speech, and we urge you to drop these charges immediately.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

The events surrounding Ambassador Oren’s speech at UC Irvine on February 8, 2010, are a matter of public record. The eleven students interrupted him repeatedly with vociferous complaints about Israel’s policies, so that he felt obliged to stop speaking for twenty minutes. University police officers arrested the students, who offered no resistance; the ambassador then finished his speech. Following an investigation of the incident, the UC Irvine administration suspended the charter of the university’s Muslim Student Union, with which most of the protesters were apparently affiliated, for one year (it was ultimately restored on December 31, 2010) and placed the organization on probation for an additional year. A UC Irvine spokeswoman has recently been quoted in the media to the effect that the university now regards its disciplinary action against the students as completed.

Notwithstanding this, your office has chosen to bring criminal charges against these students. We regard this action as deeply troubling, particularly given the fact that the students’ protest was peaceful, that they did not resist arrest, that Ambassador Oren was ultimately able to finish his speech, and, most importantly, that the students have already been disciplined by their institution. As the American Civil Liberties Union has noted, there is no precedent for bringing criminal charges in response to a peaceful student protest. We further note that all these students are in good standing at UC Irvine and UC Riverside; most of them, in fact, have excellent academic records and can look forward to productive careers.

We believe that universities must resolutely uphold and defend the principles of academic freedom, and must also be sanctuaries for the free expression of ideas and opinions. That means that universities must also be a haven for controversial speech – by invited speakers but also by those who wish to protest what those speakers have to say. For your office to bring criminal charges against these students will, we fear, have a chilling effect on students and student groups, in California and in other states, who may wish to exercise their right to express their opinions on volatile political issues in a university setting. While one may question the manner in which these students chose to engage in protest, they were unquestionably exercising their right to free speech. Moreover, the principles of academic freedom and of respect for the autonomy of institutions of higher education require that they be judged and, if deemed appropriate, sanctioned by their universities, as these students have been, rather than being subjected to criminal prosecution.

We therefore call on you to dismiss all criminal charges against these eleven students immediately. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies, University of California, Davis

cc:
Orange County Register
New University Newspaper

January 18, 2011

G. Lincoln McCurdy
President, Turkish Coalition of America
1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 1000 
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mr. McCurdy:

I write to you 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 file a lawsuit in November 2010 against the University of Minnesota and its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. According to press reports, your lawsuit was prompted by the Center’s listing of your organization’s website as an “unreliable” source with respect to the history of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

Until recently, as part of its educational mission, the website of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies apparently included a section listing websites and web-based resources that scholars associated with the Center deemed to be “unreliable.” Presumably, those scholars felt that assertions made on these websites and in these resources were not in keeping with accepted scholarly standards or the consensus among scholars and should therefore be treated with skepticism. We believe that the principles of academic freedom protect the right of the Center, and of scholars associated with it, to share their assessment of various perspectives with the public in this way. In any event, that section of the website was removed several days before your organization filed suit.

Your organization, and those who hold perspectives different from those expressed by scholars associated with the Center, certainly have the right to participate in open scholarly exchange on the history of the Armenians in the late Ottoman Empire or any other issue, by presenting their views at academic conferences, in the pages of peer-reviewed scholarly journals or by other means, thereby opening them up to debate and challenge. We are distressed that you instead chose to take legal action against the University of Minnesota and its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, apparently for having at one point characterized views expressed on your website in a certain way. We fear that legal action of this kind may have a chilling effect on the ability of scholars and academic institutions to carry out their work freely and to have their work assessed on its merits, in conformity with standards and procedures long established in the world of scholarship. Your lawsuit may thus serve to stifle the free expression of ideas among scholars and academic institutions regarding the history of Armenians in the later Ottoman Empire, and thereby undermine the principles of academic freedom.

We do not believe that disagreements about historical issues should be addressed by lawsuits. We therefore call on you to reconsider and withdraw the legal action you have initiated against the University of Minnesota and its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and we urge you to instead devote your organization’s energies to fostering scholarly debate and exchange on this as on all other issues, in a manner that conforms to the standards and procedures adhered to by scholars and academic institutions and that respects their academic freedom.

Sincerely,

Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology & Women’s Studies, University of California, Davis

cc:
Bruno Chaouat, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota

January 11, 2011

Steve Clark, MPP
Room 430, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A8

Peter Shurman, MPP
Room 450, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A8

The Honourable Eric Hoskins, MPP
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration
6th floor
400 University Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2R9

The Honourable Steve Peters, MPP 
Speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly
Room 180, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A2

Dear Sirs,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, I am writing to express our dismay at recent remarks by two members of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly, and by Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, with regard to the contents of a thesis accepted by a master’s program at the University of Toronto. These assertions inappropriately conflate criticism of Zionism and Israel with anti-Semitism. They also evince a disregard for the principles of academic freedom and threaten the autonomy of Canadian universities.

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 nearly 3000 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 elsewhere.

At the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s session of December 7, 2010, MPP Steve Clark stated that “Jewish groups are criticizing the University of Toronto for accepting a shockingly anti-Semitic master’s thesis” and asked Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Eric Hoskins what he was doing “to stop the rising tide of anti-Semitism.” MPP Clark thereby clearly accepted the characterization of the thesis in question – written by Jennifer Peto, who received her master’s degree from the Sociology and Equity Studies in Education program of the University of Toronto’s School of Graduate Studies – as anti-Semitic, though from his remarks it does not seem that he had actually read it. In the exchange that ensued both Minister Hoskins and another MPP, Peter Shurman, also seem to have accepted without question the characterization of this master’s thesis as anti-Semitic.

We are distressed that parliamentarians seem willing to make vague and potentially damaging allegations on the floor of a legislative body, apparently relying not on a reading of the text in question but rather on media reports and claims by organizations based outside academia. Ms. Peto’s thesis certainly includes strong criticisms of Zionism and of Israel, and of course one may agree or disagree with her assertions, arguments and analytical approach; but a fair-minded examination of Ms. Peto’s thesis does not support the allegations made on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, which fail to distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of Zionism or Israel.

MESA rejects all forms of hate speech, discrimination and racism, including anti-Semitism, and it supports prompt and forceful action in response to anti-Semitic propaganda and incidents on university campuses. But we believe that expanding the definition of anti-Semitism to encompass an indefensibly broad range of legitimate speech and conduct is likely to weaken efforts to combat it effectively. Furthermore, efforts to demonize academic and other critics of Israel or Zionism by tarring them with the brush of anti-Semitism may contribute to an already troubling environment of harassment, intimidation and censorship of faculty and students on university campuses, thereby threatening academic freedom and freedom of expression. This is particularly true when parliamentarians, whose funding decisions affect the operation of institutions like the University of Toronto, make ungrounded and misinformed allegations on the floor of the legislature.

We therefore urge you to withdraw your public characterization of Ms. Peto’s thesis as anti-Semitic, and more generally to exercise greater caution about making unsupported assertions and insinuations that may threaten academic freedom and the unfettered expression and exchange of ideas and opinions.

Sincerely,
Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology & Women’s Studies, University of California, Davis

cc:
Professor Sheryl Nestel
Professor Julia O’Sullivan
Professor Rinaldo Walcott
Professor Cheryl Misak
Professor David Naylor

May 18, 2010

Senator Anthony H. Williams, williams@pasenate.com
Senator Andrew E. Dinniman, andy@pasenate.com 
Senator Michael Stack, stack@pasenate.com 
Senator Joseph B. Scarnati III, President of Senate, jscarnati@pasen.gov

Dear Senators:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern about aspects of Senate Resolution 315 (SR315), which you have introduced and which is currently under consideration by the Education Committee of the Pennsylvania Senate. We feel that in its current form the resolution threatens academic freedom and freedom of expression by deploying an overly broad and vague definition of anti-Semitism and by making unsupported and inaccurate allegations against a number of universities and colleges, as well as against unnamed departments of Middle Eastern studies.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (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 close to 3000 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 elsewhere.

MESA rejects all forms of hate speech, discrimination and racism, including anti-Semitism, and it supports prompt and forceful action in response to anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses. However, we are concerned that SR315 may actually weaken efforts to combat anti-Semitism by expanding the definition of that term to include an indefensibly broad range of legitimate speech and conduct and by advancing unsupported and groundless allegations against academic institutions.

SR315 asserts vaguely that “[h]ostile environments have been created by college and university instructors, students and campus visitors,” presumably as a result of anti-Semitism on college and university campuses. It goes on to claim that “[e]vidence suggests” that departments of Middle Eastern studies at unnamed institutions of higher education “provide highly inflammatory and polarizing academic presentations that may exclude Jewish student participation, academically discriminate or repress legitimate dissent.” The resolution mentions findings by the United States Commission on Civil Rights, apparently in support of these allegations. However, as MESA pointed out in a letter to the Commission dated June 11, 2007, its report and findings on campus anti-Semitism were deeply flawed and lacked any serious evidentiary grounding (MESA’s letter is available at http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/about/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/letters_north_america.html#USCCRJune11). We believe strongly that it is unacceptable for SR315 to make such vague and potentially damaging allegations without adducing any evidence.

The resolution goes on to mention the University of California (Irvine), Columbia University, Saint Cloud State College in Minnesota, Brown University, George Washington University and the University of North Dakota as institutions at which “anti-Semitic instances have occurred,” purportedly as a result of “attempts to demonize the Israeli Government and its supporters.” There may well have been protests against policies of the Israeli government at some or all of these campuses in recent years, but we vigorously reject labeling criticism of the Israeli government as anti-Semitism. We believe that efforts to demonize academic and other critics of Israel or Zionism by tarring them with the brush of anti-Semitism may contribute to an already troubling environment of harassment, intimidation and censorship of faculty and students on college and university campuses, thereby threatening academic freedom and freedom of expression.

We therefore strongly urge you to reconsider and revise the language of SR315 so as to delete the unsubstantiated allegations and insinuations about biased and unprofessional conduct by Middle Eastern studies programs and faculty that it currently contains, along with all language conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A. Allen
MESA President 
Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania

Cc: Chair of Education Committee Jeffrey E. Piccola, jpiccola@pasen.gov

February 23, 2010

Chancellor Michael V. Drake
The Chancellor’s Office
University of California, Irvine
Irvine CA 92697-1900

Dear Chancellor Drake,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I am writing to express our concern about your university’s response to the disruptive behavior engaged in by a number of students during a public talk by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on February 8, 2010. We are specifically concerned about reports that eleven students may be subjected not only to severe disciplinary action by your university for their actions at that event, but also to criminal prosecution.

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 more than 3000 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 elsewhere.

As scholars and educators, we believe that universities must resolutely uphold and defend the principles of academic freedom, and must also be sanctuaries for the free expression of ideas and opinions; as such, Ambassador Oren or any other invited speaker has the right to be heard on your campus. However, it is also the case that controversial speakers and topics sometimes generate vociferous responses from audiences. In this instance, it would seem that while the students were indeed disruptive during Ambassador Oren’s talk, they did not engage in threatening behavior or resist removal by security personnel. Moreover, despite the interruptions, Ambassador Oren was ultimately able to complete his talk.

Given this, it seems excessive and unwarranted to threaten these students with possible suspension or expulsion and to press criminal charges against them. This response on the part of your university also raises the question of whether these students are being singled out for especially harsh treatment: it is our understanding that, in the past, those engaged in similarly disruptive protests on your campus have simply been escorted out of the room and have not been subjected to disciplinary action or prosecution.

We believe that universities should be a haven for controversial speech – by invited speakers but also by those who wish to protest what those speakers have to say. University administrators should not be provoked by protests, even disruptive ones, to an excessively punitive response; to do so would be to undermine the vigorous (indeed, sometimes rowdy) give and take that are essential to the preservation of free speech and the protection of academic freedom.

We therefore call on you to refrain from taking disciplinary action against these students and to ask the Orange County District Attorney to drop all pending charges against them. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Roger M. A. Allen
President, Middle East Studies Association
Professor of Arabic & Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania


September 14, 2009

Richard C. Levin
President, Yale University
PO BOX 208229
New Haven, CT  06520-8229

The Yale Corporation
c/o The Office of the Secretary
P.O. Box 208230
New Haven, CT 06520-8230

Dear President Levin and Members of the Yale Corporation,

We write to protest the decision to remove all images of Mohammed from the forthcoming book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, which will be published by Yale University Press in early October.  The University’s role in that decision compromises the principle and practice of academic freedom, undermines the independence of the Press, damages the University’s credibility, and diminishes its reputation for scholarship.

The events surrounding the decision to remove the images are deeply troubling:

  • The manuscript was submitted to Yale University Press with the explicit understanding that inclusion of the cartoons was a prerequisite for publication.
  • The book was accepted for publication, fully vetted by the Press and met its exacting scholarly standards.  It also passed the standard legal review and was unanimously approved by the University Publications Committee.  
  • Nonetheless, the University undertook its own unorthodox and unprecedented review in which it consulted various individuals, not about the substance of the book but solely about the risk that the illustrations could provoke a violent response.   These consultants did not receive a complete copy of the manuscript; they were provided with only the images.  
  • Neither the names of the consultants nor their comments have been disclosed.  Even the author was denied the opportunity to read the report or comments made by these reviewers unless she signed a nondisclosure agreement, which she declined to do.

Yale Vice President and Secretary, Linda Lorimer, has openly acknowledged that the University made the decision to remove the images, based on an unspecified fear of violence.  Former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who is now a member of the Yale faculty, has stated that he “agreed with the decision by Yale” to remove the images, based on a “generic threat.”  

No one involved in the decision has cited any actual threat of violence as a justification for the decision.  Indeed, several Islamic scholars, including one of Yale’s handpicked experts, openly question the notion that the illustrations pose any risk of violence whatsoever, since the book would likely attract a small and specialized readership and the images have already been widely disseminated and are easily accessible online.  In fact, some of the images that were removed, such as the Gustave Doré image of Mohammed in Dante’s Inferno, havenever been associated with violence. 

We recognize that there are people who will threaten violence to suppress ideas that they hate.  They range from religious zealots seeking to ban images they consider blasphemous to animal rights advocates who recently threatened the staff of the San Francisco Art Institute over an art installation that they claimed represented cruelty to animals.  However, even in the face of actual threats, we believe that there are ways for institutions like Yale to preserve their commitment to academic freedom and intellectual integrity.

Giving in to the fear of violence only emboldens those who use threats to achieve their ends.  This misguided action establishes a dangerous precedent that threatens academic and intellectual freedom around the world.  

Sincerely,

Joan E. Bertin
Executive Director, National Coalition Against Censorship

On behalf of:
American Association of University Professors
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom
American Society of Journalists and Authors, First Amendment Committee
College Art Association
Freedom to Read Foundation
First Amendment Project
First Amendment Lawyers Association
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Middle East Studies Association


The following three letters address the SSHRC-funded conference, Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace, held at York University June 22-24, 2009.

19 June 2009

Chad Gaffield, President
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
350 Albert Street, P.O. Box 1610
Ottawa, ON K1P 6G4, Canada

Dear President Gaffield,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I am writing to express our grave concerns about a recent public exchange which took place between you and the Minister for Science and Technology, the Honourable Gary Goodyear, regarding an upcoming SSHRC-funded academic conference entitled “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace”, scheduled to take place at York University 22-24 June 2009.

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 more than 3000 members worldwide, including 133 members at universities across Canada. 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 elsewhere.

CAF wishes to publicly acknowledge your defence of SSHRC’s “commitment to independent peer review and its grant policies and procedures” in response to Mr. Goodyear’s demand that SSHRC review its funding of this event. However, we remain deeply troubled by the minister’s unprecedented level of interference in SSHRC’s decision-making processes. We were dismayed by your suggestion in a June 11 statement on SSHRC’s website that, in light of the minister’s concerns, SSHRC might re-examine its support for the conference in order to ensure that the organizer has not violated any “post-award procedures.”

We strongly believe that this particular conference deserves the same unequivocal support SSHRC extends to all its grant recipients and that critical scholarship on controversial issues of our times such as the Israel/Palestine conflict can only proceed with the support of non-partisan, scholarly institutions such as SSHRC. We are therefore satisfied by your statement dated June 15 that “SSHRC has accepted [York University’s] assurance that planning for the conference is proceeding in a manner consistent with provisions of the Grant Holder’s Guide for the program.”

In his statement dated 5 June 2009, Mr. Goodyear demanded that SSHRC reconsider its funding for the “Israel/Palestine” conference, and strongly recommended that SSHRC subject this proposal to an unprecedented “second review process” in order “to determine whether or not the conference still meets SSHRC’s criteria for funding of an academic conference”. According to Mr. Goodyear, such a request was justified because, since funding was granted, several speakers were added to the programme whose names were not included in the initial proposal. Mr. Goodyear argued that “several individuals and organizations have expressed…concerns that some of the speakers have, in the past, made comments that have been seen to be anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic”. He also noted that some people worried “that the event is no longer an academic research-focused event.”

In your 11 June response, you correctly refused to subject the conference to a “second review process” on the grounds that the conference had already been “peer reviewed by an independent multidisciplinary committee of scholars, using established criteria”. This was a necessary and laudable response because it protects the professional vetting standards that SSHRC stands for internationally from a general politicization.

Nevertheless, in that same statement, you said that, “in this particular case” in light of “public discussion”, SSHRC would investigate “whether or not there had been significant changes to the conference since the application was submitted in November 2008”. Such a review of “post-award procedures” was deemed necessary in this case in order to ensure that SSHRC’s “policies and procedures” had been duly followed.

Both the decision and the language in which it is framed are of deep concern to us. We see no evidence of “public discussion” of this matter and the minister has withheld the names of the alleged sources on which he bases his demands. This, therefore, seems an instance, not of legitimate public discussion, but of political interference at the highest level. The government seems to have be attempted to force the hand of an independent academic institution. The minister’s concerns are political, not scholarly, and SSHRC does not have a mandate to make political judgments or to respond to those kinds of concerns. Institutions like SSHRC are required to protect researchers from political expediency and the pressures of partisanship. Allowing unnamed “individuals and organizations” to influence SSHRC’s review processes is a potential violation of SSHRC’s mandate.

We therefore commend you for issuing the June 15 statement in which you defend SSHRC’s “unwavering in its commitment to independent peer review and its grant policies and procedures” and clear the conference organizers of Minister Goodyear’s malicious charges and insinuations. You took an important stance on academic freedom in Canada.

We have written to Minister Goodyear to urge him to retract his request for a second peer review of the conference in order to restore the confidence of the scholarly community in his commitment to Canadian academic freedom, and to York President Mamdouh Shoukri to commend him for his strong commitment to academic freedom.

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor, McMaster University

19 June 2009

Gary Goodyear, Minister of State, Science and Technology
117 Confederation Bldg
House of Commons
Ottawa, On, K1A 0A6
Canada

Dear Minister Goodyear,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I am writing to express our dismay at your public interference in a major international academic conference to be held at York University on June 22-24, 2009 by requesting a second review process of the grant-in-aid it secured from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). It is unprecedented for a minister, especially one from a department that funds granting councils, to question the integrity of SSHRC in general and its acclaimed independent peer review system, its grant policies and procedures in particular. This intervention constitutes a gross violation of academic freedom and of the autonomy of scholarly inquiry from political expediency.

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 more than 3000 members worldwide, including 133 members at universities across Canada. 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 elsewhere.

The conference “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace” fields an extraordinary slate of Israeli and Palestinian, North American and European scholars, many of whom are leaders in their fields of study and others of whom are promising younger scholars. The conference is based on a public commitment to “respecting the rights to self-determination of both Israelis/Jews and Palestinians.” The organizers’ statement of purpose further assures SSHRC and the general public on the conference website that they are committed to ensuring that “neither anti-Semitism, nor any other form of racism, has any place in this forum.” This commitment, they insist, “will inform both the conference and all aspects of its planning process.” Finally, the organizers explicitly state that the conference’s goal is to seek “to systematically measure models based on two states or a single binational state, federal and con-federal approaches, and other models in between and beyond.” To insinuate that there are anti-Semitic motivations behind these goals is entirely groundless and constitutes fear-mongering of the most reprehensible kind.

You announced in a June 5 statement that “some of the speakers have, in the past, made comments that have been seen to be anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic” and raise “concerns that the event is no longer an academic research-focused event.” You base your concerns on nameless “individuals and organizations.” But your announcement appears to have been prompted by pressure from Meir Weinberg, the national director of the Jewish Defense League in Canada and other pro-Israeli lobby groups.

Your vigilance against the spread of anti-Semitism is laudable. But at the risk of stating the obvious, criticism of Israel should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. You may not be aware that this conflation is part and parcel of the tactics of intimidation practiced by a few well-organized groups which are motivated not by finding equitable and peaceful solutions to the Israel/Palestine conflict but by a desire to insulate Israeli policies from all criticism. For many of these groups, advocating Palestinian statehood is ipso facto anti-Semitic. You have thus elevated the rumours and slander of the Jewish Defence League, an organization which represents a small fringe element among the Israeli and wider Jewish public, to the level of Canadian government policy.

Your allegation that “since funding was provided, the organizers of the conference have added a number of speakers to their agenda” is patently illogical and suggests that you are not familiar with the logistics of getting an international academic conference off the ground and funded. SSHRC, like many other bodies that fund international conferences, typically issues a “call for papers” as a condition for eligibility. While some senior international speakers are confirmed before the application deadline, thereby helping to convince the grant-giving institution of the academic merit of, and scholarly interest in, the proposed event, the actual vetting of the submitted papers occurs after the conference organizers are sure of the financial viability of the project. Given this, it would have been more appropriate for you to communicate any concerns you may have had with SSHRC directly, before raising them in public

In a June 15 statement, the SSHRC has reiterated its confidence in the proposed York conference and its commitment to independent peer review. We have written to Professor Chad Gaffield commending SSHRC for its swift response to the baseless allegations, and to York President Mamdouh Shoukri to commend him for his strong support of academic freedom.

We urge you to publically retract your request for a second peer review of the application concerning the York University conference in order to restore the confidence of the scholarly community in your commitment to Canadian academic freedom.

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor, McMaster University

Reply Received June 22, 2009

Dear Ms. Palmer,

Thank you for your correspondence on the conference at York University entitled, “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace”.  I will ensure that the Minister is made aware of your comments.

I would like to encourage you to also write to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to share your thoughts with them.  As you may know, the Council funds academic conferences under their “Aid to Research Workshops and Conferences in Canada” program and is responsible for grant decisions under the program. You can reach them at: webmaster@sshrc-crsh.gc.ca

Sincerely,
Stephanie Thomas

Member's Assistant 
Office of the Hon. Gary Goodyear  
Minister of State  |  Science and Technology
Suite 117 Confederation  |  Pièce 117 Édifice de la Confédération
House of Commons  |  Chambre des communes  |  Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

19 June 2009

Professor Mamdouh Shoukri, President
S949 Ross Building
York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3 Canada

Dear Professor Shoukri,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I am writing to you to express our strong support for resisting calls to cancel the international academic conference entitled “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace” to be held at York University next week. CAF applauds your defence of the principles of academic freedom and university autonomy in the context of a general campaign of intimidation and interference by pro-Israel groups and federal politicians against your and other institutions of higher education in Canada.

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 more than 3000 members worldwide, including 133 members at universities across Canada. 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 elsewhere.

The conference program contains an extraordinary slate of Israeli and Palestinian, North American and European scholars, many of whom are leaders in their fields of study and others of whom are promising younger scholars. In spite of the organizers’ unequivocal commitment to ensuring that “neither anti-Semitism, nor any other form of racism, has any place in this forum” and that it “will inform both the conference and all aspects of its planning process,” pro-Israel groups have alleged that the conference statement of purpose is smoke-screen for anti-Semitism and hate. CAF commends you for refusing to be intimidated by such baseless fear-mongering and for upholding the integrity of academia.

We have written to Minister Goodyear asking him to retract his call for a second peer review which we view as an inappropriate intervention in Canadian academic affairs, and to SSHRC Professor Chad Gaffield for commitment to the independence of the peer review process and the holding of the conference.

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor, McMaster University


8 May 2009

Joel Michaelsen, Chair
Academic Senate
Academic Senate Office, 1233 Girvetz Hall
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California 93106

via fax # 805-893-8732

Dear Professor Michaelsen,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, I am writing to express our grave concerns about the investigation that UCSB’s Academic Senate is conducting into allegations of misconduct on the part of Professor William Robinson. Specifically, we are troubled by the university’s willingness to open an investigation into Professor Robinson’s conduct based on criticism of his views by students, by an apparent lack of due process and adherence to university procedures, and by the possibility that outside interference influenced the decision to move forward with an official investigation despite strong evidence suggesting that the claims that Robinson had committed violations of the Faculty Code of Conduct were without merit.

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 more than 3000 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 elsewhere.

It is our understanding that this investigation stems from an email message that Professor Robinson sent to students in his course “Sociology of Globalization” on January 19, 2009. In that email message Professor Robinson forwarded an article that juxtaposed images from the Holocaust with images from Gaza during the Israeli assault of December 2008-January 2009, drew a parallel between the plight of Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto under Nazi rule, and strongly denounced Israeli policies and actions toward the Palestinians. His message accompanying the article accused the Israeli government of engaging in genocide against the Palestinians, though he noted that (as he saw it) Israel’s intent was “not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.”

On February 9, 2009, the regional office of the ADL sent a letter of complaint to Professor Robinson, with copies to university officials. Ten days later two of Professor Robinson’s students complained that they believed the content of his email message to be anti-Semitic, and they also alleged that that message constituted an “abuse of an instructor position” and violated “the integrity of the faculty-student relationship.” We also understand that on March 9, 2009, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, accompanied by a local ADL representative, met with a group of UCSB administrators and faculty members, and that at that meeting Mr. Foxman pressed university officials to investigate Professor Robinson and sanction him for the email message he had circulated. It is our understanding that Executive Dean David Marshall relayed to Foxman and others in attendance that a charges process against Professor Robinson was underway.

If true, this would constitute a violation of the confidentiality of such procedures. Moreover, it is our understanding that the Ad Hoc Committee was tasked with opening a formal investigation two weeks after Mr. Foxman’s meeting with university personnel, on March 25, and that there is ongoing pressure from the ADL on the university to continue this investigation.

Whether or not one agrees with the substance of Professor Robinson’s views on Israel or with the way he chose to express them, we believe that there are grounds for grave concern about the allegation that his email message is anti-Semitic as well as about the university’s decision to bring him up on charges for the content of that message and its circulation to students. As a faculty member at UCSB, which claims to be firmly committed to the defense of academic freedom, Professor Robinson is entitled to express his views freely, even on controversial issues and even when some students may be upset or offended by what he has to say. The expression of those views in the context of a course that deals with global issues seems entirely appropriate as well. In this regard, there is no evidence that Professor Robinson “intimidated” the students through the email’s dissemination or prevented them from expressing views challenging its content or arguments.

According to the standards established by the American Association of University Professors, instructors have the right to “stimulate discussion and encourage critical thought by drawing analogies or parallels the vigor and vibrancy of classroom,” in the absence of which “discussion will be stultified.” It further declares that “ideas that are germane to a subject under discussion in a classroom cannot be censored because a student with particular religious or political beliefs might be offended.” The issues raised by Robinson are clearly germane both to the study of globalization in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to the specific themes addressed by the course as set forth in its description in the UCSB catalog.

Beyond our concerns about the Charges Officer’s apparent reliance on an overly broad definition of anti-Semitism to bring charges against Professor Robinson, we are also very concerned that Professor Robinson’s chair and dean were apparently not alerted to the students’ complaints, the appropriate initial procedural recourse in such a situation. More generally, we are concerned that university officials may have been unduly influenced by the pressure brought to bear on them by Mr. Foxman and his organization, which is known for aggressively attacking the kind of speech at the heart of this case. Discussing the case with ADL representatives in any manner constituted a violation of Robinson’s right to confidentiality, and opened the door to the appearance of outside influence in the adjudicatory process. The events that transpired at this March 9 meeting should be the subject of investigation in this regard.

Universities are often subjected to pressure by outside groups with their own political agendas, but it is the responsibility of university officials to defend their faculty against such pressure and uphold the principles of academic freedom. There are indications that this did not happen in Professor Robinson’s case. Moreover, we cannot ignore the larger context which surrounds this case: the fact that in recent years faculty at many colleges and universities across the United States have been targeted by advocacy organizations in an apparent attempt to stifle criticism of Israeli policies, often by alleging that such criticism is anti-Semitic.

We call on the UCSB Academic Senate to reconsider the charges against Professor Robinson to ensure that they do not constitute a violation of his academic freedom. We also call on the university to do whatever is necessary to ensure that its own procedures for investigating a faculty member accused of violating its Faculty Code of Conduct were strictly and fully adhered to in this case. Finally, we call on UCSB to reiterate its commitment to academic freedom for all faculty, including those who address controversial and sensitive issues, and to assure its faculty that it will not succumb to pressure from external organizations pursuing political agendas intended to stifle free speech and undermine the principles of academic freedom.

Respectfully,
Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor of History, McMaster University

cc:
Henry Yang, Chancellor
Gene Lucas, Executive Vice Chancellor
David Marshall, Executive Dean
Melvin Oliver, Dean of Social Sciences

Update: Case dismissed on June 24, 2009
Read American Association of University Professor's follow-up letter to Chancellor Yang (pdf)


23 April 2009

President John Bassett
Clark University 
Geography Building, Room 202
950 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01610

Dear President Bassett, 

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association, I am writing to you to express our dismay at your decision to cancel a 21 April talk by Dr. Norman Finkelstein at your university. We regard your decision as a violation of academic freedom to which members of the Clark University community and Dr. Finkelstein are entitled.

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 more than 3000 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 elsewhere.

According to a report in the Boston Globe, Dr. Finkelstein, who was invited to the campus by the Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights, was scheduled to speak on April 21. However, in your letter, you wrote that Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture would conflict with a conference hosted by the university’s Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies scheduled to begin two days later, on April 23, and continuing until April 26. Although Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture was scheduled to occur before the conference, you wrote that in your judgment, “having Professor Finkelstein speak on the same evening as our planned conference would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding.” Since the dates of Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture and the university’s conference do not conflict, your decision to cancel his lecture appears to be an act of political censorship that violates the academic freedom of Dr. Finkelstein, and deprives the students and faculty of Clark University of the opportunity to hear him.

We would also like to note that your decision to cancel the lecture came after Hillel objected to Dr. Finkelstein’s appearance. We are further concerned, therefore, that by forcing a cancellation of Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture, you are sending a message to the larger scholarly community that academic freedom does not extend to dissident voices on issues pertaining to U.S. policy in the Middle East and Israel.

In your letter to the university’s campus newspaper, you wrote: “The University remains committed to inviting a wide range of speakers to encourage diversity of opinions on controversial topics.” In keeping with this commitment, we ask that you reconsider the cancellation of Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture.

Sincerely,
Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President and Professor, McMaster University

29 April 2009

President John Bassett
Clark University 
Geography Building, Room 202
950 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01610

Dear President Bassett, 

I have just learned of your decision to reschedule the talk by Dr. Norman Finkelstein, your earlier cancellation of which prompted my letter to you dated April 23, 2009. This is a welcome development. It sends a positive message about the importance of academic freedom, especially on issues relating to the Middle East.

The promotion of academic freedom is fundamental to credibility and relevance of institutions of higher eduction.

Sincerely,
Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President and Professor, McMaster University

Reply received April 29, 2009

Dear Professor Aksan,

Thank you for your two letters.  Professor Finkelstein did speak on the Clark Campus on April 27, only four days after the students had originally hoped he would speak.  I am not into banning speakers of any persuasion.  I did tell the students that the planned timing might seem a violation of common courtesy, given the nature of his attacks on the work of many of the speakers at a major conference scheduled on the 23rd and 24th.

What did not come out in stories, moreover, was that the students were still in the process of raising money for the talk. I did not cancel a contracted talk but intervened in a process that struck me as not being well scheduled.

When cooler but still free heads finally did prevail, the conference took place and a few days later Norman Finkelstein was able to be heard by people on the Clark campus. Clark has a long tradition of very diverse speakers being heard. That will not change on my watch.

Sincerely,
John Bassett


4 March 2009

Leon Botstein, President (pdf)
Bard College 
PO Box 5000
Annandale-on-Hudson NY 12504

Dear Dr. Botstein:

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern that your administration’s decision to terminate Joel Kovel’s appointment as Distinguished Professor of Social Studies at Bard College may have been, at least in part, politically motivated. We urge you to accord Professor Kovel a full and fair hearing, in conformity with Bard’s procedures and the standards commonly accepted in academic life, at which he can contest what he perceives to have been an unjust decision and a violation of his academic freedom. We also urge you to issue a public statement forcefully affirming Bard’s commitment to academic freedom, especially when controversial issues are involved.

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 more than 3000 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 elsewhere.

In her letter to Professor Kovel dated February 5, 2009, Dean of the College Michèle Dominy explained this decision in terms of “the imperative to distribute our resources in areas of critical academic growth and program enhancement,” while you yourself have cited “fiscal constraints.” We certainly understand the difficult choices that colleges and universities currently face. But we also take note of allegations that the decision not to renew Professor Kovel’s contract may have been the result of his publicly expressed views on Zionism and the State of Israel. If in fact Professor Kovel’s views played any part in this decision, his non-renewal would constitute a serious violation of the principles of academic freedom and a threat to all teachers and students who exercise their right to teach about, and speak out publicly on, controversial issues, including Zionism and Israel.

As you know, Joel Kovel is a well-published scholar and by all accounts a successful teacher at Bard for two decades. In recent years, however, he has been subjected to considerable criticism for his outspoken views on Zionism and Israel, and he has also been the target of a campaign to stop the University of Michigan from distributing one of his books, Overcoming Zionism, in the United States, on essentially political grounds.

Bard College’s reputation as a bastion of liberal arts education characterized by free critical inquiry is richly and justly deserved. A full and impartial hearing for Professor Kovel would be in keeping with that tradition. We hope that you will conduct such a hearing and publish your findings.

Sincerely,
Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President and Professor, McMaster University

cc: Joel Kovel

Reply received March 9, 2009

Dear Professor Aksan,

Thank you for thoughtful letter. But I  want you to know that the assumption that Bard chose not to renew Professor Kovel's contract because of his political views, which do not strike us at Bard as controversial or novel, is false. In consultation with faculty, Bard elected not to renew Professor Kovel’s contract because, like all colleges, it faces severe fiscal constraints and is doing everything it can to preserve the employment of its full-time faculty. After fifteen years of serving as the full-time occupant of a non-tenured endowed chair, he voluntarily assumed part-time status in 2004. At that time he received a five-year contract, with the understanding that after those five years the college reserved the right to renew his position on a year-to-year basis. He knew it was possible that his position might not be renewed after the 2008–2009 academic year. Professor Kovel enjoyed a fine and productive career at Bard for more than twenty years. We are sorry for and astonished at his allegations, which have no basis in fact.
 
I would also like you to know that Bard recently became the first American institution of higher education to collaborate in a dual-degree program with a Palestinian university. If you would like to read about our partnership with Al-Quds in Abu Dis, please see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/world/middleeast/15quds.html. Our goal is to improve the Palestinian education system.

Cordially,
Leon Botstein
President, Bard College


June 9, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

via fax: 202-647-2283

Dear Secretary Rice:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern regarding the State Department’s failure to respond in a timely fashion to the visa request of Professor Mahmoud Abossowa of Fatah University in Tripoli, Libya. As a result, Professor Abossowa was unable to attend a conference to which he had been invited at Harvard University, 16-18 May 2008.
  
The Middle East Studies Association of North American (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 Studiesand has more than 2800 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 elsewhere. 
Professor Abossowa was invited by the Islamic Legal Studies Program of Harvard University Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts to participate in an international conference on Waqf (pious endowments). Despite applying for his visa using the online visa request form in December 2007, well in advance of the May 2008 conference, and despite traveling from Tripoli, Libya to Tunis, Tunisia, for an interview with U.S. consular officials on 11 April 2008, no decision was made on his visa. Telephone calls and letters from Harvard’s Islamic Legal Studies Program also failed to elicit a decision. The result was the regrettable absence of Prof. Abossowa from this international conference.

MESA is committed to fostering the free exchange of knowledge as a human right and to inhibit infringements on that right by government restrictions on scholars. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide the principal standards by which human rights violations are identified today. Those rights include the right to education and work, freedom of movement and residence, and freedom of association and assembly. Infringements include governmental refusal to allow scholars to conduct scholarly research, publish their findings, deliver academic lectures, and travel to international scholarly meetings. We believe that the failure to respond to the visa requests of academics—treatment which effectively constitutes a denial of the visa—represents just such an infringement. 

Had the failure of the State Department to respond to Prof. Abossowa’s visa request been an isolated incident, we would still have voiced our concern. Unfortunately, however, the treatment suffered by Prof. Abossowa is not unique, but rather an experience to which numerous Arab and/or Muslim scholars and students have been subject in recent years.  Such treatment is profoundly counter-productive to the stated aims of our national policy. If the United States truly seeks a better understanding of and relationship with the Arab/Muslim world, it must be open to receiving and hosting a range of scholars from the region.
   
We urge you to look into the State Department’s failure to respond in the case of Prof. Abossowa. More generally, we ask that you review a process of visa application and processing which has been shown repeatedly in recent years seriously and negatively to interfere with the higher education community’s capacity to fulfill our core mission and which represents a serious threat to academic freedom.

We look forward to your response.
Sincerely,

Mervat F. Hatem
MESA President
Professor of Political Science, Howard University

cc: Ambassador Robert F. Godec 
Consul Sean Cooper 

Reply Received June 30, 2008

June 18, 2008
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Dr. Hatem:

This is in response to your letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the pending nonimmigrant visa application of Mr. Mahmoud Abossawa. We appreciate your patience in awaiting a reply.

We reviewed Department records and learned that the security clearance for Mr. Abossawa remains pending. The U.S. Department of State acts as a coordinator in our federal government’s efforts to endure that all mandated security clearances are performed on each visa applicant. When processing visa applications, U.S. Embassies must scrupulously carry out all legal and procedural requirements for the protection and security of the United States.

We are working with the relevant agencies to complete all clearance requests as expeditiously as possible. As you can appreciate, security clearances are of critical importance to our national security. Each case is unique and warrants the full scrutiny of the agencies involved in the process for which a set time frame is not appropriate. When the clearance process is concluded, the Embassy will notify Mr. Abossawa.

We regret that Mr. Abossawa was unable to receive a visa in time to attend the conference held by the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard University; however, the clearance process cannot be accelerated or waived. 

We want to assure you that we are fully cognizant of the importance of international participation in programs and conferences at U.S. colleges and universities. The Department of State recognizes the significant academic, cross-cultural, and economic benefits that international students and scholars bring to our country, and are committed to fostering academic and scientific exchanges worldwide. We have made, and will continue to make, enormous efforts to ensure that foreign scholars are able to travel to the United States to study and work in a timely manner.

We hope this information was helpful.

Sincerely,
Jane Burt-Lynn
Chief
Public Inquiries Division
Visa Service


June 9, 2008

LTG Robert M. Williams, Commandant
U.S. Army War College
Carlisle Barracks, PA 17013 
Robert.m.williams@us.army.mil

Dear Gen. Williams:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I am writing to express our concern about complaints by Dr. Sherifa Zuhur, Research Professor of Islamic and Regional Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) and a member of MESA, that she has been treated by USAWC authorities in ways that may violate USAWC’s stated policy with regard to academic freedom, as well as the standards of USAWC’s accrediting organization, the Middle States Association of Colleges.

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 more than 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to defending academic freedom, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

USAWC policy states that “academic freedom for its faculty and students is fundamental and essential to the health of the academic institution.” However, Professor Zuhur has reported to us that, in apparent violation of this policy, she has been subjected to censorship and harassment because of views she has expressed or which have been imputed to her. Among other things, Professor Zuhur reports that she has had one or more scheduled lectures at USAWC cancelled at the last minute, apparently because some USAWC officials disagreed with her opinions about, and analyses of, U.S. policy in the Middle East, and also that she has been harassed for allegedly failing to comply with USAWC’s procedures for prior review of publications and public statements – procedures that she believes have been applied arbitrarily and inconsistently and that may in any case not conform to USAWC’s avowed commitment to academic freedom. In these circumstances it is not surprising that Professor Zuhur believes that her employment contract at USAWC is not being renewed because of her views and beliefs, rather than because of her job performance.

Professor Zuhur should not be made to feel that she is being subjected to an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation that makes it impossible for her to do her job properly and that denies USAWC students and faculty, and the wider public, the full benefit of her expertise. I therefore urge you to investigate Professor Zuhur’s complaints and ensure that all USAWC personnel comply fully and consistently with its policies on academic freedom and on prior review of publications and public remarks by faculty.

Sincerely,

Mervat F. Hatem
MESA President
Professor of Political Science, Howard University

cc: Sherifa Zuhur


June 2, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street NW 
Washington, DC 20520

Re: Prevention of students from Gaza from studying abroad

Dear Secretary Rice,

We are writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch, the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and the Committee for Human Rights of the American Anthropological Association to welcome the State Department's decision to reinstate the Fulbright grants that had been awarded for the coming academic year to Palestinian students living in the Gaza Strip. We appreciated in particular your own objection to the department’s earlier decision to “redirect” the awards because of Israel’s blanket refusal to allow students in Gaza to travel abroad, or to the West Bank, to continue their education.

We remain concerned, however, about the sequence of decisions and the official statements that accompanied them. According to The New York Times, seven Palestinian students received letters on May 29, 2008, informing them that the grants awarded to them earlier for study in the United States had been “redirected” because Israeli authorities refused them permission to leave the Gaza Strip. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that because the students “could not get visas,” the State Department decided to transfer the awards to students in the West Bank “rather than lose them for this year.”

On May 30, following disclosure of the State Department’s actions, department spokesman Casey said that US officials “have been actively speaking to Israeli officials here in Washington” and “noted the secretary’s personal concern about this issue.” When queried further, Casey said, “I think the conversations that have been held today indicated that the Israelis appreciated and understood our concerns about this issue.”

These statements, and the June 1 decision to reinstate the grants, do not explain why the State Department, over strenuous objections from the Fulbright program, “redirected” them in the first place. This action displayed a disturbing readiness on the part of the United States to actively support Israel’s policy of strict closure on the Gaza Strip, a policy that has caused grave harm to the population there and constitutes collective punishment, a serious violation of international law. Rather than accommodate Israel’s unlawful restrictions, the United States should vigorously challenge them at every opportunity.

We also want to call your attention to the fact that Israel’s refusal to allow students to resume or begin university studies outside of Gaza has affected many more students than these Fulbright awardees. We urge you to take this opportunity to call on Israel to allow all students in Gaza, except where there are legitimate security concerns specific to particular individuals, to exercise their right to freedom of movement and access to education. At a minimum, the United States should clearly and publicly disassociate itself from Israel’s policy of collective punishment as it affects students seeking to study abroad.

Both Human Rights Watch and the Middle East Studies Association have over the past year called on Israel to remove blanket restrictions that have prevented hundreds of Palestinian students from leaving the Gaza Strip to study abroad. In November 2007, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to cease its arbitrary denial of exit permits to some 670 students in Gaza from pursuing higher studies abroad. The Middle East Studies Association also raised this matter in letters to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. By late 2007, the number of students and dependents in Gaza seeking to study abroad had risen to approximately 1,100. Israel allowed fewer than half of those to leave Gaza for Egypt and Jordan for exit to third countries, and hundreds remained cut off from the possibility of studying abroad. According to the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, between one and two thousand students in Gaza seek to leave to study abroad each year, but since January 13 of this year none had been permitted to do so. Israel has also insisted that the Rafah crossing on Gaza’s border with Egypt remain closed; during the several days in late January when the border was breached, Egypt allowed only persons who already had visas to third countries to proceed to Cairo.

Gaza’s students need to have access to higher education abroad. Opportunities in the Gaza Strip are currently quite limited. Many degrees are not at all available in the four universities there. For instance, there are no undergraduate degrees in languages other than Arabic, English, and French, and no master’s degrees in law, journalism, and information technology. Doctoral degrees are not offered at all. Israel rarely permits professors and lecturers from outside Gaza to enter to teach there.

Israel’s restrictions on Gaza students seeking to study abroad are part of its more comprehensive and increasingly severe policy of closure. Since June 2007 Israel has enforced a strict blockade of the Gaza Strip, preventing, with very few exceptions, people and goods from entering or leaving the territory. Israeli officials say that the strict closure policy is intended to suppress rocket and other attacks by Palestinian armed groups, many of which hit civilian areas in Israel in violation of the international humanitarian law prohibition of attacks that target or cause indiscriminate harm to civilians. The strict closure’s impact on the ability of the armed groups to carry out these attacks is highly debatable. What is clear is that the policy has had a grave impact on the access of Gaza’s civilian population to essential goods and services, including education, and violates Israel’s obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention on occupations to protect the rights of Palestinians to, among other things, freedom of movement and to secure access to education.

International humanitarian law and human rights law permits restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons, but the restrictions must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat. Israeli restrictions clearly exceed these norms, and constitute collective punishment, a serious violation of international law.

With this in mind, we strongly urge you to use this opportunity to call on Israel to cease those restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip that constitute collective punishment, including restrictions that prevent Gaza residents from studying abroad, and to disassociate the United States from any inference of support for those policies.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa division
Human Rights Watch

Amy Newhall
Executive Director
Middle East Studies Association of North America

Setha Low
President
American Anthropological Association


4 November 2007

Father Dennis Dease, President
Mail AQU 100
University of St. Thomas
2115 Summit Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55205

Dear Father Dease, 

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) first to express our appreciation for your decision on October 10 to invite Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at the University. We commend you for your candid admission that your earlier decision to withhold the invitation on the basis of incomplete information on Tutu’s positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a mistake. However, in view of your commitment to academic freedom at St. Thomas, we also wish to express our concern about another aspect of this case: The removal of Dr. Cris Toffolo as director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program by the university administration.

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 more than 2700 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 elsewhere.

Dr. Toffolo in a public statement admitted that she and a priest-colleague in the program sent a letter to Archbishop Tutu informing him that the university had decided not to invite him to speak on campus as part of a program sponsored by PeaceJam International. Dr. Toffolo believes that she was removed from her position because of her resistance to this decision and the action she took to inform Archbishop Tutu and others of the university’s position. In the August 1 letter dismissing her from her position, the university’s executive vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Tom Rochon, said Dr. Toffolo was being dismissed “for cause” for four reasons including the letter that she wrote to Tutu with copies sent to the executive director of PeaceJam International, the Episcopalian Justice office that deals with Christian-Jewish dialogue and three retired senior clergy whom she and her colleague had consulted for advice. Dr. Rochon later told the student newspaper that Dr. Toffolo was removed for lapses of ethics and competence in the performance of her job, charges that Dr. Toffolo adamantly denies. A petition signed by faculty and staff asks that the university reinstate Dr. Toffolo as director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program and apologize for the punitive actions taken against her.

The university’s commitment to academic freedom should protect a faculty member such as Dr. Toffolo from reprisals when speaking or writing in opposition to a decision made by the university administration. Archbishop Tutu has stated that he will not speak at St. Thomas unless Dr. Toffolo is re-instated in her position, which would in effect nullify your decision to invite him to speak on campus. Unless the removal of Dr. Toffolo is reversed, the university’s actions will have a chilling effect on free speech at St. Thomas Univesity.   

Therefore, we call on you and the university administration to uphold the university’s commitment to academic freedom and re-instate Dr. Toffolo in her position.  

Sincerely,

Zachary Lockman
MESA President


4 September 2007 

Marshall M. Bouton, President
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
332 S. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1100
Chicago, Illinois 60604-4416

Dear Mr. Bouton:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We wish to convey to you our distress regarding your decision to cancel a forum, scheduled for September 27, 2007, in which two of this country’s most distinguished professors of Political Science, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, were to speak about their new book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. This action on your part constitutes a serious violation of the principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas. We urge you to invite professors Walt and Mearsheimer to speak at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at a mutually convenient time in the near future. It is important to rectify the effect that your cancellation on July 24 has had in reinforcing an intellectual environment that seeks to restrict informed and critical discussion of issues that are vital to this country’s future.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (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 Studiesand has more than 2600 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 elsewhere.

According to numerous press reports, pressure from supporters of Israel who are critical of Walt and Mearsheimer led you to take the highly unusual step of canceling the previously scheduled event.  In these reports, you are cited as saying that the speakers are controversial and that you preferred that they appear in “an appropriate forum” balanced by an opposing viewpoint. Yet, John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, have spoken before the Council on numerous occasions in the past without being forced to share the podium with those who oppose their points of view.  It is only in this case, that of a presentation critical of Israeli policy and its supporters, that they have been subjected to the litmus test of “balance.” We regret that you chose to succumb to pressure exerted on the Council and are dismayed that in justifying your actions you have adopted the argument that controversial ideas should not be aired unless they are immediately and at the same event “balanced” by opposing views.  
 
As the Association of American University Professors, the American Civil Liberties Union, and many other organizations have persuasively argued in official statements, the argument of “balance,” selectively invoked, has been repeatedly used to stifle the free exchange of ideas, especially when it comes to discussions about Israel and U.S. foreign policy. We are concerned that your decision --reminiscent of that taken by the Council-General of the Polish Consulate in New York to cancel a talk on Israel and U.S. foreign policy on October 3, 2006 by the renowned historian New York University Professor Tony Judt-- contributes to raising the wall of censorship.  Indeed, three other organizations in Chicago as well the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, among others, have since either cancelled or turned down appearances by the authors.

We strongly urge you to reconsider your decision of July 24, and in the process affirm your support for free expression and the free exchange of ideas, by inviting Professors Walt and Mearsheimer to give a talk at the Council without requiring that they share the podium and without restrictions on the content of their presentation.
  
We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Zachary Lockman
MESA President


4 September 2007

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
President De Paul University
1 E. Jackson
Chicago, Illinois 60604
Fax: 312-362-7577

Dear President Holtschneider:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern and dismay at what appear to be your university’s multiple and egregious violations of generally accepted standards of academic procedure in handling the tenure case of Professor Norman G. Finkelstein.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in its field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studiesand has more than 2700 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 elsewhere.
 
As you will remember, the Committee sent you a letter dated April 10, 2007, in which it expressed its grave concern about the politicization of Professor Finkelstein’s tenure case as a result of the campaign launched against him by Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard University Law School.  In that letter we urged you to ensure that Professor Finkelstein be evaluated for tenure at DePaul solely on the basis of his scholarship, his teaching, and his service to his university and professional communities, and that all aspects of Professor Finkelstein’s tenure process adhere to generally accepted procedures and standards. We regret that you did not choose to respond to that letter.

Unfortunately, developments at DePaul since that letter was sent indicate that proper procedures and standards were not being adhered to in Professor Finkelstein’s case. As a consequence the Committee now feels compelled to write you again, because in the aftermath of DePaul’s decision to deny tenure to Professor Finkelstein your administration appears to have violated accepted academic procedures and standards in at least two ways.

First, we deem unacceptable your administration’s refusal to permit Professor Finkelstein to pursue a formal appeal of the decision to deny him tenure. As you no doubt know, such a right of appeal is accepted by most leading institutions of higher education in this country. Our concern about this arbitrary and unjust decision is shared by your own university’s Faculty Council and by the American Association of University Professors, among others.

Second, we feel obliged to register our distress at reports that your administration has, just a few days before the beginning of the fall semester, suddenly decided to prevent Professor Finkelstein from teaching during his terminal year at DePaul, taken away his office, and put him on paid administrative leave. As you surely know, it is customary to permit faculty who have been denied tenure to teach for one final year. Your administration’s abrupt decision to prevent Professor Finkelstein (who is by all accounts an outstanding teacher) from doing so, without his agreement and despite strong objections from members of your own faculty and student body, strikes us as high-handed, if not vindictive.

However one judges Professor Finkelstein’s qualifications for tenure, it seems clear that DePaul has mishandled his case in a variety of ways and has repeatedly violated generally accepted standards of academic process and fair play. In so doing your administration has in effect given aid and comfort to those who seek to undermine the academy as a bastion of academic freedom and as a forum for the open and critical discussion of issues of vital public concern.

We live in a time when scholars, teachers and institutions of higher education across the United States are facing extraordinary pressures and vituperative assaults from individuals and organized groups based outside the academy and pursuing narrow partisan agendas, particularly with respect to United States policy in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is therefore highly distressing that you and your administration at DePaul have in this case signally failed to adhere to accepted standards of academic procedure or to protect the rights of every member of your faculty.

We therefore call on you to promptly reconsider and reverse both of these arbitrary and misguided decisions, in order to undo the damage already done to DePaul University’s reputation as an institution of higher education and to help protect the norms of academic life and the principle of academic freedom that your university professes to cherish.

Sincerely,

Zachary Lockman
MESA President


June 11, 2007

Gerald A. Reynolds
Chair of the Commission
United States Commission on Civil Rights
Regional Office
624 Ninth Street, NW
Washington DC 20425

Dear Chairman Reynolds and Members of the Commission,

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to express our grave concern with aspects both of the briefing report titled “Campus Anti-Semitism,” released by the United States Commission on Civil Rights earlier this year, and of the “Findings and Recommendations of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Regarding Campus Anti-Semitism,” dated April 3, 2006.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (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 more than 2700 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 elsewhere.

MESA rejects all forms of hate speech and discrimination, including anti-Semitism. It supports prompt and forceful action in response to anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses. MESA also endorses the Commission’s efforts to increase awareness of anti-Semitism on university campuses.

However, MESA is concerned that the briefing report and findings issued by the Commission may actually weaken efforts to combat anti-Semitism by expanding its definition to include an indefensibly broad range of legitimate speech and conduct. We are also concerned that false allegations associating Middle East studies programs and faculty with anti-Semitism may contribute to an already troubling environment of harassment, intimidation and censorship of faculty and students on college and university campuses, thereby threatening academic freedom.

Three issues are of particular concern to MESA. First, we are deeply troubled by the Commission’s apparent acceptance of an overly broad and vague definition of anti-Semitism that dangerously blurs the boundaries between actual anti-Semitic speech and conduct, on the one hand, and criticism of Israel, Zionism, or U.S. policy in the Middle East on the other. As a result, the briefing report and the Commission’s findings seem to accept or even endorse assertions made by panelists who submitted statements to the Commission that entirely legitimate views and policy positions with which they disagree should be characterized as anti-Semitic. Such assertions are particularly distressing when they involve scholarship and teaching by college and university faculty. Wherever anti-Semitism surfaces, an immediate and vigorous response is necessary. But efforts to demonize academic and other critics of Israel, Zionism, and U.S. policy in the Middle East by tarring them with the brush of anti-Semitism are clearly unacceptable and merit no less urgent and vigorous a response.
       
Second, we reject as unfounded the allegations and insinuations presented in the briefing report that university departments of Middle East studies promote anti-Semitism. The briefing report presents no evidence whatsoever that would substantiate such scurrilous claims, and none of the instances of anti-Semitism referred to in the report involved a federally-funded Middle East studies center. Unfortunately, the Commission permitted members of the briefing panel to repeat, without challenge, unfounded allegations concerning individual faculty members specializing in the study of the Middle East and/or Islam, all of whom have rejected the charges against them and denied their truthfulness. Several of these faculty members have in fact been subjected to exhaustive investigations by their universities which have not substantiated the allegations repeated in the Commission’s briefing.

We also insist that it is inappropriate and inaccurate for the Commission to have included among its findings the assertion that “many university departments of Middle East studies provide one-sided, highly polemical academic presentations and some may repress legitimate debate concerning Israel.” This assertion too is completely unsupported by evidence and should be stricken from the Commission’s findings.

Third, we are concerned that the procedure by which the briefing report was produced was defective; that much of its tone and contents is highly polemical and fall far short of the standard that Americans have a right to expect the Commission to adhere to; and that it may contribute to an environment on university campuses that undermines academic freedom as well as the kind of first-rate scholarly research and teaching on the Middle East and the Muslim world which our country so desperately needs.

As the briefing report notes, all of the universities invited to take part in the briefing declined to do so. To our knowledge, no representative of university-based Middle East studies programs or of the academic Middle East studies community was invited to participate. The briefing report, and the responses to it by several universities against which allegations were made, make it clear that the panelists presented a very partial, highly ideological, and narrowly partisan understanding of academic Middle East studies in this country and sought to define anti-Semitism extremely broadly and loosely. We fear that their purpose in so doing was to advance their own partisan political agenda, strengthen efforts to impose political litmus tests on college and university faculty, subject federally-funded Middle East studies programs to politically-motivated oversight, undermine academic freedom, and stifle free and open discussion on public issues of critical national importance.

We also note that efforts to dilute and expand the definition of anti-Semitism so as to encompass legitimate speech and conduct can have damaging consequences for efforts to address and combat real anti-Semitism. By adopting a vague and politicized definition of this insidious form of hate speech, the Commission increases the risk that attention and resources that are better directed toward combating real anti-Semitism will instead be diverted to politically-motivated efforts to censor unpopular or controversial views expressed by university faculty. We urge the Commission not to pursue or endorse such a course, but rather to focus its efforts on real forms and incidents of discrimination and hate speech, including anti-Semitism.

By accepting panelists’ unsubstantiated allegations and insinuations about biased and unprofessional conduct among Middle East studies programs and faculty, and by allowing them to be publicly tainted with the brush of anti-Semitism, the Commission has imposed a substantial burden on these programs and individuals. It is incumbent on the Commission to relieve this burden. We therefore call upon the Commission to clarify its definition of anti-Semitism by more effectively distinguishing it from criticism of Israel or of Zionism, and to state publicly that the allegations and insinuations contained in the briefing report and findings concerning Middle East studies programs and faculty are unsubstantiated by evidence and do not reflect the views of the Commission.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
President

cc:       Abigail Thernstrom, Vice Chair 
            Kenneth L. Marcus, Staff Director
            Jennifer C. Braceras, Commissioner
            Peter N. Kirsanow, Commissioner
            Arlan D. Melendez, Commissioner
            Ashley L. Taylor, Jr., Commissioner
            Michael Yaki, Commissioner


10 April 2007

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
President De Paul University
1 E. Jackson
Chicago, Illinois 60604
Fax: 312-362-7577

Dear Father Holtschneider:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern regarding the tenure case of Professor Norman Finkelstein.

We fear that the generally accepted academic procedures which should have been used to evaluate Professor Finkelstein’s scholarship, and thus his qualifications for promotion to tenure, may have been unduly politicized. We are particularly concerned that Professor Finkelstein has apparently been subjected to a campaign waged by an influential senior scholar outside his field from another university, which is designed to undermine his candidacy for tenure, on ideological rather than scholarly grounds.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (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 Studiesand has more than 2700 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 elsewhere.

We recognize that some people may regard Professor Finkelstein’s scholarship as controversial. He has certainly engaged in some of the most charged debates about the history and historiography of the Arab-Israeli conflict and other topics. In the context of Professor Finkelstein’s interventions in these debates he has had several highly publicized exchanges with Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard University Law School, whose book The Case for Israel (Wiley, 2003) Professor Finkelstein has subjected to scathing criticism on a variety of grounds. According to Inside Higher Ed as well as a widely disseminated report by Professor Jon Wiener in The Nation, Professor Dershowitz went to extraordinary lengths to prevent the publication of Professor Finkelstein’s critique Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of AntiSemitism and the Abuse of History (University of California Press, 2004). Those reports indicate that Professor Dershowitz authorized what Professor Wiener described as “threatening letters” to the counsel, to the university regents, to the university provost, to seventeen directors of the press and to nineteen members of the press's faculty editorial committee. Professor Dershowitz also appealed to the governor of California to stop the publication of the book. Fortunately, both the University of California Press and the governor’s office defended the principle of academic freedom in this case and refused to stop the publication of Professor Finkelstein’s book.

According to a Chronicle of Higher Education story dated 5 April 2007, Professor Dershowitz has admitted to sending a dossier critical of Professor Finkelstein to members of DePaul’s Law School and of its political science department. We regard this blatant and entirely unsolicited intervention in a tenure case by a very well-known faculty member from a different university as unacceptable. We fear that it may have unduly politicized and/or prejudiced your university’s consideration of Professor Finkelstein’s candidacy for tenure. This intervention is particularly distressing because it comes at a time when we have witnessed other instances of efforts by individuals or organizations to influence hiring, tenure or promotion decisions, based not on the candidate’s scholarship but rather on his or her political views, real or imputed.

We also note that a memorandum dated 22 March 2007 and written by Chuck Suchar, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at DePaul University, to the University Board on Tenure and Promotion seems to conflate the tone of Professor Finkelstein’s work with the substance of his scholarship. We would like to remind you that the American Association of University Professors clearly stipulates that scholars are to be evaluated strictly on the basis of their scholarship’s academic merit and their teaching –not on their collegiality, nor on whether some may deem their scholarly work too controversial. In this regard we are also concerned that Dean Suchar’s memorandum seems to judge Professor Finkelstein on the basis of his alleged failure to conform to what the dean describes as the “Vincentian value of ‘personalism,’” which is not generally accepted as a proper criterion for promotion to tenure.

We understand that Professor Finkelstein’s tenure evaluation is not yet concluded. We urge you and your colleagues to ensure that that evaluation henceforth proceeds in a manner that conforms to generally accepted procedures, such that Professor Finkelstein is evaluated solely on the basis of his scholarship, his teaching, and his service to the DePaul community and to the academic fields in which he works.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President


February 14, 2007

Christopher Nikoloff
Head of School
Harker School
500 Saratoga Ave.
San Jose, CA 95129
Fax: 408-984-2325

Dear Mr. Nikoloff:

On behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and the Committee on Academic Freedom, I am writing to express our profound concern about the abrupt decision of the Harker School administration to cancel a talk to its upper school students by Professor Joel Beinin, scheduled for January 19, 2007.

The Middle East Studies Association of North American (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 Studiesand has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to defending academic freedom, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere. As you are aware, Professor Beinin is a former president of MESA. However, the Committee on Academic Freedom is sending you this letter in its own right.

It is our understanding that Professor Beinin was invited to present a talk to Harker's upper school students and faculty as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series. On January 18th, however, the Head of Harker Upper School contacted Professor Beinin and informed him that the school administration had revoked the invitation, citing pressures that threatened to undermine its financial position and public reputation. According to press reports in the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, that pressure was exerted by a small group of individuals, including the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Silicon Valley.

Your school’s decision to cancel Professor Beinin’s talk is a violation of academic freedom, a principle that is vital to the cultivation of democratic values and informed critical thinking, and which your school claims is central to its educational mission. The cancellation also deprives the students, faculty and staff of Harker of the opportunity to hear, and engage with, an important and highly informed voice on Middle East history and current politics, topics of supreme importance to American citizens today. Professor Joel Beinin is an eminent historian of the modern Middle East and of Jewish history. He has been a member of the faculty of Stanford University for more than a quarter century and is currently director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo.

It is distressing that individuals and organizations purporting to speak for the American Jewish community seem to have been able to prevent your students and faculty from hearing the views of a respected scholar and teacher. This appears to be another success for various local and national organizations seeking to marginalize voices critical of U.S. foreign policy and the policies of the Israeli government. 

We strongly urge you to resist such outside pressures and renew your school’s invitation to Professor Beinin. This would send an important signal to your students and to the community at large that Harker School remains committed to the principle of academic freedom and to freedom of speech more broadly.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
President

cc: Richard Hartzel
Head of Harker Upper School
500 Saratoga Avenue
San Jose, CA 95129
Fax: 408-984-2325

Diane Fisher
Executive Director
Jewish Community Relations Council of Silicon Valley
dfisher@jcrcsv.org


October 19, 2006

His Excellency Christopher Kastryzk
Consul-General 
Republic of Poland 
233 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Fax: 646 237 2105 

Your Excellency, 

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We wish to convey to you our distress regarding your decision on the afternoon of October 3 to cancel abruptly a talk that Professor Tony Judt was scheduled to give a few hours later that evening. This action on your part constitutes a serious affront to the principles of free expression and the free exchange of ideas. We urge you to invite Dr. Judt to speak at the Consulate at a mutually convenient time in the near future and on a subject of his choosing. It is important to rectify the chilling effect that your cancellation on October 3 has had on the free exchange of ideas.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (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 more than 2600 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 elsewhere.

Dr. Judt’s October 3 talk had been arranged by Network 20/20, an independent New York City-based membership organization that sponsors lectures and discussion panels on issues relating to United States foreign policy. According to Network 20/20, many of its events are held at the Polish Consulate, and the Consulate had been generous and supportive of their efforts over the years. Dr. Judt’s cancelled talk was to be on U.S. foreign policy and the role of the pro-Israel lobby. Approximately 100 persons had been expected to attend. The president of Network 20/20, Patricia Huntington, told our committee that the Consulate had never before cancelled any of its programs there.

According to Ms. Huntington, a member of your staff telephoned her at 4:15 p.m. on the day of the event to tell her that it was cancelled. When she asked to speak with you, your staff member said that this was not possible because you were on the telephone with Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and that you had been on this call “a long time.” After notifying Dr. Judt of your sudden cancellation, she and other Network staff members, who had planned to arrive at the Consulate at 5 p.m. as usual to set up refreshments and deal with other logistics of the event, instead tried to notify meeting participants of the cancellation. In a subsequent press release, Network 20/20 said, “the consulate informed us that they were canceling the event because it was ‘too controversial.’ We regret that the Polish Consulate felt compelled to cancel Tony Judt’s talk.”

You have told the press that “maybe four” groups had called you on October 3 to express concern about Dr. Judt’s talk, but you declined to identify them. It now appears that the ADL person you were then speaking with was someone calling on Mr. Foxman’s behalf. Mr. Foxman has publicly denied allegations that the ADL put any pressure on you to cancel the event, but also said, “I think they made the right decision.”

David Harris, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, has said that he was one of the callers. “We didn’t want [the Consul General] to get blind-sided by any criticism that may emerge,” he said, according to an account in the Jewish Week of October 13. “It was natural to pick up the phone and say, ‘We want to be sure you know Tony Judt is a controversial figure in the Jewish community, and we want to understand whether you’re aware of it, because otherwise there could be misunderstandings.’” Harris said he “didn’t go to the extent of menacing or threatening, or any such thing,” and “I certainly didn’t ask the consul general to take any particular action.” According to press accounts, Mr. Harris has also commended the Consulate for doing “the right thing.”

From a perspective of protecting academic freedom and the core democratic principles of free speech and the free exchange of ideas, it is our view that you did the wrong thing.

In an interview with the Jewish Week, you said, “It’s not true that they threatened or made any pressure. They simply expressed concern.” Elsewhere you said, “The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure. That’s obvious – we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that.”

You have also said, “I don’t have to subscribe to the first Amendment,” and that you took your decision “for my state’s interests.” Of course, as Consul General you and your government have every right to determine what takes place at the consulate. In this case, however, Network 20/20 has used your premises regularly for several years, at your invitation. Your decision to cancel Dr. Judt’s talk at literally the last minute, following these telephone calls, reflects a disturbing disregard for freedom of expression, a principle that the governments of Poland and the United States have pledged to respect. It is difficult to avoid concluding that pressure was indeed exerted on you by various pro-Israel organizations, however elegantly it may have been conveyed. We regret that you chose to succumb to that pressure, thereby conveying a message that you do not consider the free exchange of ideas to be worthy of your support when those ideas are “controversial.”

We strongly urge you to reconsider your decision of October 3, and in the process affirm your support for free expression and the free exchange of ideas, by inviting Professor Judt to give a talk at the Consulate at a mutually convenient time and on a subject of his choosing.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Juan Cole
President

cc: Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League 
Fax: 212-895-7700
David Harris, Executive Vice President, American Jewish Committee 
Fax: 212-891-1492
Patricia Huntington, President, Network 20/20 
Fax: 212-586-3291


October 3, 2006

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
Fax: 202-647-2283

Dear Secretary Rice:

We, the Middle East Studies Association of North America’s Committee on Academic Freedom, are writing to express our grave concern and dismay over the Department of State’s denial of a visa for a second time to a world-renowned scholar of Islam, Professor Tareq Ramadan. It is apparent that this decision was made on purely political grounds, in clear violation of the principles of academic freedom and free speech, both of which are critical to the functioning of a healthy democracy. We urge you in the strongest terms to review and reverse this decision without delay.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (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 more than 2600 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 elsewhere.

On August 30, 2004, we wrote asking for clarification regarding the Department of State’s then-recent decision to revoke the visa Dr. Ramadan had already been granted so that he could take the prestigious Luce Chair at the University o Notre Dame. As specialists in the region familiar with Ramadan's record, we stated that there was absolutely no evidence for the allegations then circulating in some media outlets claiming that Dr. Ramadan had advocated violence or had been associated with groups that perpetrate violence. On the contrary, numerous reputable scholars from prestigious universities had testified to his academic credentials and his character as a researcher and teacher.

In response, in a letter dated 3 September and addressed to MESA’s Executive Director, Dr. Amy Newhall, the State Department stated that the visa had been revoked “prudentially based on information that became available after the visa was issued” and that “Due to the confidentiality of visa records, as provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act, [the Department of State] was not able to provide any details concerning this matter.”

Following the June 2006 ruling by a federal court which ordered the State Department either to grant the visa to Dr. Ramadan or provide an explanation for not doing so, Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus stated that Dr. Ramadan was denied a visa “for providing material support to a terrorist organization.” This charge is apparently based on the fact that he made donations between 2000 and 2004 in the amount of 600 euros to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians – donations which Dr. Ramadan himself disclosed in his visa application. Thus, in denying him a visa, the US government is apparently using Section 411(a)(1)(A)(iii) of the Patriot Act, related to excluding individuals believed to have provided “material support” for terrorism.

That contributions to European organizations seeking to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation is viewed by the US government as constituting support for terrorism, already speaks volumes about the administration’s lack of understanding of the region and the quality of its stated concern to promote freedom and democracy in the Middle East. It is also unreasonable to expect that Dr. Ramadan should have had advance knowledge that the United States would at a future date put the organization to which he was contributing on its list of groups supporting Hamas; it figured on no such list at the time he made his donations.

Dr. Ramadan is a leading scholar and public intellectual whose writings and statements make clear his opposition to violence and terrorism. Indeed, the basic concern that motivates much of his work is one of reconciliation and interfaith coexistence. It seems clear that Dr. Ramadan’s charitable contributions in fact have nothing at all to do with the visa denial: its origins lie elsewhere. By his own account of the visa interviews conducted at the US embassy in Switzerland, the focus of the questioning was his positions on Palestine and Iraq. On these questions, like many others, Muslims and non-Muslims, Americans and non-Americans, scholars, intellectuals, and average citizens, Tareq Ramadan has been a critic of US policy in Palestine/Israel and Iraq. It appears that this visa denial has nothing whatsoever to do with his donations, but instead is punishment for his political views.

As we stated in our letter of 2004, “denying qualified scholars entry to the United States because of their political beliefs strikes at the core of academic freedom. On that basis alone, the decision to deny Dr. Ramadan access to our country is unacceptable.” We also find the decision profoundly counter-productive to the stated aims of US policy, which is to develop a better understanding of Muslims and the Muslim world. It is clearly in US interests to encourage dialogue and exchange with Muslims, particularly prominent and highly regarded members of Muslim communities who do not espouse violence, regardless of what their positions on US foreign policy may be. How does it serve the interests of the United States, which is currently seeking to improve its ties with and image in the Arab/Islamic world, to exclude from entry one of that world’s most highly regarded thinkers and scholars?

We are deeply troubled by this second denial of a visa to Dr. Ramadan. It is a clear violation of academic freedom and of the principle of free speech. We respectfully request that you review and reverse this decision without delay.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole
MESA President

cc: Ambassador Karen Hughes
ACLU


October 3, 2006

Ambassador Karen Hughes
Under Secretary
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs United States 
U. S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: 202-647-9140

Dear Madame Ambassador:

The Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association has taken the liberty of forwarding to you a copy of a letter we sent to the Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleeza Rice, concerning the denial of an entry visa to the noted Islamic scholar, Tareq Ramadan.

We are concerned about an increasing number of visa cancellations of this nature. Such denials have had negative consequences for the image of the United States in the Muslim world and have also given rise to significant problems in the promotion and expansion of student and scholar exchange programs. It has adversely affected as the ability of our members to conduct research abroad and develop and maintain important scholarly and collegial connections in the Arab Middle East.

Individual members of our committee have expressed an interest in working with you and your staff to reach a larger understanding of the impact of current visa policies on shared interests and goals in the region.

Please feel free to contact Amy Newhall, Executive Director of MESA, who can put you in touch with relevant committee members.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Juan R. I. Cole
MESA President


June 20, 2006

Andrew D. Hamilton
Provost 
Yale University
PO Box 208365
New Haven, CT 06520-8365

Dear Dr. Hamilton,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. We understand from recent press reports that Yale University’s History and Sociology departments had recently approved a decision to extend an offer of joint appointment to Dr. Juan Cole. According to these reports, the university’s Senior Appointments Committee subsequently voted to overturn that decision.

We are also aware that Dr. Cole’s candidacy for this position had attracted considerable hostile attention in some conservative media outlets as a result of critical positions Dr. Cole has articulated concerning policies of the governments of the United States and Israel. Our Committee is concerned that politically-motivated pressures outside and inside the university rather than professional norms may have influenced the Senior Appointments Committee’s decision to overrule the recommendation of the two departments.

We would welcome any clarification you can provide about measures the university has taken to ensure that such external and non-professional influences do not influence decisions on appointments. We would also appreciate knowing if the university plans to take any steps, such as an official independent inquiry, into the decision not to appoint Dr. Cole.

As you may know, Dr. Cole currently serves as president of the Middle East Studies Association. We are, however, an independent committee acting in our own right out of concern that political considerations may have played a role in the decision not to hire Dr. Cole. Dr. Cole, additionally, has formally recused himself from this matter inside MESA and the Committee on Academic Freedom.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this inquiry. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely, 
Joe Stork
Chair
Committee on Academic Freedom

June 30, 2006

Mr. Joe Stork
Chair
Committee on Academic Freedom
Middle East Studies Association of North America
The University of Arizona
1219 N. Santa Rita Avenue
Tucson AZ 85721

Dear Mr. Stork:

As you can imagine, Yale’s policy on confidentiality prohibits me from commenting publicly on any appointment matter, including that of Professor Juan Cole, about which you wrote to me. I can categorically assure you that Yale’s search and the appointment processes are carefully monitored, both by a dean and by members of the Provost’s Office, and this is particularly so when specific appointments draws special internal or external attention. Our criteria for appointment are based solely on an individual’s scholarship, teaching, and service, and an individual’s political views are never taken into account in making appointment decisions. We also have robust procedures that the Provost may initiate if he or she has questions about the outcome of an appointment. No such procedure has been initiated in this case.

Sincerely,
Andrew D. Hamilton
Provost


March 13, 2006

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
FAX: 202-647-2283

Dear Secretary Rice:

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express our very grave concern regarding the United States government’s blanket denial of visas to fifty-five Cuban scholars scheduled to participate in the Latin American Studies Association’s (LASA) International Congress, to be held on March 15-18, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We urge you to reverse the State Department’s decision, which seriously interferes with the higher education community’s capacity to fulfill our core mission and represents a serious threat to academic freedom.

MESA is committed to fostering the free exchange of knowledge as a human right and to inhibit infringements on that right by government restrictions on scholars. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide the principal standards by which human rights violations are identified today. Those rights include the right to education and work, freedom of movement and residence, and freedom of association and assembly. Infringements include governmental refusal to allow scholars to conduct scholarly research, publish their findings, deliver academic lectures, and travel to international scholarly meetings. We believe that the denial of visas to these academics represents just such an infringement.
We urge you to reconsider the recent decision to deny visas to the Cuban scholars scheduled to participate in the XXVI International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association. Intellectual exchange and scholarly collaboration across national borders is essential for our community. It is critical for foreign scholars to have freedom of access to our academic meetings—and just as critical for American scholars to be free to engage in scholarly argument about significant contested issues in our fields. These activities only benefit us all. 

Sincerely,
Amy W. Newhall, PhD

Response to letter sent March 13, 2006

Amy W. Newhall, Executive Director
Middle East Studies Association
The University of Arizona
1219 N. Santa Rita Ave
Tucson AZ 85721

April 26, 2006

Dear Dr. Newhall:

Thank you for your recent letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing concerns on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) regarding the denial of visas for Cuban scholars who wished to attend the Latin American Studies Association conference. I have been asked to respond to your inquiry personally. Due to mail screening procedures, we have only recently received your letter. We appreciate your patience in awaiting a response.

The Department of State is keenly aware of the importance of international participation in the United States’ academic and scientific communities. Foreign students and scholars enrich our country culturally and intellectually, help foster international goodwill, and assist in promoting United States interests abroad. We at the Department are fundamentally committed to protecting the openness of the United States while ensuring the security of our borders. Although security must remain our first priority, we work every day to see that access to our country is not impeded for those whose presence we encourage and value.

While we enthusiastically support and administer visa programs for legitimate travel to the United States, visas can only be issued in strict accordance with the criteria in the Immigrant and Nationality Act (INA). Each visa application is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, and consular officers attempt to be as sensitive as possible to applicants’ situations. However, the officer’s first responsibility is to conscientiously administer the INA, and the fundamental issue is whether the applicant qualifies for the visa under US law on his or her own individual merits.

Current US immigration law, in conjunction with Presidential Proclamation 5377 of October 4, 1985, suspends entry in toe the United States of officers and employees of the Cuban Government and Communist Party, with very limited exceptions. Under these circumstances we approve vises for Cubans only when doing so supports US foreign policy interest in our efforts to advance the prospects for a democratic transition in Cuba.

We hope this information is helpful.

Sincerely,
Dale Rumsbarger
for 
Julie Furuta-Toy
Director
Office of Diplomatic and Public Liaison Visa Services


April 7, 2005

The Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg
Mayor
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
By facsimile: 212 788 8123

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern regarding the recent decision by the Chancellor Joel I. Klein to exclude Professor Rashid Khalidi from any further participation in teacher development workshops.  This decision violates the right to impart and exchange information, one of the basic tenets of academic freedom and an essential right for elementary and secondary school teachers as well as university professors.

[MESA is...]

Chancellor Klein’s decision, which was announced by his press secretary, Mr. Jerry Russo, was explained as a response to past statements made by Professor Khalidi that were critical of Israel. Mr. Russo is reported to have said, “Considering his past statements, Rashid Khalidi should not have been included in a program that provided professional development for DOE teachers and he won’t be participating in the future.”  The suggestion that responsible criticism of Israel and its policies should disqualify Professor Khalidi or any other respected scholar from participating in a teachers’ in-service training program undermines the values of free expression that we value in our society.
 
We had hoped that this letter would be unnecessary, given your demonstrated commitment to the fundamental values of freedom in our society, but we have been disappointed by your silence on this matter.  We would like to emphasize that Professor Khalidi is a respected historian, a former President of this organization, and a highly regarded teacher.  It is noteworthy that prior to his dismissal he offered two lectures on the Middle East as part of the teacher development workshops that elicited only praise.  Moreover, many of Professor Khalidi’s colleagues have heard him publicly criticize Palestinian political authorities.  By Chancellor Klein’s logic, Professor Khalidi would on these grounds also be disqualified from lecturing on either side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would be absurd, as I am sure you agree.
 
This decision by the head of New York’s Department of Education reflects poorly on a city renowned for its willingness to embrace a rich diversity of people and opinion, and especially on a school system justly revered for its bounty of fine graduates. Chancellor Klein’s decision necessarily raises fundamental questions about freedom of speech in the New York City’s schools when issues concerning the Middle East are concerned.
 
As you know, the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a letter to Chancellor Klein, dated March 2, 2005, stated that the Chancellor was violating Professor Khalidi’s First Amendment right to free speech, and the Civil Liberties Union cited constitutional case law to that effect.  Columbia’s President Bollinger called the decision, “wrong not only as a matter of constitutional law but as a matter of good policy and as a matter of the conduct of education.”  He is reconsidering Columbia’s participation in any future teacher training programs.
 
We note that Chancellor Klein’s arbitrary decision was announced at a time when there appears to be a momentum toward a peaceful solution to the conflict that enjoys wide support among Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention many Americans.  While public opinion should not be the criterion of free speech, it appears that the Chancellor of New York’s schools may have improperly allowed himself to be swayed by loud and unrepresentative voices of those determined to de-legitimize and suppress any thoughtful discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that includes criticism of Israeli policies.  In some cases these have been the voices of individuals seeking to gain political advantage by their posturing vis-à-vis Professor Khalidi and his colleagues at Columbia University.
 
Therefore, we respectfully request that you review the Chancellor’s decision with him, with a view to restoring, protecting, and advancing the free exchange of ideas to education in the City.  We would also be grateful for a prompt public statement by you making clear that New York City’s teachers, and the children that they teach, will continue to be exposed to a diversity of perspectives in the classroom rather than merely to what the Chancellor may deem politically expedient or find personally comfortable.
 
Sincerely,
 
Ali Banuazizi
President, Middle East Studies Association
Professor, Boston College
 
cc:
Chancellor Joel I. Klein, Chancellor of the Department of Education


November 5, 2004

Dr. Lee Bollinger
President
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027

Dear Dr. Bollinger,

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern regarding numerous public calls for Columbia University to suppress or infringe upon academic freedom. Recently these pressures have extended to demands for the dismissal of a professor in the Department of Middle East and Asian Language and Culture (MEALAC). We are heartened that the university administration has insisted on upholding the fundamental right of free expression in the university community. In this you have our unconditional support, and our encouragement to persevere.

[MESA is...]

The latest salvo against academic freedom at Columbia has come in reports of a film by a Boston-based organization containing allegations against Professor Joseph Massad. According to these allegations, Dr. Massad had expressed views of Israel that were tantamount to anti-Semitism, and had intimidated students who did not share his views. The film has not, as of this writing, been available for public viewing. Its allegations have nonetheless received prominent notice in several New York-area tabloids, assisted by a letter to you, dated October 21, from Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a Brooklyn Congressman, publicly calling on you to “fire” Dr. Massad. Rep. Weiner’s letter also invoked earlier campaigns against Columbia’s appointment of Professor Rashid I. Khalidi to an endowed chair, and the appointment of former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson as Professor in the Practice of Public Affairs.

In the most thorough journalistic account of the controversy over Dr. Massad, in the November 2 issue of The Jewish Week, staff writer Liel Leibovitz interviewed four of the seven students who reportedly appear in the film, and several dozens others who have attended MEALAC classes over the last five years. According to the article, those who took classes with Dr. Massad, including Jewish and Israeli students, were strikingly positive about their experience.

We understand that you have asked the Provost of the university to look into the matter. This is certainly an appropriate step if there are any genuine grounds for concern regarding these allegations. Such a response, however, because it has been made public, may also suggest that the university is open to politicized pressure from the outside to silence debate and dissent on Columbia University’s campus. We therefore urge you to take every appropriate opportunity to reassert that Columbia University will continue to uphold the fundamental values of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas, and that the campaign of defamation against Dr. Massad will find no resonance within your administration. We assure you of our full support in this endeavor. 

Sincerely
,
Laurie Brand
President, Middle East Studies Association

cc:
Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, Member of Congress


August 30, 2004

The Honorable Colin Powell 
Secretary of State 
U.S. Department of State  
2201 C Street NW 
Washington, DC 2052
and
The Honorable Tom Ridge
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge:

We, the Middle East Studies Association of North America’s Committee on Academic Freedom and the Board of Directors for the American Academy of Religion, are writing to express our very grave concern regarding the decision of the Department of State, made public last week, to rescind the visa for the well-known scholar of Islam Dr. Tariq Ramadan. Dr. Ramadan was slated to take up an appointment in the religion department of the University of Notre Dame, beginning earlier last week. He had received his visa in April 2004, only to have it rescinded, without explanation, in early August. The Department of State’s decision was reportedly taken on the basis of information provided by the Department of Homeland Security. Neither department has made public any reason for the decision. We request that you take the necessary steps to reverse this decision as a matter of urgency, in order that Dr. Ramadan can lecture and meet with students.

[MESA is…]

The American Academy of Religion (AAR) is the major scholarly society and professional association of scholars and teachers in religion. With 10,000 members, the Academy fosters excellence in research and teaching in the field and contributes to the broad public understanding of religion and religions. The AAR publishes the flagship scholarly journal in religion and books in five series through Oxford University Press.

The decision to rescind Dr. Ramadan’s visa is particularly troubling on two grounds. First, he had already received his visa, going through the rigorous screening process that your Departments have implemented for foreign visitors. As far as we are aware, neither Dr. Ramadan nor the University of Notre Dame were consulted regarding any problems or new information that might give cause to rescind his visa.

Second, the lack of explanation for rescinding the visa raises serious questions about the cause of the decision. In the absence of any explanation, we fear that pressures were applied to reverse the granting of the visa by people who disagree with Dr. Ramadan’s views as a scholar and as a public intellectual. That fear is exacerbated by the unsourced comments in some media outlets about alleged “links” between Dr. Ramadan and terrorist groups. There is absolutely nothing in the public record regarding Dr. Ramadan, or in his scholarly production, that would indicate any basis whatsoever for such allegations—and Dr. Ramadan is a scholar very much in the public eye in Switzerland, where he resides and teaches, and in Europe more generally. To us, these allegations smack of a character assassination campaign designed to suppress Dr. Ramadan’s voice at a prominent American university.

Denying qualified scholars entry into the United States because of their political beliefs strikes at the core of academic freedom. On that basis alone the decision to deny Dr. Ramadan access to our country is unacceptable. We also find the decision profoundly counter-productive to the stated aims of our national policy. As our country tries to understand better the Muslim world and to encourage interpretations of Islam which reject violence and terrorism, we will have to be open to dialogue with Muslims who hold political opinions that do not espouse violence but do differ from the opinions of some Americans or are critical of U.S. policies. If controversy is cause enough to deny someone a visa, our prospects for reaching out to Muslims around the world are very dim. The decision to bar Dr. Ramadan from teaching and meeting students and other academics, if allowed to stand, will represent a very low mark with regard to the Bush administration’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas and freedom of expression.

We are aware of absolutely no evidence for allegations that Dr. Ramadan has advocated violence or been associated with groups which perpetrate violence. On the contrary, important scholars and reputable universities have testified to his academic credentials and his character as a researcher and teacher. If the U.S. government has evidence to the contrary, let it be made public, to reassure the American public that untoward political pressures are not affecting the government’s decisions. In the absence of such evidence we can only conclude that denying Dr. Ramadan permission to enter the country constitutes a direct attack on academic freedom and freedom of speech. We respectfully urge you to reconsider this unfortunate decision and reinstate Dr. Ramadan’s visa without delay.

Yours sincerely,

Amy W. Newhall 
Executive Director
Middle East Studies Association of North America
and 
Barbara DeConcini
Executive Director
American Academy of Religion 

cc:
Hon. Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs
Hon. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Hon. William Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Sen. Richard Lugar, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Sen. Joseph Biden, Ranking Minority Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Rep. Henry Hyde, Chairman, House Committee on International Relations
Rep. Tom Lantos, Ranking Minority Member, House Committee on International Relations
The Rev. Edward A. Malloy, President, University of Notre Dame
Professor Scott Appleby, Director, The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, The University of Notre Dame
Matthew V. Storin, Associate Vice President, Office of News and Information, The University of Notre Dame
Professor Tariq Ramadan

Reply received September 3, 2004

United States Department of State
Washington DC 20520

Ms. Amy W. Newhall,
Executive Director
Middle East Studies Association of North America
and
Ms. Barbara DeConcini,
Executive Director
American Academy of Religion
The University of Arizona
1219 North Santa Rita Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85721

Dear Ms. Newhall and Ms. DeConcini:

This is in response to your letter of August 30, to Secretary of State Colin Powell, expressing your concerns regarding the State Department's decision to prudentially revoke the visa of Dr. Tariq Ramadan. Secretary Powell asked that I reply on his behalf.

We appreciate your taking the time to express your concerns over the revocation of Dr. Ramadan's visa. We understand that a scholar of Dr. Ramadan's stature and prominence would be of great interest to your organization and that you question the decision to revoke his visa after it was already approved.

Mr. Ramadan’s visa was revoked prudentially based on information that became available after the visa was issued. If he chooses to apply for a new visa, that information will be reviewed in the context of his new application and a determination made about his eligibility for a visa. We cannot predict in advance the outcome of a visa application.

Due to the confidentiality of visa records, as provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act, we are not able to provide any details concerning this matter.
.
Rest assured that the State Department has always and, will continue to, support academic freedom by encouraging students and scholars from all over the world to come to the United States. The revocation of Mr. Ramadan's visa is not an attempt to prevent him from sharing his ideas with students and scholars in the United States. We both appreciate and understand that the free exchange of ideas is one of the hallmarks that make this country great.

Please fee free to contact me if I can be of assistance in the future.

Sincerely,

June O’Connell, Chief
Public Inquiries Division
Visa Division



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