Addressing this issue responsibly
risks rebuke, ostracism, or job loss. For some, it's a career ender.
Scoundrel media writers and broadcasters are vulnerable. So are university
Joel Kovel lost his Bard College position for writing books like "Overcoming
Zionism" and calling Israel "a machine for the manufacture of human
DePaul University denied Norman Finkelstein tenure. It then fired
him for speaking out and writing books like "The Holocaust Industry."
Political activism and honesty about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
also cost tenured professor Denis Rancourt his University of Ottawa
UCLA Professor David Delgado Shorter's now targeted. His academic freedom's
at stake. On April 4, department chair Professor Angelia Leung rebuked
him. She said his web site was being reviewed for posting inappropriate
material pertaining to the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
More on that below.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom (CSAF) include 134 academics
at 20 state universities. "The group formed as a response to various
violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001
climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive
educators by neo-conservatives."
Arab, Muslim or Middle East scholars are especially vulnerable. So is
anyone criticizing Israel. CSAF's "goal of protecting California scholars"
broadened in scope. Its members "recognize that violations of academic
freedom anywhere" threaten it "everywhere."
On April 18, CSAF wrote UCLA Academic Senate chair Professor Andrew
Leuchter. It addressed Shorter's rebuke and the broader academic freedom
It expressed concern that Leuchter "overstepp(ed his) authority (by)
honoring of complaints by a clearly partisan political group over collegiality
and protocol regarding treatment of tenured faculty at UCLA...."
The AMCHA Initiative made the complaint. AMCHA is Hebrew for "your people."
The organization "strives to bring together Jewish people from all over
California so that they might speak in one voice in order to express
their concern for the safety and well-being of Jewish college and university
It also one-sidedly supports Israel and Zionist ideology. Its record
includes harassing faculty members critical of Israeli policy. It airs
views openly in the press. Targeting academic freedom shows how far
it's willing to go. Its history includes accusing UC campuses of ignoring
anti-Semitism and allowing anti-Israeli protests. On issues regarding
the Jewish state, it tolerates no criticism.
Shorter felt its wrath. At issue was also judging him " 'in the court
of public opinion' by releasing information to the press without his
In the 2012 winter quarter, he taught W33: Tribal Worldviews. He used
a university provided web site for course material. It covered "indigenous
uses of media around the globe to assert their claims of sovereignty."
His site contains source materials and URLs related to struggles throughout
the world. UN documentation on Palestine is included. They're called
indigenous people. In March, the course ended. So did access to the
site. Only students could view it.
In response to Professor Leung's concern, Shorter emailed her his syllabus
and a URL about groups targeting US professors for their Palestinian
On April 11, Leung gave him a choice. Either teach about a petition
or be a signatory, not both. In response, Shorter said he'd consider
the implications of Leung's demand.
He requested deferring comment until next academic year. Clearly, Leung
was academically and constitutionally out of line. Academic and speech
freedoms are inviolable.
UCLA and other US higher education institutions have other rules. So
do Canadian and perhaps European ones as well. On April 12, Leuchter
emailed his complaint. He copied signatories endorsing it. They included
“US Senators and University Administrators." He said:
"posting of such materials is not appropriate. Professor Shorter's chair
assures me that he understands his serious error in judgment and has
said he will not make this mistake again."
In response, AMCHA issued a press release. It claimed victory over an
anti-Israeli professor. It quoted Leuchter verbatim. It made it appear
that UCLA found "his actions were inappropriate."
On April 13, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education,
and the Los Angeles Times contacted Shorter to comment about university
disciplinary action. No one told him his private conversation was communicated
broadly to outsiders.
On April 16, the LA Times headlined, "UCLA professor told not to link
class material to anti-Israeli campaign," saying:
Academic freedom's at issue. So aren't First Amendment rights. None
are more important. All are risked without this one.
"Leuchter said (Shorter) agreed not to repeat" linking his web site
to one "call(ing) for a boycott of Israel." Shorter said "he made no
such promise." He awaits a more detailed campus policy explanation regarding
issues this important. He added that linking "to the Israeli boycott
was just a number of suggested links for the class to explore in his"
He didn't provide them as required reading. In class, he also discussed
other views. Since he changes courses annually, he didn't know if he'd
use the same links. Constitutionally he can use any he wishes freely.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin heads AMCHA. She’s UC Santa Cruz Center for Jewish
Studies lecturer. She said by email:
"Although I believe it was appropriate for Professor Shorter to be cautioned
about his misuse of his class website, our primary purpose in raising
the case of Professor Shorter was not to demand that action be taken
against him, but rather to force UC administrators and faculty to grapple
with the question of whether the UC academic freedom rules protect a
professor who uses his classroom and university resources to engage
in political activities, including the boycott of Israel."
Leuchter concurred, saying faculty may freely express views in classrooms
or course material short of "advanc(ing) a political agenda." Apparently
he includes facts critical of Israel.
He said Shorter faces no disciplinary action. He described what he did
as a judgment error. Perhaps repeating it will be cause for dismissal.
It wouldn't be the first time on US or other Western campuses.
CSAF asked why Leuchter never met or spoke to Shorter while defamatory
information about him was being circulated. What kind of investigation
was conducted, it asked? Clearly, "your actions....constitute a violation
of the normal protocols of due process at the University of California
or most other universities."
CSAF wants definitive answers regarding UCLA policies and Academic Senate
authority to investigate a faculty member without his knowledge, then
requesting his chair rebuke and warn him. Doing so amounts to unwarranted
CSAF also wants Leuchter to explain how he justified distributing information
about Shorter behind his back to a partisan organization like AMCHA,
and why he challenged his academic freedom.
Silencing anyone critical of Israel "makes a mockery of (UCLA's) faculty
protocol...." CSAF deserves answers regarding these vital issues.
A Final Comment
Perhaps Leung, Leuchter, and other like-minded academics need brushing
up on what life in occupied Palestine is like. It's not pretty, nor
has it been for decades. Visiting to see things firsthand might help.
Spending time in Gaza during Israeli air and ground assaults might prove
enlightening. So would learning about the effects of siege, watching
Israeli soldiers use Palestinian children for target practice, and fishermen
criminally assaulted at sea.
Maybe watching homes bulldozed, farmland razed, and trees uprooted repressively
would be hard to forget. Seeing soldiers attack peaceful protesters
with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and live fire would enlighten
Conversations with Palestinians might be best of all. Firsthand accounts
from wives would explain life without husbands. Parents could talk about
lost children. Sisters and brothers could say what its like without
lost siblings. Discussions about thousands of political prisoners would
reveal much about a repressive state.
Life in deep poverty without jobs would be described. So would daily
fear of Israeli incursions, attacks, arrests, detentions, torture, and
other unspeakable abuses for praying to the wrong God.
Enough time in occupied Palestine might soften views now held. Sunshine
is the best disinfectant. So is seeing things firsthand to know what's
really going on.
Israel is criticized for a reason. Persecution, racism, occupation,
and apartheid are unjustifiable. So are crimes of war and against humanity.
Compromising academic and speech freedoms puts all other rights at risk.
Without them, classrooms are more indoctrination than education. Professors
understanding that deserve praise, not rebukes or ostracism.
Freedom in America and other Western societies hang by a thread. Protecting
it in classrooms may be step one to having a chance to save it.
Professors on the front lines of right over wrong are heros, not villains.
Students lucky enough to have them know best of all.
Imagine if all academics taught the right way. Imagine a better world
at peace. Instead of a dream, it could be reality. Imagine how different
things could be.
If enough people cared enough and worked for it, it would be. It won't
happen any other way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge
discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News
Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time
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