Academic Freedom

  • To Douglas Elmendorf Dean of Faculty, Harvard Kennedy School to Condemn the Decision by the Dean to Withdraw a Fellowship Offered to Kenneth Roth Based on Accusations of Alleged Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israel Bias

    January 14, 2023

    Douglas Elmendorf

    Dean of Faculty, Harvard Kennedy School

    Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy

    Dear Dean Elmendorf,

    We are writing on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of over two-hundred scholars from campuses across California, to condemn the decision by the dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government to withdraw a fellowship offered to former Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth based on accusations of alleged anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias. These accusations are clearly both inaccurate and highly partisan, and we are deeply concerned that Harvard would bow to political pressure from donors to violate the academic freedom of Mr. Roth and the Harvard community, and given Harvard’s unique position as a standard-bearer of scholarly consensus, of the public more broadly. Indeed, Human Rights Watch’s sources, methods, and rapportage are no different regarding Israel than for any other any other government or entity. It has been unremittingly critical of Arab governments, Iran, and armed Islamist groups. The idea that it is unfairly singling out Israel is ridiculous. Moreover, coming less than two years after the denial of tenure to Cornell West by the Divinity School, allegedly due to donor pressure, Mr. Roth’s case suggests an escalating pattern of interference by Israel partisans in Harvard’s academic affairs.       

    Indeed, such a blatant violation of academic freedom has even broader implications, as it sends a signal to other wealthy donors that they can censure and punish anyone who criticizes or challenges their policies or power with impunity. More specifically, it is yet another example of how Palestinian scholars’ experiences and points of view continue to be marginalized and suppressed. Such silencing, moreover, bolsters the Israeli state’s oppression of Palestinians, making Palestinians and their struggle for freedom the primary victims of Harvard’s trampling of academic freedom.  Unlike Roth, however, they do not have the benefit of Human Rights Watch’s reputation and media reach. 

    Despite myriad longstanding and unimpeachable evidence of Israel’s systematic abuses, the dean of the Kennedy School, Douglas Elmendorf, had no problem acknowledging that his decision was based on accusations of anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism as if they had a basis in fact, which they clearly do not (not only is Mr. Roth Jewish and the child of refugees from Nazi Germany, he and Human Rights Watch have been accused by Palestinian, Israeli, and international organizations of being too soft on Israel). More broadly, the idea that anyone who criticizes systematic Israeli human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity can simply be dismissed as an anti-Semite is completely baseless, as even the slightest perusal of the evidence supporting these claims will demonstrate.

    Should Harvard fail to make a course correction and repudiate this attack on its independence, we fear for the future.  Is it too much to ask you to adhere to a higher standard while our own federal government doggedly refuses to adjust its policies to reflect the preferences of the US public, which according to multiple polls favors an evenhanded approach to disputes between Israel and Palestine? Perhaps so. And perhaps Harvard’s capitulation simply confirms the old adage that a fish rots from its head, and sooner or later all critics of Israeli policies will be branded with the scarlet letter of anti-Semitism and banned from the few remaining academic spaces that are hospitable to them.   

    We call on Harvard University and the Kennedy School to immediately:

    • Reinstate the offer to Kenneth Roth to come to the Carr Center as a Senior Fellow. 
    • Initiate a full external and impartial investigation of how and why his fellowship was rescinded, and of Dean Elmendorf’s communications with donors on this matter. 
    • Recommit to fully implementing its longstanding but as yet unrealized commitment to bring Palestinian scholars and practitioners to the Kennedy School, and to strengthen the presence of marginalized voices at the Carr Center and across the School of Government. 
    • Declare that neither the school nor the university will in the future allow donors or other outside political forces to impact or influence their awards, hiring, curricular or programming policies, and will take decisive and public steps towards that end. 


    Walid Afifi
    Professor, Dept. of Communication
    University of California at Santa Barbara

    Eileen Boris

    Hull Professor of Feminist Studies

    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Carole H. Browner

    Research Professor, Anthropology and Gender Studies

    University of California, Los Angeles

    Edmund Burke, III
    Emeritus Professor of History
    University of California, Santa Cruz

    Richard Falk, 

    Albert G. Milnank Professor of International Law Emeritus

    Princeton University

    Gary Fields

    Professor Department of Communication

    University of California, San Diego

    Nancy Gallagher

    Professor Emerita of History

    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Jess Ghannam, PhD

    Clinical Professor of Psychiatry

    School of Medicine

    University of California San Francisco

    Bisnupriya Ghosh

    Professor of English and Global Studies

    University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Larry Gross

    Professor, School of Communication

    Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

    University of Southern California

    Sondra Hale

    Professor Emerita, Anthropology and Gender Studies


    Muriam Haleh Davis

    Associate Professor of History


    Christine Hong

    Chair, Critical Race and Ethnic Studies

    UC Santa Cruz

    Ivan Huber, PhD

    Prof Emeritus of Biology

    Fairleigh Dickinson University

    Mark LeVine

    Professor of History

    Director of Global Middle East Studies

    UC Irvine

    Ron Loewe

    Professor of Anthropology

    California State University, Long Beach

    David Palumbo-Liu

    Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor

    Stanford U

    Craig Reinarman, Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies Emeritus, University of California, Santa Cruz

    Rei Terada

    Professor of Comparative Literature

    Director of Critical Theory

    UC Irvine

    Vida Samiian

    Professor and Dean Emerita

    California State University, Fresno

    Daniel A. Segal

    Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and History

    Pitzer College

    Jaime Scholnick

    Adjunct Instructor, Foundation Studies

    Woodbury University, Burbank, CA.

    Susan Slyomovics

    Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages & Cultures


    Susan Wright

    Research Scientist Emerita

    University of Michigan

    Stephen Zunes
    Professor of Politics
    University of San Francisco

  • Letter to President Lynn Mahoney, SFSU and Chancellor Jolene Koester, CSU expressing Depp Concern Re. San Francisco State University Administration Repeated Attempts to Harass, Marginalize and Silence Professor Rabab Abdulhadi

    September 5, 2022

    To: President Lynn Mahoney, San Francisco State University

    Cc: Chancellor Jolene Koester, CSU

    From: California Scholars for Academic Freedom

    We are writing on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of over two-hundred scholars from campuses across California, to express deep concern regarding the SFSU administration’s repeated attempts to harass, marginalize, and silence Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, the founder and director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas program (AMED), even during her year-long sabbatical leave.

    It is clear that the administration is not only working in collusion with extreme right-wing Zionist hate groups such as the Lawfare Project, but is committed to destroying the integrity and autonomy of the AMED program and Dr. Abdulhadi’s intellectual work as a widely respected leader in the field of Arab and Palestinian Studies. We are alarmed by the administration’s multiple attacks on Professor Abdulhadi’s academic freedom, its undermining of her sabbatical leave, and what appears to be a deliberate and brazen attempt to thereby marginalize the AMED program. In particular:

    • Initiating one tenure-track faculty search, counter to the ruling of the faculty panel which directed the university to hire two positions for AMED as was promised to Dr. Abdulhadi in her contract at the time of her hire. Moreover, by scheduling this search in 2022-23, the administration has forced Dr. Abdulhadi to either participate in the search during her sabbatical, thus sacrificing her much needed sabbatical to conduct full-time research, or forgo participating, thereby enabling the administration to hire whoever they want without the expertise of Dr. Abdulhadi during the search process. 
    • Threatening Dr. Abdulhadi with disciplinary action for listing her academic affiliation with AMED in conjunction with two conferences on Teaching Palestine she is co-organizing and in which she is participating as an SFSU faculty member during her sabbatical.
    • There is a long list of egregious issues such as altering the AMED website without Dr. Abdulhadi’s consent, delaying the approval of AMED courses for Fall 2022 and canceling all but three of them; refusing the approval of Spring 2023 courses; firing or retaliating against five qualified AMED faculty lecturers, to list only a few. 

    As Cs4af discussed in our previous letter, and as reiterated in Dr. Abdulhadi’s June 2022 letter in response to President Mahoney, the decisions made by three Faculty Hearing Panels that deliberated and ruled on grievances filed by Dr. Abdulhadi against the university, which were overturned by Dr. Mahoney, must be implemented. These decisions include:

    • Authorizing the two tenure-track faculty hires with searches to be conducted in 2023-24, when Dr. Abdulhadi returns from her sabbatical; and, providing her an appropriate budget and qualified staff for the AMED program, as asserted in her original job offer.
    • Apologizing to Dr. Abdulhadi and her colleague Dr. Kinukawa for the harm inflicted upon them by SFSU when their open classroom was censored on September 23, 2020 and supporting the reprise of that event in 2023-24.

    It is time for the administration to abide by the terms of Dr. Abdulhadi’s contract and stop harassing her and undermining her program. 

    We look forward to your response,

    Nancy Gallagher

    Co-coordinator, Cs4af

    Professor Emerita, Department of History

    Chair of Middle East Studies Program

    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Vida Samiian

    Co-coordinator, Cs4af

    Professor and Dean Emerita

    California State University, Fresno

    Dan Segal, Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology & Professor of History

    Co-coordinator, Cs4af

    Pitzer College

    Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
    Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law, 

    UCLA School of Law 

    Hatem al-Bazian, Director, IRDP
    Near Eastern Studies
    Asian American Studies, UC Berkeley

    Dr. Khalil Barhoum, 

    Center for African Studies and Middle Eastern Languages

    Stanford University

    Paola Bachetta, Director

    Department of Gender and Women’s Studies

    UC Berkeley

    Edmund Burke, III

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    Huma Dar

    Adjunct Professor

    Critical Studies Program

    California College of the Arts

    Muriam Haleh Davis

    Department of History

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    Professor Bishnupriya Ghosh

    Department of English and Global Studies

    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Affiliate Faculty: Film & Media Studies; Comparative Literature; Feminist Studies

    Gillian Hart

    Professor Emerita

    Department of Geography

    University of California, Berkeley

    Christine Hong, Associate Professor

    Critical Race and Ethnic Studies

    UC Santa Cruz

    Dr. Nubar Hovsepian

    Associate Professor, Political Science

    Chapman University

    Suad Joseph, Distinguished Research Professor 

    Anthropology and Gender Sexuality and Women’s Studies

    University of California, Davis

    Robin D. G. Kelly, PhD

    History Department

    University of California, Los Angeles

    Jennifer L. Kelly, Ph.D., Associate Professor 
    Feminist Studies Department
    Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Department 
    University of California, Santa Cruz

    Dennis Kortheuer

    History Department, Emeritus

    California State University, Long Beach

    Mark LeVine 

    Professor of History

    University of California, Irvine

    Esther Lezra

    Associate Professor

    Department of Global Studies

    UC Santa Barbara

    Wendy Matsumura, Associate Professor

    UC San Diego

    Minoo Moallem, Professor

    Gender and Women’s Studies Department

    Director, Media Studies Program

    University of California, Berkeley

    Jamal Nassar, Dean Emeritus

    College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

    California State University, San Bernardino

    James Quesada, PhD

    Professor Emeritus 

    Department of Anthropology 

    San Francisco State University

    Sherene Razack, PhD

    Distinguished Professor

    Penny Kanner Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies

    Department of Gender Studies


    Baki Tezcan, Professor of History

    University of California, Davis

    Howard Winant, Distinguished Professor Emeritus

    Department of Sociology

    University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Letter to Chancellor Byron Clift Breland re Their Email Criticizing the Post by SWANA and Calling on Them to Restore the Posting of Their Statement About Israel’s Assassination of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

    14 June 2022

    Chancellor Byron D. Clift Breland

    North Orange County Community College District

    1830 W. Romneya Drive 

    Anaheim, CA 92801 

    Dear Chancellor Breland:

    We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af) in response to your May 26 email criticizing the statement by North Orange County Community College District’s Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) faculty and staff association that discussed the Israeli army’s killing, on May 11, of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.  

    As an organization defined by an unwavering commitment to academic freedom, we are concerned that your May 26 email effectively withholds such protections from speech in support of human and political rights for Palestinians and, as a result, creates a hostile campus environment for Palestinian-identified faculty, students, staff, and their allies.

    At cs4af, we know too well that Zionists and Zionist organizations, in their desperate efforts to shield the Israeli state from accountability for its ongoing and pervasive harms to the rights and lives of Palestinians, regularly lodge dishonest charges of ‘antisemitism’ at speech critical of the state. Unless these Zionist attacks on academic freedom are resisted on a principled basis, the result is a discriminatory Palestinian exception to speech rights and academic freedom protections.  

    The danger this poses to academic institutions has been recognized this March in an important statement from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  In that statement, the AAUP affirmed that criticisms of the Israeli state are not antisemitic and, very importantly, that when such charges are lodged against those fully protected criticisms, the charges themselves constitute a serious threat to “free speech and academic freedom.”  

    Here one also should note that the world’s two leading human rights organizations—both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—have recently released meticulously  documented reports concluding that the Israeli state is a regime of apartheid from the Jordan River to Mediterranean Sea.  If you have not yet read these reports, we urge you to do so.  What, in any case, must be affirmed is that honest discussion of the facts in these reports—as well as advocacy for human and political rights based on those facts—must not be subjected to sanctions, or any chilling, by the NOCCCD administration, as has occurred, in effect, as a result of the May 26 email.

    The issue of departments or other units of higher educational institutions posting statements on an institutional website is, of course, a relatively new one. That said, even a quick scan of the NOCCD website makes clear that the district allows unquestionably analogous statements by other departments or units, and thus has stifled SWANA’s speech on a facially discriminatory basis, no doubt simply to avoid the controversy that comes from criticizing the Israeli state and supporting the human rights of Palestinians.  

    Cs4af thus calls upon you to rescind that May 26 email and to restore the posting of the SWANA statement, on an immediate basis.  Failure to take these two remedial steps will leave academic freedom at NOCCCD greatly impaired and, on that basis, will expose your vitally important colleges and programs to continuing and escalating reputational harm. 


    Rabab Abdulhadi

    Director and Senior Scholar

    Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies

    San Francisco State University 

    Carole H. Browner

    Distinguished Research Professor 

    Department of Anthropology

    Department of Gender Studies

    Center for Culture and Health

    Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

    University of California, Los Angeles

    Edmund Burke III

    Professor Emeritus, History

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    Muriam Haleh Davis

    Assistant Professor of History

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    Lara Deeb

    Professor, Anthropology

    Scripps College

    Nancy Gallagher

    Professor Emerita, History

    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Rose Marie Kuhn
    Professor Emerita, French
    California State University Fresno

    Suad Joseph

    Distinguished Research Professor

    University of California, Davis

    Dennis Kortheuer

    History, Emeritus

    California State University, Long Beach

    Flagg Miller

    Professor of Religious Studies
    Chair of Religious Studies and the Graduate Program in the Study of Religion 

    University of California, Davis

    Sherene H. Razack

    Distinguished Professor

    Penny Kanner Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies

    Dept. of Gender Studies, UCLA

    Craig Reinarman, 

    Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Legal Studies

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    Vida Samiian

    Visiting Researcher, UCLA

    Professor and Dean Emerita, CSU Fresno

    Jaime Scholnick

    Professor, Art

    Los Angeles City College

    Lila Sharif

    Asian American Studies

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne

    Devra Weber

    Associate Professor, History

    University of California, Riverside

    Susan Wright

    Research Scientist Emerita

    History of Science and International Relations

    University of Michigan

    Copies sent:

    Irma Ramos, Vice Chancellor, Human Resources, NOCCCD

    President Gilbert Contreras, Fullerton College

    President Valentina Purtell, North Orange Continuing Education

    President JoAnna Schilling, Cypress College

    Board of Trustees, NOCCCD

    Professor Jeanette Rodriguez-Salcedo, Senate President-Elect

    Fullerton College

    Professor Jennifer Combs, Senate President

    Fullerton College

    Professor Damon De La Cruz, Senate President

    Cypress College

Archived Postings

Visit the archive to read past postings and letters related to our work on Palestinian Rights.

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