PRESS RELEASE: October 14, 2021 – FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLICATION
ACADEMIC SPEECH AND FREEDOM ON PALESTINE – IMPORTANT RULING AGAINST SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY CONCERNING THE POWER OF BIG TECH OVER ACADEMIA
In a decision with major implications for campuses across the country, on Thursday a panel of three faculty members at San Francisco State University (SFSU) upheld a grievance filed by Dr. Rabab Abduhadi, founding director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED) program, regarding violations of Professor Abdulhadi’s academic freedom.
The grievance seeks redress for the failure of SFSU to protect Dr. Abdulhadi and the AMED program from the arbitrary cancellation by Zoom and other social media outlets of her online open classroom, “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance: A Conversation with Leila Khaled.” The University is bound by contract, law and AAUP policy to protect academic freedom rather than subcontracting the responsibility to private companies. Further, universities must maintain structural independence from the whims and demands of partisan lobbying organizations, including Zionist groups like the Lawfare Project and the Israeli government aligned app, ACT IL, both of which played a prominent role in the manufactured outrage campaign that led Zoom to cancel Drs. Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa’s open classroom in September 2020. The panel’s finding confirms both the University’s surrender of its responsibility to the overreach of private tech giants into academic affairs and its complicity with Zionist and right wing groups aiming to silence Palestinian voices on campus. In its decision, the faculty panel affirmed that: “San Francisco State University has inflicted harm upon Dr. Abdulhadi (and co-instructor, Dr. Kinukawa) and that her academic freedom was, in fact, violated. We characterize this harm in two ways: 1) that the university did not provide adequate support to Dr. Abdulhadi against the actions of the corporate entity, Zoom, and, more importantly against the outside organization, Lawfare Project.”
The SFSU panel’s ruling has tremendous significance beyond its own campus and teaching about Palestine. With the growth of online learning, university teachers and students have become increasingly dependent on corporate media platforms such as Zoom, Google and Facebook. Advocates express alarm at the growing power of these corporate entities to censor the content and timing of classroom speech and activities, especially those deemed by university administrators as controversial. As Dima Khalidi, the director of the advocacy organization Palestine Legal, has written: “[such] attempts at censorship also have consequences not just for movements supporting justice in Palestine, but for racial, Indigenous, gender, immigrant, economic and LGBTQIA+ justice movements challenging government repression and overreach within the United States and globally.”
Dr. Abdulhadi has been a luminary among international Palestinian intellectuals, known for her original scholarship on Palestinian women’s movements and her pioneering pedagogy integrating Palestine into a critical, community-focused ethnic studies framework. She has won numerous awards for her scholarly and civic leadership, including the Georgina M. Smith Award for “exceptional leadership” in 2020 from the American Association of University Professors .
SFSU has shown its bias against AMED and in favor of Zionist organizations through its open collaboration with groups such as International Hillel and the Academic Engagement Network (AEN). These groups conflate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism and have as their stated mission to suppress support for Palestinian rights on campuses and to exceptionalize the complaints of Jewish students above all others, including Muslims and anti-Zionist Jews. The decision will now be placed on the desk of SFSU President Lynn Mahoney, who will have three weeks to uphold the panel’s findings. If she does not, the grievance will go to arbitration.
For further information and interviews, contact:
Rabab Abdulhadi* – firstname.lastname@example.org; 914-882-3180 (cell) *Please text first
Omar Zahzah – email@example.com; 562-896-3313 (cell)
Rosalind Petchesky – firstname.lastname@example.org; 917-378-5683
Harry Soloway – email@example.com; 914-815 2479 (cell)
A copy of the Faculty Panel Decision is attached below.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org