CHICAGO, IL – Columbia College students, faculty and community members are organizing a campaign to defend academic freedom after Columbia administrators retaliated against an instructor for the content of his course about the Israel/Palestine conflict. The campaign includes a petition (www.chn.ge/MXMtpY); March 11 and 12 call-in days to the Columbia College administration (tinyurl.com/CallColumbia); and a public forum featuring Ali Abunimah, a leading proponent of Palestinian rights (www.tinyurl.com/PalColumbia).
As part of his course, Prof. Iymen Chehade screens the Oscar-nominated documentaryÂ 5 Broken Cameras, which depicts popular resistance to Israeli military occupation. After a student alleged that the film showed that Chehadeâ€™s course is â€œbiased,â€ Chehade was summoned for a meeting with Dr. Steven Corey, who is the chair of the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences. Corey told Chehade to teach his course in a more â€œbalancedâ€ manner, and then Columbia College withdrew one section of his course just hours after it had been made available to students registering for classes.
â€œAcademic freedom entails not only the right to speak from a particular perspective, but the freedom from being compelled to engage in a particular type of speech,â€ said Chehade. â€œThe frequent demand from apologists for Israeli colonialism that any discussion of the conflict be â€˜balancedâ€™ would be considered absurd in most other contexts. For example, must every presentation about the African-American civil rights movement include a speaker who will attempt to justify the denial of these rights?â€
Ali Abunimah, Americaâ€™s best known advocate for Palestinian rights and author most recently ofÂ The Battle for Justice in Palestine, is lending his voice to Prof. Chehadeâ€™s campaign. â€œFor too long, teachers and students who want to speak freely about the situation in Palestine have had to live in fear of retaliation,â€ said Abunimah. â€œCalls for â€˜balanceâ€™ are often ill-disguised efforts to ensure that Palestinian voices are not allowed to be heard without supervision, and that fundamental differences in power between Palestinians and the Israeli state that occupies and colonizes their land are obscured with false parity. Fortunately, this is a new day, and more people are standing up and speaking out against the silencing tactics that have been used on campuses for so long.â€
Student and faculty supporters of Chehade and all those interested in the principle of academic freedom are circulating a petition (www.chn.ge/MXMtpY), holding March 11 and 12 call-in days to Columbia College administrators (http://tinyurl.com/CallColumbia), and hosting a March 20 public forum entitled â€œWhy is Palestine taboo at Columbia College?â€ (www.tinyurl.com/PalColumbia).
The March 20 forum features Prof. Iymen Chehade; Ali Abunimah; John Wilson of the American Association of University Professors-Illinois; and Columbia college students Ava Ginsburg and Ahmed Hamad, who are both members of Students for Justice in Palestine/Jewish Voice for Peace at Columbia College. After the speaker presentations, there will be ample time for audience discussion and debate.