Fight continues for academic freedom in the US

Submitted by nora 

A professor at North Carolina State University is fighting the university and the state government over what seems to be a clear-cut case of discrimination and censorship due to her outspoken criticism of Israeli policy in Palestine.

Dr. Terri Ginsberg was a popular film studies professor at NCSU. But after she began publicly criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, the US-Israel alliance and Zionism (inside and outside the classroom), Ginsberg faced immediate retaliation from the university administration. As I reported back in January 2010 for The Electronic Intifada, she was “punished with partial removal from — and interference in — duty, non-renewal of contract and rejection from a tenure-track position” in 2008.

In a phone interview several days ago, Ginsberg told me that since she lost her job atNCSU, she has been essentially “blacklisted from other university teaching positions” across the country. She added that she’s applied to more than 150 jobs, and she can’t even get an interview — something, she said, that is very unusual for her and for someone with her publishing and teaching track record.

After nearly a year of exploratory panels, grievance reviews, litigation hearings and mediations by and with the university administration, Ginsberg and her lawyer, Rima Kapitan, filed a lawsuit with the North Carolina Superior Court, which in October 2010 dismissed the case, thereby favoring NCSU’s denial of tenure.

Ginsberg posted on her blog about the case that during the week of depositions,

NCSU admitted that it suppressed my speech critical of Zionism and supportive of the Palestine liberation struggle while I was under its employ as a visiting professor, and that it chose not to interview or hire me for a tenure-track position because of my scholarship focusing on Palestine/Israel, the Middle East, and the “Jewish.” Amazingly, the University claims that it has the right to suppress, refuse and reject on the basis of these considerations!  As we proceed, we will obviously be arguing against such claims.

Following the court’s ruling in favor of NCSU, Ginsberg and Kapitan filed an appeal this past June to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. However, on 15 November, the appeals court dismissed the appeal and upheld the lower court’s ruling.

Rendering free speech “meaningless”

In a press release following the appeals court’s decision, Kapitan stated that:

The Court, despite finding that several University officials were uncomfortable with Dr. Ginsberg’s speech concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, held that there was no causal link between that speech and the University’s sudden decision not to hire her for a tenure-track position days later. The Court’s opinion was in error for several reasons. It misapplied the summary judgment standard and made factual determinations about disputed issues that should have been decided by a jury. Specifically, it ignored voluminous evidence Dr. Ginsberg supplied calling into question the University’s claims about its stated reasons for her non-hire, as well as circumstantial evidence suggesting that hostility to Dr. Ginsberg’s speech motivated the decision. Among the most troubling claims the Court accepted without question was NCSU’s contention that Dr. Ginsberg was too qualified for the position, despite the fact that NCSU’s own policy documents state that it hires the best tenure-track professors it can, and despite the fact that before her speech about Palestine/Israel, the University was enthusiastic about Dr. Ginsberg’s candidacy.  For the Court to accept without analysis the University’s claims about Dr. Ginsberg’s non-hire when those claims were vigorously disputed not only usurped the role of the jury in the justice system, but rendered the North Carolina Constitution’s free speech section, which is even stronger than its federal counterpart, meaningless in the employment setting.  Dr. Ginsberg will now request a review of the ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“We weren’t surprised”

 In our interview, Ginsberg said that she and her legal team “weren’t surprised” by the decisions of the two courts. She added:

Going back to the lower courts and even the original faculty senate when I filed a grievance, and then when I hired Rima Kapitan when we filed the grievance with a circuit court, everyone has consistently ignored evidence, refused to even consider the facts, and has made perfunctory decisions [with prejudice regarding] all of the documentation that we’ve supplied. Given that history, we weren’t suprised that our appeal was denied. I’m enraged and insulted at the abuse of the law. This makes a travesty of employment law, and this is a complete disregard of the implications for academic workers nationally … I was a “contingent worker” — that’s one of the basic reasons given by the university as to why I was not eligible to receive a campus hearing once I had filed a grievance.

According to Ginsberg, contingent labor in universities comprises approximately 70 percent of all academic faculty.

“Zionism needs to be interrogated in a legitimate scholarly fashion”

 I asked Ginsberg if her work, research and outspokenness on Palestinian issues has been deterred by the last several years of intimidation and academic blacklisting. “No, not in the least,” she replied, adding,

I have taken the opportunity during this time of unemployment to step up research on this area. I have done a lot of writing and continue to publish writing on this issue, inluding [one of my specialties,] cinema of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This one example of what I’m doing and how my convictions have even been strengthened. One sees how these people who are either Zionists or cowed by Zionist pressure, such as the Israeli lobby … one sees how insidious and unscrupulous and vicious they are.  It’s indicative of the weakness of our system: that really a small group of people representing a particular ideology can have such influence on policy and on the actions of institutions throughout our society. There is a fundamental strucutral problem within our system that needs to be addressed, and perhaps radically needs to be transformed.

One of the strategies we are engaging in, in a broader sense, is that we want to take my case as an opportunity to expand public education on the issue of Zionism and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Zionism needs to be discussed, interrogated in a legitimate scholarly fashion, which is what I’ve been doing. We need to spread the word about the significance of cases like mine, by contacting media, by writing blogs, any way possible about what’s happening in our country, and around the world.

Additionally, on her blog, Ginsberg said that the appellate decision of the court should “set off alarm bells for those who abhor racism and inequality and strive for the protection of constitutional rights for all citizens, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or class status.” She added:

Our justice system should not be allowed to get away with silencing critical academic speech in order to protect opposing views simply because they reflect wealthy and powerful interests, nor should academic faculty become intimidated from  speaking critically for fear of being disciplined or losing their jobs.

The fact that I have not yet been permitted a formal hearing, either on the NCSUcampus or within the court system, resonates clearly with the history of the Palestinian struggle. Palestinians are seldom given the opportunity to air their views freely—without, that is, interference from dominant ideological interests calling for “balanced” or “neutral” discussion. Nor has the longtime suffering of Palestinians been acknowledged by its primary instigator, the State of Israel, which to this day officially refuses to admit having committed the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of Palestine), and in fact has moved recently to criminalize any discussion of that event within Israeli society.  Similarly the Israel Lobby in theU.S. has tried repeatedly to introduce congressional legislation which, in the name of “combating anti-Semitism,” would criminalize speech critical of Israel, thereby travestying not only the First Amendment but the entire spirit of the Bill of Rights.

Ginsberg’s most recent articles and scholarly writings can be found at the bottom of her blog post on the updates in her case. Contact information for Ginsberg and Kapitan can also be found on that webpage. The Electronic Intifada will continue to update our readers as the legal proceedings continue.

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