Below are two ringing endorsements of Iymen Chehade, the scholar of the Israel/Palestine conflict who said that his academic freedom was denied when Columbia College in Chicago took away a course offering of his this spring following a chairman’s complaint that Chehade was not being balanced in his presentation. The balance demand followed a student’s complaint of “bias” because Chehade had screened the film “5 Broken Cameras” in the class last fall.
First, a letter from Guy Davidi, Israeli director of the award-winning documentary congratulating Chehade on his bravery and saying things are worse in the U.S. than in Israel: “I am stunned that an American institution takes a more radical approach in silencing different perspectives related to the Israeli-Palestinian context than the Israeli Ministry of Education.” Then a slam-dunk finding from the head of the Illinois committee on academic freedom of American Association of University Professors that Chehade’s academic freedom was violated and that his class should be restored to him.
Dear Professor Iymen Chehade,
I would like extend my support to you following the cancellation of your class after screening “Five Broken Cameras.” I was surprised and disappointed to hear the wrongful decision to cancel the class – and on the bases of an ignorant argument demanding balance or claiming bias. I expected more open discourse from a respected academic institute like Columbia College. There is no such thing as “balance” in a political debate – only different points of view. It is surprising how many times this basic idea needs to be repeated again and again to the people who insist of holding the illusion of an objective truth. In Israel, “Five broken cameras” was recently officially accepted to the cultural program of the Ministry of Education. It has been screened in dozens of Israeli schools, despite the waves of objections. I am stunned that an American institution takes a more radical approach in silencing different perspectives related to the Israeli-Palestinian context than the Israeli Ministry of Education. I hope more brave professors and teachers, like you, continue to bring challenging stories that give students an opportunity to think critically and confront the bias in their own world views. I hope that institutions choose to support such teachers – whether they are addressing the Israeli occupation or any other challenging issue. I hope that the American educational system can hold itself to a higher standard and set an example in its ability to face challenging ideas, whether or not they are in accordance with the mainstream.
Now here’s the finding from the AAUP committee chair (as a pdf) that Chehade should get to teach two sections of his class next fall. Notice the theme that runs through so many recent campus battles: This is an area of passionate disagreement and it makes some uncomfortable, writes Peter Kirstein, a professor of history at Xavier and chair of the Illinois body on academic freedom of the AAUP. But professors have a right to express their points of view and to present controversial material. The idea that Chehade should show films that have no strong view of the conflict is “unrealistic and risible.” Course evaluations demonstrate that Chehade tolerated many points of view in his classes; and in this case the offended student should have been directed to take her complaint to Chehade first.
PETITION: Respect Academic Freedom!