The Center for Constitutional Rights, along with the National Lawyers Guild, the Asian Law Caucus, American Muslims for Palestine and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have expressed their concerns in a seven-page letter to administrators at the Claremont Colleges last week about a recent incident on campus. In early March, a professor at Claremont McKenna College — who is an Israeli citizen — called a Palestinian student “a cockroach” during a mock checkpoint action on campus as part of Israeli Apartheid Week events.
The Electronic Intifada reported that since the incident became public last month, the student, Najib Hamideh, says he has faced violent threats written on his reserved seat in the campus library, and someone flattened one of the tires of his car with a sharpened key. The Claremont McKenna College administration has not yet taken administrative action against the professor.
The Center for Constitutional Rights states in a summary of the letter on its website:
Rather than investigating the professor’s behavior, Claremont McKenna college responded to the incident by investigating Students for Justice in Palestine for alleged violations of campus rules. The unwarranted investigation further chills student speech in favor of Palestinian human rights. The letter emphasizes Claremont Colleges’ obligation to protect student speech rights, and protect all students from racist speech, including Arab, Muslim and Palestinian students.
Najib Hamideh is a student at Pitzer College, which is part of the Claremont College consortium, and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. Pitzer’s Faculty Executive Committee, concerned with how the Pitzer administration had at first dealt with the situation, reasserted “that the right for peaceful demonstrations is an integral piece of an open, intellectually vigorous college community” and called for “protection from verbal assault and harassment.” Pitzer’s administration has since come forward and stated that SJP’s action was not in violation of campus demonstration policy, and reiterated that faculty conduct at Claremont McKenna College is not under Pitzer’s purview.
“Protecting student speech rights”
The full letter by the rights groups addresses the presidents, deans of faculty and faculty chairpersons at all five Claremont Colleges, and provides essential background on the expanding climate of racism and Islamophobia on college campuses. It also analyzes the incident in the context of current acts of repression against Palestine solidarity activists and activism on campuses by Israel-aligned groups, while highlighting the duty of academic institutions to protect free speech and academic freedom.
The letter concludes by stating:
The First Amendment and cherished values of higher education cannot allow colleges to succumb to pressure to censor a particular viewpoint on a question of critical international importance. The undersigned organizations are committed to ensuring equal, unobstructed access to viewpoints supporting Palestinian rights. We will continue to monitor colleges across the country that hesitate to protect Arab, Muslim, or pro-Palestinian students.
We hope that you will consider swift and appropriate remedies to protect student speech rights, and to address the harms to the educational environment resulting from racial bias. We would be very happy to engage in further conversation about how the Presidents of the Claremont Colleges can support robust participation in campus life for all students.
Liz Jackson of the Center for Constitutional Rights told The Electronic Intifada: “We received acknowledgement from both Pitzer and Claremont McKenna that they are taking the issue seriously.”
“No violation of demonstration policy”
The press office at Claremont McKenna College sent The Electronic Intifada this official response to CCR’s letter by email on 2 April:
Claremont McKenna College is committed to providing an inclusive community that supports free speech and the sharing of diverse and controversial viewpoints while also providing an environment in which all members of our community feel welcome and safe. The College took the concerns about the professor’s alleged conduct seriously, and acted immediately to conduct a fair and neutral review into the incident.
Many of the factual assertions that have been published about this incident are in dispute, and it is therefore important to allow for a fair and neutral process that respects the rights of both parties to be completed. The College is committed to taking any disciplinary or other remedial measures that may be appropriate based on the findings of its review and in accordance with the College’s mission and values.
Pitzer College’s administration sent The Electronic Intifada their official statement as well, on 3 April:
As part of international Israeli Apartheid Week, a 5-college student organization Students for Justice in Palestine planned a street theater event at Claremont McKenna College on Monday, March 4.
Pitzer College determined after its own thorough investigation that the students had permission for the March 4th event and did not find any violation of the demonstration policy. The Claremont McKenna College (CMC) faculty member’s behavior is currently being reviewed by the Dean of Faculty at CMC. Pitzer College, which has no purview over faculty conduct at other Claremont Colleges, will keep our community informed of further developments in the continuing process as appropriate.
Pitzer’s Office of Student Affairs (OSA) is mindful of the impact this event has had on Pitzer students and others in our campus community, and continues to provide support to all of our students. OSA plans to partner with interested faculty and students to discuss and process these events and to educate one another about the related political and cultural issues.
The Electronic Intifada will continue to provide updates on this story as they develop.