Protests

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Srinivasan on Open Letters, Protests, Free Speech, and Academic Freedom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/05/2024 - 10:58pm in

Amia Srinivasan’s specialty, it seems to me, is making sense of moral ambivalence: detecting, dissecting, and sometimes defending its reasonability, even in the face of unavoidable and urgent decisions.


[“Knot” by Anni Albers]

In a new piece at the London Review of Books, she turns her attention to the tangle of issues surrounding student protests, free speech, and academic freedom.

It begins with the matter of signing open letters:

An open letter​ is an unloved thing. Written by committee and in haste, it is a monument to compromise: a minimal statement to which all signatories can agree, or – worse – a maximal statement that no signatory fully believes. Some academics have a general policy against signing them. I discovered that was true of some of my Oxford colleagues last year, when I drafted and circulated an open letter condemning Israel’s attack on Gaza and calling for a ceasefire. Some, like those who are in precarious employment or whose immigration status isn’t settled, have good reasons for adopting such a policy. Others understandably don’t want to put their name to something that doesn’t perfectly represent their views, especially when it might be read as a declaration of faith. I always cringe at the self-importance of the genre: though open letters can sometimes exert influence, stiffly worded exhortations hardly suffice to stop states, militaries, bombs. And yet, a ‘no open letters’ policy can serve as a convenient excuse when one is hesitant to stand up for one’s political principles.

Srinivasan has signed several open letters about Gaza, and recently signed an open letter committing her to “an academic and cultural boycott of Columbia University”, owing to how it handled student protestors. Then:

In April​ I was asked to sign a letter opposing the University of Cambridge’s investigation into Nathan Cofnas, a Leverhulme early career fellow in philosophy. A self-described ‘race realist’, Cofnas has written widely in defence of abhorrently racist – particularly anti-Black – views, invoking what he claims are the findings of the science of heredity.

She shares her many reservations about signing the open letter, but also her reason for ultimately signing it:

Do we think that students should be able to trigger investigations into academics on the grounds that their extramural speech makes them feel unsafe? Do we want to fuel the right’s sense of grievance towards the university, when their minority presence within it is owed to the robust correlation between education and political liberalism, not some Marxist plot? Do we want to empower university administrators to fire academics on the grounds that they are attracting negative publicity? Do we think there is any guarantee that a further strengthened institutional power will only be wielded against those whose views and politics we abhor? If we say yes, what picture of power – theirs and ours – does that presume?

But that’s not the end of the discussion, for there’s the question of whether her taking a principled stand is her also being a sucker for her political opponents:

‘free speech’ and ‘academic freedom’ are, for many on the right, ideological notions, weapons to be wielded against the left and the institutions it is (falsely) believed to control, the university most of all… [and] the free-speech brigade has… found justifications for the draconian repression of student protest.

There’s also the question of the extent to which the “free speech brigade” understands how academic freedom and freedom of speech come apart, or how even different considerations in favor of free speech might be in tension with each other:

After signing the letter criticising the investigation into Cofnas, I was written to by someone from the Committee for Academic Freedom, which bills itself as a non-partisan group of academics from across the political spectrum. He asked me whether I might consider signing up to the CAF’s ‘three principles’. I looked them up: ‘I. Staff and students at UK universities should be free, within the limits of the law, to express any opinion without fear of reprisal.’ ‘II. Staff and students at UK universities should not be compelled to express any opinion against their belief or conscience.’ ‘III. UK universities should not promote as a matter of official policy any political agenda or affiliate themselves with organisations promoting such agendas.’ I thought about it for a bit. I’m on board with Principle II, so long as we don’t think that asking staff and students to use someone’s correct pronouns is akin to demanding they swear a loyalty oath. Principle I is problematic, because it doesn’t register that academic freedom essentially involves viewpoint-based discrimination – that indeed the whole point of academic freedom is to protect academics’ rights to exercise their expert judgment in hiring, peer review, promotion, examining, conferring degrees and so on. And Principle III would prevent universities from condemning, say, Israel’s systematic destruction of universities and schools in Gaza, which I think as educational institutions they are entitled to do.

Discussion welcome, but read the whole thing first.

The post Srinivasan on Open Letters, Protests, Free Speech, and Academic Freedom first appeared on Daily Nous.

Should Universities Protect Protest Speech?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/05/2024 - 11:04pm in

“It is important to insist that, contrary to the Chicago Principles, deliberation and protest are fundamental forms of free expression.”

That’s Anton Ford, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, writing at The Chronicle of Higher Education, about the protests, campus speech, and the Chicago Principles.


[photo of sculpture by Do Ho Suh]

He writes:

The University of Chicago, where I teach philosophy, presents itself as a champion of the freedom of expression. By now, more than 90 universities have adopted its framework for thinking about campus politics and speech, known as the “Chicago Principles.” This includes many universities, like Columbia and Emory, whose repression of student protests have made international news. In what would seem to many to be a flagrant violation of freedom of expression, the University of Chicago’s president, Paul Alivisatos, has threatened to break up an encampment of nonviolent student protesters.

There is something extremely puzzling about this entire issue. The freedom to express one’s political ideas, a traditional cause of the left, is now associated with the right. And self-professed defenders of free expression are unleashing police violence on peaceful demonstrators.

The Chicago Principles equate freedom of expression with freedom of discussion. The problem with this equation is that discussion is not the only mode of rational public speech: it differs from deliberation, on the one hand, and from protest, on the other. Discussion is truth-seeking speech; deliberation is decision-making speech; and protest is disruptive speech. All three are hallmarks of democracy, but only the first is protected by the Chicago Principles.

If a university only acknowledges expression aimed at discovering truth, then all campus speech is measured by the yardstick of a seminar discussion, and basic democratic values are sacrificed.

Ford argues that when university deliberation is undemocratic—as it has been, for instance, in regard to matters of what kinds of investments universities make—protest is the remaining form of speech for influencing the university:

When students, staff, and faculty are denied a meaningful role in deliberation, protest is our only means of shaping the university community. But protest is essentially disruptive; if it’s not disruptive, it’s not a protest. While not all protests are equally disruptive, all aim to disrupt normal life to at least some extent. A ban on “disruptive protest” is a ban on protest tout court.

As he notes, the Chicago Principles are “not intended to protect protest; they are intended to protect discussion — against protest, if necessary.” But, he says, this overlooks the value of protest and disruptive speech:

Disruption is an indispensable part of social and institutional change. The civil rights movement was not a classroom debate. It disrupted all institutions of society, including universities. At the University of Chicago, in 1962, university-owned housing, where many faculty lived, was still racially segregated. Students working with the Congress of Racial Equality protested, picketing outside the administration building, and then occupying the hallway outside the office of the president. Their occupation continued in a modified form for a week. In its negotiations with the students, the administration agreed to end racial discrimination in the rental of university-owned apartments.

Retrospectively, one can see that the civil-rights protesters — the agents of disruption — were the ones speaking rationally. Disruption was necessary, above all for the dignity of the victims of injustice. But it was also necessary for the well-being of the institution. The University of Chicago owes those protesters a debt of gratitude. There is no way to acknowledge such a debt in good faith except by incorporating some tolerance of disruption into one’s understanding of what is acceptable behavior.

You can read the whole piece here.

The post Should Universities Protect Protest Speech? first appeared on Daily Nous.

Administration Sets Police on Peaceful Student Protestors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/05/2024 - 11:29pm in

Milagros Peña, president of Purchase College, State University of New York, authorized campus and local police to forcibly break up what appears to be a peaceful gathering of student protestors, in a continuing trend across the country.

The faculty have called the event “a catastrophic failure by the administration to uphold the fundamental pillars of justice, academic freedom, and the democratic principles our institution is supposed to embody and impart.”

You can watch footage of the police attack on the protestors here:

According to Emiliano Diaz, chair of the Department of Philosophy at Purchase, philosophy students at Purchase have been among the leaders of the protestors.

He writes:

Philosophy students at SUNY Purchase have been deeply involved in the pro-Palestinian protests on campus. Sabrina Thompson, a junior in philosophy and president of the Philosophy Society, has been a key organizer.  

On the night of Thursday, May 2, a group of students, led by Thompson and others, attempted to establish an encampment on campus near the dormitories. They were eventually persuaded not to set up tents, but they were steadfast in their commitment to remain.  At 10pm, when the university quiet hours began, they sat silent in observance of the student code of conduct.  This is when police moved in to disperse them with substantial and violent force…

In an email about what would transpire, President Milagros Peña cites the “quiet hours” policy as justification for the use of force.  She also notes that fire alarms were set off and that this was disruptive for students who are entering the final weeks of class. Students have noted that the quiet hour rule is not uniformly enforced. Students regularly congregate in the quad after 10pm without issue. During “Culture Shock,” a music festival held on campus near the end of the year, this rule is also flouted. Fire alarms were set off, but this happened only after the police moved in, and some students are claiming that it was a diversionary tactic meant to distract police and give room to students who wished to flee the violence that unfolded. President Peña also suggests that “outside agitators” were somehow threatening the safety of the campus. There was no evidence of immediate or even inchoate threat as the police moved in.  Also, at least some of those who were “outsiders” (a difficult word to parse in the context of a public college) were human rights lawyers invited by a faculty member to observe the protest. 

In all, 70 people were arrested. In order to jail all of them, Police spread them across Westchester County. If not for their friends, many of them, college students with few resources and parents who do not live locally, would have been stranded. According to reports, many were not told the charge during the arrest and were also denied information about arresting officers.

Faculty who were present only to observe, support the students’ right to free speech, and help de-escalate the situation were among those arrested.  One of these faculty, who has participated in other protests, noted the lack of training on the part of the officers involved in the arrests. He cited the fact that students were told to disperse but then given no clear means of egress. Some were even pursued as they tried to leave. He also noted that he has never witnessed such violence in response to protests.

The next morning, arrested students would find the belongings they were forced to leave behind, pillows, book bags, blankets, and other things, in and strewn around a dumpster.

Students were back out protesting last night, May 3, and have remained peacefully encamped throughout the night and into this morning.

Below is President Peña’s email, followed by a response from the faculty.

Dear Campus Community,

As an academic institution and a diverse campus of individuals with a vast range of backgrounds, experiences, and opinions, we are committed to upholding the right to free expression and also the right to safety on campus for all who dwell, work, and learn at Purchase. That tension has been at the forefront of many conversations over the past several months. 

I wanted to update you on last night’s events in a way that also responds to the many messages, conversations, and emails I have received, which run the gamut from fear related to the protests to passionate support of the protestors’ cause. I have read them all and thank you for reaching out.  

I also want to dispel any myths about what happened, to the best of my ability at this time, considering it is an ongoing investigation. 

Last night, as has been the case all semester, students were allowed to protest peacefully, which they did for several hours. 

However, this right to protest is only honored as long as protestors follow SUNY’s rules for maintenance of order and the student code of conduct, something we have been communicating repeatedly, for the safety and well-being of the entire campus. 

This right does not apply to outsiders. Dozens of non-affiliated people were turned away from campus. We are investigating their role in escalating the protest activity on campus, but their presence put the police on high alert. It is believed many of them snuck back onto campus once turned away. 

At 10pm, once campus quiet hours started, protestors were given multiple opportunities to disperse peacefully, as ordered, more than 10 times by the campus police and other local police forces there to assist. 

Those who didn’t disperse after multiple warnings of consequences were arrested for trespass violations, most without incident. 

The 10pm deadline was not arbitrary. Quiet hours are especially important during the lead up to the end of the semester when students need time to sleep, study, and complete final projects andgo to dorm rooms without fear or concern for personal safety. We received numerous complaints that this did not happen last night due to the fire alarms being repeatedly pulled by students in protest. 

Protestors were brought to local precincts for processing as the University Police Department couldn’t hold that many individuals. Students will also go through the student code of conduct process, which may include consequences up to expulsion. As the investigation continues, a few individuals may face additional criminal charges. 

To the best of our knowledge, there were approximately 70 individuals arrested including students and faculty members. 

Despite last night’s activity, we plan on preserving the rest of the semester’s activities as scheduled, including commencement.All scheduled activities will continue without disruption, as long as it is safe to hold them. Please carry your Purchase ID with you when coming to campus and leaving campus at this time. 

Our long-standing policies limit the time, place, and manner for protest, for good reason, and in support of our entire community. 

Anyone who adheres to these policies is welcome to take part in free speech activities. We know from witnessing protests at other campuses that when these policies are ignored and especially when outsiders are involved, intimidation, bias, and violence may occur, along with disruption of events and activities central to the campus experience. Anyone who has been struggling or impacted by recent events is encouraged to reach out to Counseling and Behavioral Health Services for additional support. 

We can disagree and debate the emotionally charged issues related to the protest and the complex issues we are grappling with globally, but the well-being and safety of the entire Purchase community will and must always be my top priority.

 Thank you.

Milagros (Milly) Peña, PhD (She, Her, Hers)
President, Purchase College, S.U.N.Y.

Here is the faculty response:

Dear President Milagros Peña,

We, the faculty of Purchase College, are outraged and condemn in the strongest possible terms the violent and disproportionate actions taken by campus authorities against our students and faculty colleagues on the evening of May 2nd, 2024.

Our students were participating in a peaceful protest on campus – an act protected by their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. Our faculty members were present solely to ensure the safety of students and observe their non-disruptive demonstration. Despite this, a staggering number of over 70 students and faculty, were arrested after police violently intervened and disrupted the lawful gathering.

This represents a catastrophic failure by the administration to uphold the fundamental pillars of justice, academic freedom, and the democratic principles our institution is supposed to embody and impart. Rather than fostering an inclusive environment supporting a range of ideas, the leadership has chosen a path of alienation, vilification, and unjust criminalization of responsible free expression.

The hostile actions of the university police and other law enforcement agencies on May 2nd have sent a chilling message that peaceful assembly may lead to undue punishment and violence, in blatant violation of core rights. Not only were the rights of those arrested trampled, but the incident has undermined the entire community’s faith that the administration will protect our freedoms.

We demand immediate and decisive action. All charges against arrested community members must be vacated, and any related disciplinary actions dropped. Furthermore, the administration must clarify its processes for community engagement to prevent further acrimony and restore trust. We demand an immediate outside and independent investigation into all aspects of this incident, particularly the excessive use of police force, to ensure full accountability.

Swift and thorough corrective measures, including resignations of those culpable for the infringement of student and faculty civil liberties and rights, are imperative to begin healing these wounds and reaffirming our institution’s commitment to its integral rights and liberties. The time to act is now.

Sincerely,

The Faculty at Large of Purchase College, SUNY

 

The post Administration Sets Police on Peaceful Student Protestors first appeared on Daily Nous.

Cartoon: Protecting and serving

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/05/2024 - 9:55pm in

Tags 

Protests

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Dear University President, You Could Run Out the Clock

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/05/2024 - 6:04am in

“It’s been shocking how impoverished, craven, and imprudent the leadership of the Anglophone’s wealthiest and flagship universities have been this past year.”

The following is a guest post by Eric Schliesser (University of Amsterdam) on how university administrators have been reacting to protests on their campuses.

(A version of it first appeared at his blog, Digressions & Impressions.)

Dear University President, You Could Run Out the Clock; a Plea for Repressive Tolerance—and Renewal
by Eric Schliesser

Once upon a time, university presidents knew that by mid-May campus would be emptied of most students, including the student activists and the student reporters of the campus daily zine, all of whom had impressive internships lined up with NGOs in DC or foreign countries. Some seniors would even be willing to forego the cause in order to party one last time with classmates in graduation week. That is to say, they knew they could manage the clock as they pleased while they organized some sanitary facilities for the ‘encampment’ and exhibit curiosity about the underlying issue by proudly attending the teach in. After all, the world’s experts on the topic are often on payroll. (A good thing that interdisciplinary program was not cut.)

One of the oddities of our age is that the professional managers that have taken over the running of universities show themselves so unimaginative and so insecure with their authority. They echo each other’s slogans, and they role-play leadership from behind a large desk. Even as risk and reputation managers they are a flop. This is not just an American thing (although the armed snipers on rooftops are). The first time I noticed this state of affairs was a few years ago when peaceful student campers/campaigners got kicked off my Amsterdam campus with non-trivial police brutality because a dean didn’t want them present near graduation. I forget the activists’ cause, but not the triviality that moved the campus hierarchy into action.

When universities resort to force long before that’s necessary—and the present generation of student activists have been a most harmless bunch, so far (has anyone been physically hurt by any of them?)—they educate their students to distrust argument, they teach their students cynicism about persuasion, and they teach them contempt for the gift of civilization, which is all about the art of managing fierce disagreements with words. They teach our students that education is not about patience and the slow mastery of skill, but that it is all about who has the ear of the police commissioner. They deny their students the possibility to discover and thereby learn from their mistakes, but teach them that obedience pays.

I am no friend of the aesthetic frisson that some of my leftwing colleagues feel when they see a mass of mostly young human bodies gathered in protest facing off with men (well mostly men) in uniform; the breathless reports from the ‘streets,’ the talk of demos and democracy, the instinctive trust of the crowd by the lords of a dinner-party. I detest the unwillingness to make distinctions because solidarity demands it. I find it comic when full professors insist that social hierarchy must be abolished. But, at least, their passion pays respect to something other than force.

It’s been shocking how impoverished, craven, and imprudent the leadership of the Anglophone’s wealthiest and flagship universities have been this past year. Yes, they face organized hostility from many sides. But that is, alas, the human condition.

A bit over a year ago I tried to organize my thoughts on these matters and wrote a piece for my campus newspaper, although it was originally written in Dutch. I circulated a draft among some of my department colleagues. They all urged me to remove an inchoate idea that I expressed with the clumsy and archaic phrase, ‘spiritual authority.’ And I did. I should have asked for better suggestions.

I regret dropping the phrase ‘spiritual authority.’

Yes, repressive tolerance for its own sake is potentially a higher form of cynicism. But true authority is born from a self-confidence that doesn’t originate in a job-title or praise; it is rather nourished because one is secure in one’s identity in serving the university’s mission to elevate us, to discover new truths, and to expand our intellectual horizons, to organize curiosity. All discovery is a journey into the unknown, a voyage without a clear destination, and without knowing what will ‘work.’ And this is grounded in a kind of faith that I have called ‘spiritual.’

A certain self-described ‘realist’ thinks that an institution’s true nature is revealed when water-cannons, batons, and shields (or worse) are deployed against their own students. It’s true now. Some of our very best will walk away from us in disgust.

But universities haven’t lasted for centuries without turmoil, and bouts of renewal. Perhaps, on some campus (originating in the Latin for ‘field’), or encampment of tents, some of the more thoughtful young will have seen through the façade of the administrative building, and sketched a vision for a virtual (not in the new sense of ‘online’ but in the supposedly obsolete sense of ‘full of excellence’) university.

 

The post Dear University President, You Could Run Out the Clock first appeared on Daily Nous.

Columbia Philosophy Grad Students Condemn Campus Arrests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/04/2024 - 4:01am in

Tags 

News, Gaza, Israel, Protests

“We call for the reversal of student suspensions and for departments to refuse to comply with university investigations or sanctions of students and employees participating in non-violent political action.”


[Philosophy Hall, Columbia University]

Current graduate students in the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, as well as alumni of its graduate program, some of whom are professors elsewhere, have released a statement about the protests that have been taking place at the university this month.

Students at Columbia have been protesting Israel’s response to Hamas’s October 7th attack. A few days into the protest, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik suspended students taking part in them and authorized the New York Police Department to arrest protestors. Over 100 people were arrested.

In the statement the Columbia philosophy students “unequivocally condemn President Minouche Shafik’s decision” and demand “the reversal of student suspensions and for departments to refuse to comply with university investigations or sanctions of students and employees participating in non-violent political action.” They also “call on the Columbia administration to commit to never again call police onto campus to suppress student speech.”

Here’s the full text and signatories:

Statement on Recent Events from Graduate Students and Alumni of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University

We, current and former graduate students of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, are appalled at the decision taken on April 18th by the University President to violate principles of academic freedom and free speech by authorizing the forcible removal and arrest of 108 of our students and colleagues.

On April 18th, the President of Columbia University, in the name of “safety,” brought armed police into our campus to use physical force against students who had established a non-violent encampment in support of Palestine on Columbia’s South Lawn. The encampment did not disrupt classes. It did not block access to campus or buildings. Nevertheless, the police were called in after only a day. The President took this action against the recommendation of the University Senate, violating principles of shared governance established in the wake of the 1968 protests. As a result of these arrests and suspensions, students have sustained injuries, lost access to Columbia health services, and been evicted from student housing with less than 15 minutes to gather their belongings.

This followed months of tensions at Columbia since the horrifying events of October 7th and the devastating aftermath. These events have been the topic of difficult and traumatizing discussion. Columbia’s administration could have responded by promoting dialogue and mutual understanding. Instead, the administration heavily restricted speech on campus and  disproportionately acted to silence one voice in particular – the voice of those protesting against the ongoing oppression and killing of Palestinians. It was in this environment of institutional repression that the student protesters decided to take action.

The University’s decision to arrest student protesters was thus the culmination of months of restriction against the public expression of support for Palestinians. The past few years have seen an alarming trend of bad faith political actors attempting to silence political speech they disagree with by policing academic institutions, thereby undermining elementary principles of academic autonomy. Columbia’s Board of Trustees has demonstrated more interest in appeasing these external forces than responding to the needs of their students, as have the administrations of other universities. We have witnessed the actions of police at other college campuses where professors are thrown to the ground and department chairs are dragged away in zip ties. Regardless of where we stand on the issue of Israel and Palestine, we should all agree that such attempts to suppress discourse are utterly unacceptable in any decent society committed to liberal principles.

As educators, we believe that it is our special responsibility to speak out when the University denies students the right to freely pursue their education. And as philosophers, we have a duty to uphold the values of free thought and open discourse, just as Sidney Morgenbesser and other members of our department did in 1968.

We therefore unequivocally condemn President Minouche Shafik’s decision. We call for the reversal of student suspensions and for departments to refuse to comply with university investigations or sanctions of students and employees participating in non-violent political action. We oppose further efforts from the administration to forcibly remove the new encampment, and call on the Columbia administration to commit to never again call police onto campus to suppress student speech. The best path forward, in our view, is for the administration to continue to negotiate with the representatives of Columbia University Apartheid Divest in good faith and without further threats.

Signed,

Current graduate students and alumni of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University

Updated List of Signatures:

    • Ola Aksnes (Graduate Student) 
    • Avery Archer (Alum)
    • Elizabeth Benn (Alum)
    • Noah Betz-Richman (Graduate Student) 
    • Michael Brent (Alum)
    • Simon Brown (Alum)
    • Ellen Nora Burns (Graduate Student)
    • Samara Burns (Graduate Student)
    • César Cabezas (Alum)
    • Qian Cao (Graduate Student)
    • Bard Cash (Graduate Student)
    • May Chen (Alum)
    • Lisa Clark (Graduate Student)
    • Conor Cullen (Lecturer, Alum)
    • Rivka Chuyun Dai (Graduate Student)
    • Amelle Djemel (Visiting Scholar)
    • Beibei Du (Graduate Student)
    • Jeremy Forster (Alum)
    • Anthony Garuzzo (Graduate Student)
    • Nemira Gasiunas-Kopp (Alum)
    • Justin Xingzhi Guo (Graduate Student)
    • Joe Hamilton (Graduate Student)
    • Thimo Heisenberg (Alum)
    • Yarran Hominh (Alum)
    • Yitu Hu (Graduate Student)
    • Ethan Jacobs (Graduate Student)
    • Ye-Eun Jeong (Graduate Student)
    • Alex Jensen (Graduate Student)
    • Jared Jones (Graduate Student)
    • Bennett Knox (Alum)
    • Brittany Koffer (Lecturer, Alum)
    • Dabin Kwon (Alum)
    • Anya Leinberger (Graduate Student)
    • Yifan Li (Graduate Student)
    • Lisa Liu (Graduate Student) 
    • Helen Han Wei Luo (Graduate Student)
    • Eleonora Maccarone (Alum) 
    • Laura Martin (Alum)
    • Cornelia Mayer (Graduate Student) 
    • William McCarthy (Alum) 
    • Katharine McIntyre (Alum)
    • Devin Morse (Graduate Student)
    • Usha Nathan (Alum)
    • Fred Neuhouser (Alum)
    • Andreja Novakovic (Alum)
    • Ignacio Ojea (Alum)
    • Shivani Radhakrishnan (Alum)
    • Danielle Alma Ravitzki (Graduate Student)
    • Andrew Richmond (Alum)
    • Melissa Rees (Alum)
    • Amogh Sahu (Graduate Student)
    • Weiming Sheng (Graduate Student)
    • Xinyi Song (Graduate Student)
    • Mariam Sousou (Graduate Student)
    • Paul Spohr (Alum)
    • Sapphire Qiaochu Tang (Graduate Student)
    • Nandi Theunissen (Alum)
    • Chuyu Tian (Graduate Student)
    • Naser Tizhoosh (Graduate Student)
    • Aaron Xiaolong Wang (Graduate Student)
    • Connie Wang (Graduate Student)
    • Sara Wexler (Graduate Student)
    • Philip Yaure (Alum)
    • Chi Zhang (Graduate Student)

The post Columbia Philosophy Grad Students Condemn Campus Arrests first appeared on Daily Nous.

University of California Faculty Statement on Protests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/04/2024 - 3:35am in

“We believe that the ability to protest nonviolently is essential to our democracy and a basic human right that must be respected and protected.”


[from a protest at UCLA, via The Los Angeles Times]

Faculty across the University of California system have signed onto the statement, “Support Students’ Right to Nonviolently Protest at the University of California.”

The statement continues to be open to signatures from UC faculty.

It says:

Nonviolent student protests at the University of California change the world. Entire academic departments owe their existence to nonviolent student protests at the University of California. The nationwide student movement to end the Vietnam War can trace its beginnings to nonviolent student protests at the University of California.

As faculty and staff at the University of California, we believe that the ability to protest nonviolently is essential to our democracy and a basic human right that must be respected and protected. We bear the responsibility of ensuring the safety, welfare, and basic human rights of our students. After more than 108 students engaged in a peaceful protest were arrested, suspended from their courses, and evicted from university housing on April 18, 2024 at Columbia University, with NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell stating that “the students that were arrested were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever, and were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” we believe that this basic human right requires our active protection.

Arresting or punishing students who protest peacefully and nonviolently on our campuses is antithetical to our university’s highest ideals of learning and scholarship and violates our university’s fundamental values of decency and respect. Especially during difficult moments of intense political contestation, it is essential that all members of our university community respect each other and not engage in authoritarian power plays. Our university has witnessed acts of police violence against students protesting peacefully (Davis in 2011), suspensions, evictions, and mass firings without due process (Santa Cruz in 2015 and again in 2020), and the use of university facilities as a field jail (Los Angeles in 2020). These infamous and disgraceful actions damage our confidence in each other and must not be repeated. In every action we take, we express our values as members of our treasured community. 

As our students stand up and use their voices, we will always do our best to support them and their basic human rights, and thereby support our university and our democracy.

You can see the list of signatories here.

(via Andy Lamey)

Related: the Los Angeles Times on university protests in California.

The post University of California Faculty Statement on Protests first appeared on Daily Nous.

Cartoon: Sensible responses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/04/2024 - 9:59pm in

Tags 

Protests

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From Sylhet to Spitalfields: Bengali Squatters in 1970s East London – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/04/2024 - 8:41pm in

In From Sylhet to Spitalfields, Shabna Begum examines the Bengali community’s struggle for housing and belonging in the face of systemic racism in 1970s East London. According to Md Naibur Rahman and Ruhun Wasata, Begum’s rich combination of ethnographic work and historical analysis reveals how, through squatting, activism and community organising, Bangladeshi migrants successfully demanded their right to housing.

From Sylhet to Spitalfields: Bengali Squatters in 1970s East London. Shabna Begum. Lawrence Wishart. 2023.

Someone with a rumbling stomach taking a stroll around Tower Hamlets in London, famous for its Bangladeshi community and cuisine, might be focused on finding a place to eat. Once satiated, attention can be focused on questions of how this diasporic community who were once colonised made it to the land of the coloniser and eventually called it home. In From Sylhet to Spitalfields, Shabna Begum undertakes an academic journey to examine the experiences of the Bangladeshi community as they faced systemic and targeted racism in their struggle to find literal and figurative homes in East London.

The book examines the Bangladeshi Squatter movement in the 1970s [. . .] to ensure the minimum basic rights of finding tenancy agreements in places that could keep them safe from targeted and street racism.

The book examines the Bangladeshi Squatter movement in the 1970s, a united effort against institutionalised racism of the Greater London Council (GLC) and Tower Hamlets Council (TLC) to ensure the minimum basic rights of finding tenancy agreements in places that could keep them safe from targeted and street racism. Begam’s robust ethnographic research both documents the suffering and struggles of the Bangladeshi community in London and records their resilience and resistance in the face of adversity.

The book begins with a historical account of the migration pattern of people from Sylhet, the North Eastern region of Bangladesh, to East London. Dating back to the boat building and sailing traditions of Sylheti people found in Ibn Battuta’s record in 1346 and Robert Lindsay’s observation in 1777, Sylheti men were initially employed as ship workers by the East India Company under British rule. Lindsay, the revenue collector deployed in Sylhet, extracted all trading opportunities for limestone, elephant trading (at least 6000), tea plantation and ship building. This typical practice of colonial-era property acquisition and exploitation of natural resources led him to purchase Balcarres House in Fife, Scotland from his older brother, Earl Alexander. This is a glaring example of how Sylhet and Sylheti seafarers contributed to the growth of the economic and political power of British colonisers in the 18th century.

The book observes this migratory pattern as part of the legacy of imperialism, epitomised in Sivanandan’s phrase, ‘We are here because you were there’.

The exploitation continued with an administrative strategy of annexing Sylhet to Assam, the neighbouring district, whose tea plantations became a cash cow. This layout and arrangement made Sylheti people owners of their land, unlike in other districts, which were governed by a few elite landlords and the majority of tenants. With the growing population, Sylheti people gravitated towards the merchant shipping industry to ease the pressure on the land-based economy. As part of an invitation to new commonwealth citizens in the post-war period Sylheti people started migrating from Bangladesh to East London in the 1960s and 1970s in search of opportunity, finding work in the garment, catering and hospitality sectors. The book observes this migratory pattern as part of the legacy of imperialism, epitomised in Sivanandan’s phrase, “We are here because you were there.”

The book stands out for highlighting the significance of the role of women in the squatter movement. In the mid-1970s, Sylheti men were concerned that, due to the racialist restriction on Commonwealth migration, they wouldn’t be able to bring their wives and children to the UK in the future as family reunification migrants, who would then morph into economic migrants. Their families were eventually allowed to join them, and their temporary, unstructured and compromised accommodation setups were no longer adequate. The lack of suitable accommodation led to Sylhetis wrangling with the GLC and THC powered with residency qualification and fifty-two weeks continuous residency policy for endorsing their discriminatory allocation. Eventually, the only option left was squatting. In these squats, women became the frontline defenders against discriminatory attacks since men were largely away at work outside the home. From protecting the home to protesting on the streets, Sylheti women played a key role in the movement, requiring resilience and defiance.

With no facilities for private bathing, broken windows and doors and interrupted utility supplies, the squatters adjusted to squalid living conditions.

Through the heart-wrenching lived experiences of its interviewees, the book evidences the poor conditions of the squats: dilapidated, leftover houses where no one else would agree to live. With no facilities for private bathing, broken windows and doors and interrupted utility supplies, the squatters adjusted to squalid living conditions. Beyond the this, squatters experienced smashed doors and windows, targeted racist harassment and elected politicians’ committing to expel the Bengali people from the area. In one rare instance where a Bengali family was allocated a council tenancy, the targeted violence they were subject to from the local community meant prevented them from moving in.

The formation of the Bengali Housing Action Group (BHAG) in the spring of 1976 paved a new way to coordinate the efforts and demands of squatters that were conveyed to the councils. The book highlights how this organisation not only established a game-changing platform but also emerged as a united force to resist violence. The formalised voice and force of the organisation proved crucial in gaining support, respect and acceptance from different groups.

The book presents a thorough account of BHAG activities which led to broader amnesty for squatters, enabling them to register and receive GLC tenancy in June 1978. From desperate attempts of squatting to 3000-strong demonstrations of Bangladeshis to finally being able to meet with GLC Councillors, the BHAG representation gave momentum and organisational force to the movements. In 1977, it was agreed by the GLC that their request to be housed in the E1 area would be honoured. BHAG activists made it clear that white or mixed-race people were also welcome as long as the majority of Bangladeshi people are housed in the same area.

The friendship, love and sacrifice of non-Bangladeshi BHAG activists like Terry Fitzpatrick, Mala Sen and Farrukh Dhondy demonstrated the power of multiculturalism and solidarity that London enables.

The Squatter movement and formulation of BHAG fomented lifelong friendships and connections that went beyond shared trauma and suffering. The friendship, love and sacrifice of non-Bangladeshi BHAG activists like Terry Fitzpatrick, Mala Sen and Farrukh Dhondy demonstrated the power of multiculturalism and solidarity that London enables. While some tried to protect Bangladeshis through their vigilante patrolling in Ford Zafire every night for a year, others voiced their frustrations, sufferings and demands on behalf of the Bangladeshi women. In addition, the support from the Socialist Worker Party, the Anti-Nazi League, and Race Today brought more attention and visibility. This movement worked as a foundation stone for many subsequent achievements in the housing cooperation, direct representations in councils and recognition of Bangladeshi culture. From forming housing cooperatives such as Shahjalal and Mitali Housing Co-Op to having representation with a Labour Councillor in 1985, the community established their presence in East London and beyond. British Bangladeshis’ continued political awareness and engagement led to the election of their first Member of Parliament (MP) in 2010, followed by three others in 2010, 2015 and 2019, respectively. The overall emergence of Bangladeshi community in almost every sector has often been credited to their commitment to education, which resonated through many interviewees’ responses – “because we put a graduate in every family”.

The book takes the reader on both an academic and an emotional journey, balancing robust historical research with human stories of resilience in the face of adversity.

Begum’s book does a commendable job of weaving the impacts of political events in Bangladesh with the nature of protests in East London. Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, the famine of 1974, and the assassination of the Founding Fathers of the Nation sedimented the resilience, resistance and courage, demonstrated by Bangladeshis who stood for their rights in Spitalfields, East London. Although many Sylheti people moved to Britain with the full intention of returning to Bangladesh, the struggles and achievements in East London gave them a sense of double belonging. The book effectively employs an oral ethnographic approach, making it a significant historical record of the Bangladeshi community in East London. The book takes the reader on both an academic and an emotional journey, balancing robust historical research with human stories of resilience in the face of adversity. From historians and geographers to anthropologists, sociologists to gender studies specialists, this book will appeal to many as a means to better understand the experiences of immigrants in Britain.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: Olivier Guiberteau on Shutterstock.

Campus Protests about Israel and the Palestinians (several updates)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/04/2024 - 10:44pm in

This post is for discussion of the ongoing campus protests against Israel’s response to the October 7th, 2023 attack on it by Hamas, and in support of the Palestinians.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in its attack on Gaza, with two-thirds of the dead being women and children, according to the local health ministry, reports the Associated Press.


[original photo by Jay Janner/USA Today Network, via Reuters]

A round-up of recent news about protests at various college campuses can be found here.

Of particular interest are questions about how universities should (or should not) respond to these kinds of protests, and the principles, ideals, and practical considerations that underpin answers to those questions.

Details about what’s happening at your campus are welcome, as are links to news and commentary elsewhere, including links to particularly valuable social media feeds.

By way of background on the matter of free speech and campus protests, I recommend this piece by Jacob Levy (McGill). Some excerpts:

[U]niversities offer very robust protection for political and protest speech, but as an incidental byproduct, not in the same deliberate way that a liberal democratic society does. A university’s core commitment is to the discovery, transmission and preservation of knowledge – paradigmatically, what is done in research, in teaching, and in publication and library collection. The principle that defends that commitment is not freedom of speech as such, but rather academic freedom.

Academic freedom has a few moving parts:

First, the freedom to follow arguments and evidence where they lead, according to scholarly methods…

Second, the freedom to teach, within the confines of the scholarly mission of the class, and limited by the freedom of students to be secure that they will be assessed fairly…  

And finally, freedom from evaluation on non-academic grounds, of which the traditionally most important are political and religious grounds. Members of the academic community are only to be academically evaluated, for purposes ranging from student grades to professors’ tenure, on the grounds of the success of their academic work. They may not lose academic standing (student enrolment, faculty employment and so on) for their views and speech on other questions. In the early 20th-century cases that helped shape this rule, universities came to the understanding that, say, an economist couldn’t be fired for being an atheist, a mathematician for being a socialist; what they had to say on those political and religious questions was irrelevant to their work. The technical phrase here is freedom of extramural speech – outside the walls of the laboratory, the classroom and the library. Protections of extramural speech are very strong, not primarily in order to protect that speech, but in order to protect the academic integrity of what goes on inside the laboratory, classroom and library.

A rule that has traditionally accompanied and strengthened academic freedom is institutional neutrality. If academic freedom is the ability of scholars and scholarly communities or disciplines to work without having an orthodoxy imposed on them, institutional neutrality is the commitment not to declare an orthodoxy in the first place. Just like a professor at the front of a classroom shouldn’t use it as a pulpit to announce their own political and religious views, so too should the university as a whole not adopt substantive political or religious opinions that would chill the freedom of its members to pursue their own ideas and arguments. A great deal of important political inquiry and debate happens at a university, but it’s undertaken by students and professors with differing views pursuing differing arguments, not by the institution as a whole declaring official conclusions…

These principles generate some surprising and strange outcomes. For example, the odd thing about the centrality of student protests to important moments in university life is that they are so irrelevant to the university’s mission. There is very strong protection for the freedom of protest, not because protest is important to a university the way it is to a democratic society, but because it’s academically irrelevant. It’s wrong to question a student’s (or professor’s) standing in the academic community because of what they say at a protest – or on social media, or in any other non-academic setting. The only appropriate limits are not about the content of what’s said, but about the conduct of the protest action; the university has to protect not only the safety of its other members but also the security of its academic functions. It can’t rule against the language on a sign, but it must intervene to prevent violence between students, or occupations and blockades that would prevent a class from meeting, or an invited speaker from speaking.

This is easier said than done… 

I recommend reading the whole piece.

One thing to note is that the institutional neutrality Levy discusses is especially tricky, particularly in this context: one declared aim of some of the student groups is to get their universities to stop investing in companies involved in or profiting from Israel’s military efforts in Gaza. Should such investments themselves be considered a deviation from institutional neutrality, such that the student calls for divestment could be seen as a call for institutional neutrality? Or are such investments in principle relevantly different from what we might think of as paradigmatic departures from institutional neutrality, such as an official statement supporting a side in a political dispute? The details probably matter here, both on the extent to which investment in certain companies is intentional, and the extent to which such companies are “involved” with Israel’s war efforts.

And that’s just one issue.

OK, let’s see how this goes. (Comments are moderated. Please remind yourselves of the comments policy. Thanks.)

UPDATE 1 (4/25/24): The Department of Philosophy at Columbia University has issued the following statement:

The Philosophy Department is concerned for the safety, academic progress, and rights of our students. We condemn all forms of hate speech, harassment, and incitements to violence. We also regard it as quite implausible that erecting a tent on a lawn constitutes a clear and present danger, and we urge the lifting of suspensions of students whose charges stem from that act. Thus we support the joint statement by the Columbia and Barnard Chapters of the American Association of University Professors and the letter from the Columbia College Student Council. We want President Shafik to succeed, and for mutual trust between all parties on campus to be regained. Such success and trust requires visible engagement by the President and Trustees with the procedures of faculty governance.

UPDATE 2 (4/25/24): Noelle McAfee, professor and chair of philosophy at Emory University, was among those arrested for protesting at Emory.

Thanks to several readers for bringing this to my attention. Original Tweet here.

UPDATE 3 (4/26/24): Sukaina Hirji, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a speech to protestors there. Watch it here.

UPDATE 4 (4/26/24): Caroline Fohlin, professor of economics at Emory University, asks three law enforcement officers who appear to be on top of a student protestor on the ground, “what are you doing?” A fourth officer grabs her, pulls her away, twists her arm behind her back, and pushes her to the ground. A second officer joins in pushing her down, heedless of the fact her head is being pushed into the sidewalk.

According to news reports, she was charged with disorderly conduct and battery of a police officer. This guy:

 

The post Campus Protests about Israel and the Palestinians (several updates) first appeared on Daily Nous.

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