Academic freedom is often a murky concept, but it’s clear to us that David Shorter, the UCLA associate professor who posted a controversial link on his course website that he says he does not intend to remove, is in the right.
Shorter, an associate professor of world arts and cultures, posted a link to the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel as part of his “Tribal Worldviews” course. He explained the website’s purpose in class, and said it was relevant to a project asking students to analyze the ongoing political situation in the Gaza Strip through the eyes of indigenous populations.
The AMCHA Initiative, an organization of University of California faculty that seeks to combat anti-Semitism on college campuses, registered a complaint against Shorter, who is listed as an endorser of the boycott on the site. The group claimed Shorter’s link was an attempt to indoctrinate students into anti-Israeli activism.
But Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative and a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, said her concern lies in Shorter’s use of university resources for the advancement of his personal political agenda, not for academic purposes.
We acknowledge that the controversial content on the website, and the fact that Shorter is a signatory, may be problematic.
But UC bylaws regarding the rights of faculty clearly protect “the right to present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction,” according to the UC Faculty Code of Conduct.
Furthermore, bylaws also protect Shorter’s right to political association and expression as a member of the UC faculty.
Shorter’s decision to link to a politically charged petition ““ even one he has signed ““ falls within his right to assign and discuss controversial material within the context of his course. This protection should remain untouched.
Many points cited by the AMCHA Initiative in its complaint against Shorter cited codes and directives asserting the UC’s duty to remain independent of political affiliation and influence, but his affiliation with the university is also protected by the Faculty Code of Conduct, which states that “an institutional affiliation appended to a faculty member’s name in a public statement or appearance is permissible, if used solely for the purposes of identification.” Above the list of boycott endorsers, the website states that “institutional names are for identification purposes only.”
Professors should be allowed to present and debate contentious issues, and the enforcement and interpretation of faculty bylaws should come from within the UC administration.