We the undersigned stand against the efforts of Kenneth Marcus, Trump’s appointed head of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education, to suppress the free speech and academic freedom of students and faculty who support Palestinian rights. Universities should be a place where professors are free to teach and express their viewpoints, and where students are free to learn and engage critically with the world around them.
Marcus’s attempt to use a controversial re-definition of antisemitism to silence criticism of Israel and its discriminatory policies has been widely criticized and is tantamount to censorship by the federal government. For example Marcus’s definition would make it a civil rights violation, and grounds for a federal investigation, to call Israel “racist.” This is an unconstitutional result.
Like many of Trump’s appointees, Marcus has a long record of campaigning against human and civil rights, and he is now exploiting his federal position to further his regressive agenda. In fact, a recently released video captured Marcus stating that he sees his role in the Trump administration as casting Palestinian human rights organizations as “hate groups.”
Prior to his appointment with the Trump administration, Marcus’s attacks on academic freedom and civil rights included, but are not limited to, the following:
Lobbying Congress to defund Middle East Studies programs that did not sufficiently support Israel’s policies.
Ignoring violations of LGBTQ rights, as noted by the National Women’s Law Center.
Agreeing to rescind Title IX guidance on sexual assault in schools, rolling back protections for survivors.
Creating sex-segregated education regulations.
Producing a report against affirmative action in violation of United States Commission on Civil Rights rules.
Criticizing the need for diversity in schools, as noted by the ACLU.
Spearheading a lawsuit against the American Studies Association for voting overwhelmingly for a resolution to cut ties with Israeli universities, which play a key role in Israel’s repressive policies by developing weapons systems and more.
Marcus’s assaults on academic freedom and free speech are numerous and egregious, and especially dangerous given his appointed leadership position to guard civil rights (the irony is not lost on us). Instead of doing his job by upholding civil rights for us all, Marcus is taking our freedoms away.
Students and faculty should be able to support Palestinians’ basic rights without being smeared, censored, or investigated by the federal government. It is their constitutional right. As concerned faculty, we stand firmly against Marcus’ proposal to redefine antisemitism to include criticism of the Israeli government and its policies, and we strongly oppose his attempts to threaten freedom of speech and academic freedom.
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)
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Photo: C-Span screengrab, Kenneth Marcus in 2004