USACBI responds to Temple University’s statement concerning Professor Marc Lamont Hill

(portions of this statement appear in an oped by a member of USACBI)

On December 11, 2018, the Temple University Board of Trustees issued a four-paragraph statement in response to a speech given by Professor Marc Lamont Hill at the United Nations on the occasion of International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  The statement was careful to denounce Dr Hill indirectly by quoting the slanderous language of others against him.  We write to register our objection to the unprincipled way that the Board cast aspersions on Dr. Hill at the same time it failed to defend academic freedom.

It is important to note that the statement implicitly acknowledges there was nothing inherently offensive in Dr Hill’s speech.  Rather, the university’s objection lies in the way “many regard[ed]” it and how it was “widely perceived” or “broadly criticized.”  In essence, the university was unable to reasonably rebuke what was ultimately a call for justice and freedom for the Palestinian people, the colonized indigenous nation of the land between the River Jordan and Mediterranean Sea.  USACBI finds it stunning and unprecedented that a university would hold its professor responsible not for his words, but for the ways in which others interpreted them.

It is also worth noting that no such statement was issued by the Board of Trustees following the exposure of Temple journalism professor Francesca Viola, who admitted to posting conspiracy theories against Muslims and immigrants.  Among other things, her anonymous account posted the word “scum” under a photo of Muslims praying and called to “get rid of them.”  

It beggars the imagination to consider why Temple’s Board of Trustees would ignore the abhorrent posts of a racist professor, while exceeding its responsibilities in order to rebuke an avowedly anti-racist professor, not for the content of his speech, but for the ways in which that speech was received.  

In the second paragraph, Temple’s Board attempts to divest Dr. Hill from his professional position and identity as a scholar and intellectual, and in so doing, they deny his right to academic freedom.  The claim that Dr. Hill was speaking as a private citizen and therefore that his words fall under the purview of the First Amendment, not academic freedom, belies the reality that his speech as a Temple faculty member is fully protected under the principles of academic freedom.  In fact, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is explicit that “freedom of extramural utterance is a constitutive part of the American conception of academic freedom, and the AAUP has investigated and censured many institutions for dismissing faculty members over their extramural utterances.”  Extra-mural speech is public speech outside the university walls, in any form of media.

While we at USACBI welcome the unsurprising news that the Temple University administration has found no grounds to punish or investigate Professor Hill, we repudiate the Board’s continued attempts to nonetheless malign Marc Lamont Hill.  The public response of individuals on the Board of Trustees and the collective statement by the Board are ultimately a testament to the alarmingly corrosive power that defenders of Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid exert on the academy. These outside lobbying interests, strongly allied with power,  threaten the bedrock of academic freedom.

We also underscore our support for Marc Lamont Hill’s freedom of speech and academic freedom as rights that have been stripped from Palestinian scholars by Israel’s multi-tiered apartheid legal and social system.  Indeed, it is ironic that Temple’s Board of Trustees would berate an African-American professor criticizing Israel’s Jim Crow apartheid, enshrined in its nation-state law, while turning a blind eye to the egregious racism and discrimination faced by Palestinian students and scholars every day.   

USACBI stands with Marc Lamont Hill and calls on those who support Palestinian liberation to join us in the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli universities until Israel stops violating international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.

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