Is ‘Academic freedom’ freedom to hate?

Ismail Khaldi speaks at Kent State

Ismail Khaldi speaks at Kent State

A Kent State History professor, Julio Pino, recently stirred the academic teapot by shouting “Death to Israel” as he stamped out of a talk by former Israeli Deputy Consul General in San Francisco, Ismail Khaldi.

Julio Pino

Julio Pino

I have heard Khaldi speak, and his tone is not confrontational. But he infuriates Muslim critics of Israel because Khaldi is himself an Arab Muslim. His message that it is possible for someone like him to identify with the State of Israel, and to succeed in the framework of a Jewish state gives the lie to their complaint that the Jewishness of Israel necessarily makes it a racist state.

Here is how the incident was described on a student website:

After the speech at Bowman Hall ended, Khaldi opened the floor to a Q-and-A session. The first person to ask a question was history professor Julio Pino.

Standing at the back of the auditorium, Pino asked Khaldi how he and his government could justify providing aid to countries like Turkey with blood money that came from the deaths of Palestinian children and babies.

The crowd fell into an awkward silence as the two continued to exchange words from across the auditorium.

“It is not respectful to me here,” Khaldi said.

Pino responded by saying “your government killed people” and claimed Khaldi was not being respectful to him.

“I do respect you, but you are wrong,” Khaldi said. “It’s a lie.”

The exchange ended as Pino stormed out of the auditorium shouting “Death to Israel!”

CAMERA notes that Pino, a tenured professor, apparently violated the University’s employment policy which requires all employees to

• “maintain a professional demeanor”;
• “exhibit a high degree of maturity and self-respect and foster an appreciation for other cultures, one’s own cultural background, as well as the cultural matrix from which Kent state university exists”;
• “demonstrate respect for all campus and external community members”;
• “respect the differences in people, ideas, and opinions”;
• not “threaten, accost, demean” or use “abusive language”;

Looks like an open and shut case for serious disciplinary action to me, especially since Pino, born in Cuba and a convert to Islam, has a long history of inappropriate behavior:

In 2002, Pino published a eulogy in the campus paper praising Palestinian terrorist Ayat al-Akras, who murdered two Israelis, Rachel Levy and Chaim Smadar.

Pino has been accused of having ties to terrorists and had his home raided in 2009 by the U.S. Secret Service. — CAMERA

We don’t know what Kent State will do, if anything. Its president took an unambiguous stand:

Lester A. Lefton, president of Kent State, issued a statement in which he said that the way Pino had treated Khaldi was “reprehensible, and an embarrassment to our university.” Lefton said that while it “may have been” Pino’s right to speak out, “it is my obligation, as the president of this university, to say that I find his words deplorable, and his behavior deeply troubling.”

Lefton added, “We value critical thinking at this university, and encourage students to engage with ideas that they find difficult or make them uncomfortable. We hope that our faculty will always model how best to combine passion for one’s position with respect for those with whom we disagree. Calling for the destruction of the state from which our guest comes (as do some of our students, faculty and community members) is a grotesque failure to model these values.” — Inside Higher Ed

AAUP's Cary Nelson

AAUP's Cary Nelson

But now we come to the most bizarre part of the story, even more so than the behavior of Pino, who is best described as an extremist nutjob.

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, criticized the president’s statement, and said that professors can shout out statements as a form of expressing their views.

“Calling out a political slogan during a question period falls well within the speech rights of any member of a university community,” he said. “Expressive outbursts do not substitute for rational analysis, but they have long played a role in our national political life. More surprising, to be sure, is President Lefton’s invention of an absurd form of hospitality: you must not question the moral legitimacy or the right to exist of a guest’s home country. Awareness of history would suggest such challenges are routine elements of international life.”

The fact that Khaldi or some Kent State students or faculty were Israelis did not make Pino’s outburst any more objectionable from a moral point of view. Would it have been less obscene to call for mass murder of Israelis in front of an audience made up entirely of, say, Canadians? But Lefton was not “invent[ing] an absurd form of hospitality” — he was drawing attention to one of Pino’s violations of University policy.

The first amendment protects even hate speech. It does not guarantee a job to someone who violates his conditions of employment.

The real issue is that calling for the destruction of a nation — and given the context in which the phrase is usually used — the murder of its inhabitants, is hardly simply a ‘political slogan’, as if Pino had shouted “four more years!” Pino’s documented support for terrorism against Israelis gives even more weight to my opinion that what Pino did was vicious hate speech. In the right circumstances it could even be considered incitement to murder. In any circumstances, it cannot contribute to the proper education of our youth to become citizens of a moral democracy.

The AAUP, represented by Cary Nelson, has made a fetish of academic freedom, arguing that anything an instructor says in an academic environment short of “here is a gun, shoot him” cannot reflect on his job performance. Deliberately teaching lies, spreading racial or ethnic hatred or using the classroom for political propagandizing — regardless of the connection to a teacher’s field of competence — is defended as the exercise of ‘academic freedom’, a concept  originally intended to permit free inquiry in controversial areas (read the AAUP’s own 1940 statement about academic freedom).

Nelson is also a major player in the controversy about whether Jewish students and faculty can make use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect Jewish students against the hostile environment created by ideologues like Pino (see my posts here and also here). In an article written with with Kenneth Stern on the AAUP website, Nelson suggests that such Title VI complaints are prompted by a desire to “censor what a professor, student, or speaker can say.” This ignores the documentation of academic, social and sometimes physical harassment experienced by Jewish students on some campuses.

Like any labor union, the AAUP sees it as its job to guarantee its members’ security. But it can go too far in this direction, and by protecting incompetence or malfeasance (Pino’s actions clearly count as this), can demean and eventually disgrace the profession.

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One Response to “Is ‘Academic freedom’ freedom to hate?”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Cary Nelson is among other things born of a ‘progressive’?
    Jewish family and a self- defined ‘tenured radical’ i.e. extreme Leftist. It is by no means surprising therefore that he comes to defend a rude radical Islamist, anti- Semite. This is the big Hate Combo- Radical Left and Radical Right The Extremely ‘Progressive’ and the ‘Extremely Islamist’.
    The Jewish people have another one to put on the long list of those we can be ashamed of.