Judith Butler, a noted literary theorist who is the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Visiting Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, has called off a talk she was supposed to give at the Jewish Museum in New York City, amid criticism of her support for the boycott of Israel. Butler's talk was not to have been about her views on the Middle East, but on Franz Kafka, who died well before the State of Israel was created. A statement from the museum said: "She was chosen on the basis of her expertise on the subject matter to be discussed. While her political views were not a factor in her participation, the debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended."
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Butler said: "I did decide to withdraw when it became clear to me that the uproar over my political views (actually, a serious distortion of my political views) would overtake the days ahead and the event itself. As I understand it, the Jewish Museum also felt that it could not handle the political storm, and we were in complete agreement that the event should be canceled as a result."
She continued: "What is most important now, in my view, is for both educational and cultural institutions such as these to recommit themselves to open debate, not to become vehicles for censorship and slander, and not to become party to forms of blacklisting. It certainly should not be the case that any of us are forced to give up speaking in public on scholarly topics that have no bearing on the political issues that are so controversial. It constitutes discrimination against a person on the basis of political viewpoint, implying that the speaker ought not to be allowed to speak on any topic given the political viewpoint in question. It is one thing to disagree, say, with my political viewpoint and to give reasons why one disagrees, even to call for an open debate on that disagreement, and to ask the Jewish Museum to exercise its authority and commit its resources to such an open debate. It is quite another to say that anyone with my political viewpoint (itself badly distorted in this case) should not be able to speak at a Jewish cultural organization.... Whether one is for or against [the boycott movement], it seems important to recognize that boycotts are constitutionally recognized forms of political expression, affirmed by international law as well. That means that one cannot exactly outlaw a boycott, even if one opposes it with great vehemence, without trampling on a constitutionally protected right. We are seeing several efforts now to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and so cultural institutions like the Jewish Museum will now have to decide whether they will allow their choices of speakers and artworks to be coerced, whether they will have the courage and the principle to stand for freedom of expression, refusing to impose a political litmus speakers on speakers and artists who have every reason to be part of the broader community they serve and have ideas on many other topics to share."
Cathy Davidson, a major player in the digital humanities and discussions of new models of higher education, is leaving Duke University for the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Davidson is currently the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English at Duke University. She is also co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), and the Graduate Center will become the main home of the organization. At CUNY, Davidson will be a professor of English at the Graduate Center and will direct the Futures Initiative, a CUNY-wide program to promote collaborative and participatory innovation in higher education.
In a statement, Davidson said that CUNY's Graduate Center "proves that a public, urban university is both accessible and exemplifies the highest possible intellectual standards.... My dedication to public higher education, while always strong, has grown in the last few years. How can the most affluent nation on the planet not invest in the future of public education? The Graduate Center and the entire CUNY system can be, and will be, the world leader in higher education innovation. I’m so proud to be part of the effort at such a fine public urban university system.”
A South Carolina legislative committee has voted to punish two public colleges for assigning freshmen to read books with gay themes by cutting the institutions' budgets by the total spent on the books in programs for freshmen, the Associated Press reported. The College of Charleston was criticized for making Fun Home, an acclaimed autobiographical work by Alison Bechdel, and the University of South Carolina Upstate assigned Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, which is a collection from the state's first gay radio show. Representative Garry Smith, a Republican, said he proposed the cuts to get colleges to take his concerns seriously. "I understand diversity and academic freedom," he said. "This is purely promotion of a lifestyle with no academic debate."
Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democrat, said legislators were interfering in academic decisions, and would draw ridicule from outside the state. "We are now in a posture where individual moral compasses and beliefs are being pushed down on our institutions of higher education," she said. "Do you think for one minute some companies are going to look seriously at us, when they think about their workforce coming to a state like this, with members of a Legislature who believe their job is to pass judgment on colleges of higher learning to dictate what books people are going to read?"
Adjuncts at Seattle University filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board Thursday to hold an election to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. SEIU also is organizing adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle, which has challenged the NLRB’s jurisdiction over its campus based on its religious affiliation.
A spokesman for Seattle University, a Roman Catholic institution, directed questions about the filing and whether the university would challenge NLRB jurisdiction based on its religious status to a statement posted on its website from Isiaah Crawford, its provost. It raises numerous concerns about the union drive, including that NLRB "oversight could infringe on our Jesuit tradition and Catholic identity." About 350 full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty are eligible for union membership.
Also on Thursday, the NLRB said there was no need to review the composition of the proposed bargaining unit at the University of LaVerne, in Los Angeles, where SEIU also is organizing adjuncts on multiple campuses as part of its nationwide Adjunct Action campaign. LaVerne previously had asked that the union election be open to all adjuncts at its satellite campuses; the SEIU-proposed unit is open only to adjuncts working on the main campus.
In a statement posted to its website, LaVerne said: “We are disappointed that our inclusive approach has been rejected. However, this decision should pave the way for the ballots, which have been cast and returned to the NLRB Regional Office, to be promptly opened and counted.” Voting began Feb. 5 and ended last week. Ballot counting was delayed, pending the national NLRB decision, as well as an unfair labor practice claim related to the union drive filed against the university.
The Texas Faculty Association is suing the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College in federal court on behalf of three tenured professors who say they were fired for being too old, after the two institutions ended a 20-year-old joint operating agreement. Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a professor of modern languages; Dorothy Boven, an assistant professor of English; and Karen Fuss-Sommer, an instructor of nursing, all were granted tenure at Texas Southmost prior to the merger of the college and university in 1992 but had their tenure revoked following their split in 2012.
The lawsuit alleges that was due to an administrative charge that prioritized the retention of non-tenure-track faculty members with master’s degrees over tenured faculty without master’s degrees during downsizing related to the split. But the professors, all over 40, say their positions weren’t even eliminated, and that they were replaced with younger professors without due process.
"Tenure is a property right, and it is not to be taken without good cause or due process, and these individuals were denied both,” said Mary Aldridge Dean, executive director the Texas Faculty Association, affiliated with the National Education Association, in a news release. Some 80 tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty lost their jobs following the institutions' split.
A spokeswoman from Brownsville said the university does not comment on pending litigation. Texas Southmost did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Full-time, non-tenure-track lecturers at the University of New Hampshire’s Durham and Manchester campuses have voted overwhelmingly -- 141 to 23 -- in favor of forming a union affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, they announced Thursday. Key issues for UNH Lecturers United-AAUP include clear terms of contract, job security, firm contract renewal deadlines, pay raises in step with lecturers at other institutions, and fair policies for evaluation.