The American Historical Association Council rejected one petition from a group of historians critical of Israel and reworded another at its recent meeting. After two unsuccessful attempts to get AHA members to approve boycott, divestment and sanctions-related resolutions at the association’s annual gatherings in 2015 and 2016, a group of historians, some of whom are affiliated with Historians Against the War, petitioned the AHA’s governing body directly. The first petition called on the AHA to investigate “credible charges of violations of academic freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” whether by “constituting a fact-finding committee, authorizing a delegation or issuing an investigative report,” similar to efforts undertaken by the American Anthropological Association.
The second petition asked the AHA Council to make a statement upholding “the right of students and faculty to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse points of view on Israel/Palestine issues” and condemning “all efforts at intimidation of those expressing such views. Specifically, we condemn the maintenance of blacklists, such as those on the anonymous ‘Canary Mission’ website publicizing names, photographs and contact information for hundreds of supporters of Palestinian rights, predominantly Arab-American students.”
Jim Grossman, executive director of the historical association, said the council “discussed the complicated intellectual and practical issues" raised by the first petition. And while it “benefited from the experience” of the anthropological association, he said, the council “determined that the petition is requesting investigative work that is beyond the scope and mission of the AHA.”
Instead of addressing political speech regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue specifically, as requested in the second petition, the council released a statement upholding “the rights of students, faculty and other historians to speak freely and to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse perspectives on historical or contemporary issues.” The statement continues, “We condemn all efforts to intimidate those expressing their views. Specifically, we condemn in the strongest terms the creation, maintenance and dissemination of blacklists and watch lists -- through media (social and otherwise) -- which identify specific individuals in ways that could lead to harassment and intimidation.”
Grossman said the more general statement reflects the AHA's concern “that any such harassment and intimidation is contrary to our values and to the generally accepted principles of academic freedom articulated by the American Association of University Professors.” He added, “We're grateful to the petitioners for raising this issue, and think that what matters is the larger problem of any entity creating what essentially look like blacklists.”
Van Gosse, chair of history at Franklin and Marshall College and a member of Historians Against the War, said AHA has “the right and responsibility” to take political stances on issues under its purview. Regarding the first petition, Gosse said he didn’t understand how the AHA could cite the anthropologists’ action, then state that the requested investigation was outside its own purview. “A small, volunteer committee vetted by council could have done that work; there is vast documentation already available,” he said. Gosse said he was not aware of anyone involved in drafting the petitions who was “disturbed” by the council’s response to the second one, however.
A professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, accused of harassing two former graduate students, canceled several of his classes earlier this week due to student protests upon his return to campus following a related suspension. Gabriel Piterberg has not admitted to any misconduct, but the university settled with the two students last year after they sued it for responding insufficiently to their claims. Piterberg also agreed to a separate settlement with the university in 2014, which halted a campus investigation into one of the students’ claims. That agreement included a $3,000 fine, a one-quarter suspension without pay and a three-year ban on meeting alone with students in his office with the door shut.
That last detail has played a key role in ongoing protests about Piterberg’s return, as some students questioned how a professor who can’t be trusted to be alone with students can be trusted to teach them. “We wanted to send a clear message to the university and the history department that we don’t think someone accused of sexual harassment should be teaching undergraduate classes,” protester Melissa Melpignano, a fourth-year doctoral student and member of the group Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, told theLos Angeles Times.
Kathryn Kranhold, a university spokesperson, said that Piterberg would continue to teach, but that videotaped lectures will be available to students who choose not to attend class. Piterberg, who canceled class after protesters stood inside his classroom and others could be heard shouting outside, did not respond to a request for comment. He’s accused of harassing the two students over several years and of forcibly touching and kissing them.
A new report from the National Association of Scholars warns against the rise of what it calls “new civics” and recommends that legislators mandate a course in “traditional” American civics as a graduation requirement at all colleges and universities that receive public funding. “What we call the ‘new civics’ redefines civics as progressive political activism,” reads the 525-page report. “Rooted in the radical program of the 1960s’ New Left, the new civics presents itself as an up-to-date version of volunteerism and good works. Though camouflaged with soft rhetoric, the new civics, properly understood, is an effort to repurpose higher education.”
The report says that the alleged movement, above all, seeks to make students “enthusiastic supporters” of the “New Left’s dream of ‘fundamentally transforming’ America,” including by “decarbonizing the economy, massively redistributing wealth, intensifying identity group grievance, curtailing the free market, expanding government bureaucracy, elevating international ‘norms’ over American constitutional law and disparaging our common history and ideals.” The report asserts that “service learning” initiatives at colleges seek to teach students that a “good citizen is a radical activist, and it puts political activism at the center of everything that students do in college, including academic study, extracurricular pursuits and off-campus ventures.” By “rebranding itself as ‘civic engagement,’” the report continues, “service learning succeeded in capturing nearly all the funding that formerly supported the old civics. In practice this means that instead of teaching college students the foundations of law, liberty, and self-government, colleges teach students how to organize protests, occupy buildings and stage demonstrations. These are indeed forms of ‘civic engagement,’ but they are far from being a genuine substitute for learning how to be a full participant in our republic.”
Beyond the traditional civics requirement, the report recommends establishing a public body to set the guidelines and review and approve textbooks for the courses, “which should at a minimum teach the history, nature and functions of our institutions of self-government, and which should aim to foster commitment to our form of self-government.” The association asks that the requirement be met only through classroom instruction and that public funding for service learning and civic engagement programs be terminated.
Adjunct faculty members at the University of Southern California’s David and Dana Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences have withdrawn their petition to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. Part-time faculty members at Dornsife narrowly voted down a union last year, but alleged administrative interference in the election in charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The board decided that a second election could proceed, but the union says it can’t hold another election in the current environment. The board also recently ruled that adjunct faculty members at the Roski School of Art and Design are not managers, allowing them to proceed with forming the SEIU-affiliated union they voted for last year.
Provost Michael Quick said in an email to faculty members on Tuesday that the university had now been cleared of all charges related to Dornsife, and that there “are more legal steps ahead concerning Roski, and the final decision will probably be made by a federal appeals court.” He noted that the NLRB had voted 2 to 1, not unanimously, on the managerial issue.
Bob Schoonover, president of the local SEIU, said about the NLRB’s decision concerning Roski, “To cast aside this frivolous appeal marks yet another important victory” for faculty members and “clears the way for faculty to begin the process of bargaining a contract that raises standards for themselves and the students they teach.” Of the Dornsife petition withdrawal, Schoonover said, “Unfortunately, based on our past experience we have come to the clear conclusion that a new election will be met with another onslaught of illegal tactics aimed at dividing faculty and protecting university profits.”