The National Communication Association’s Executive Committee said last week that the “events leading up to the censoring and dismissal” of the NCA president’s Nov. 18 address “occurred among a few individuals without the advanced knowledge or consent” of the committee. It’s apologizing.
Walid Afifi was set to give the speech at the NCA’s 109th Annual Convention alongside other speakers he had asked to write and deliver parts of his address, according to Ahlam Muhtaseb, one of those other planned speakers. Afifi, a professor in the department of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is the group’s first Palestinian president.
Muhtaseb, a Palestinian herself and a communication studies professor at California State University, San Bernardino, said she planned to use the word “genocide” to describe the deaths in Gaza during her part, which was to be delivered in Arabic. She also planned to say “free Palestine.”
But she said Afifi informed the speakers shortly before the address was to start that the association would cancel the entire awards ceremony where the speeches were to be delivered if she tried to give her part. All the speakers refused to participate if Muhtaseb couldn’t. The address was canceled and protest ensued, with attendees putting duct tape over their mouths and the planned speakers giving their speeches through a bullhorn in the conference hotel.
“The Executive Committee unanimously extends its deepest apologies to the seven performers who invested time, energy, and effort in preparing to share their visions of the future of NCA and the communication discipline, especially to Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb,” last week’s emailed statement read. “We also recognize and apologize for the harm caused to President Walid Afifi and First Vice President Marnel Niles Goins. The Executive Committee also expresses regret to our Association members who missed an opportunity to learn from the public address of their peers at this year’s convention.”
While the statement says it simply comes from the “Executive Committee,” the association’s website lists the members of what it calls the “Executive Committee of the Legislative Assembly”—it’s unclear whether they’re the same. The website says that, between annual meetings of the Legislative Assembly, the Executive Committee of the Legislative Assembly “serves as the chief administrative authority of the Association.”
Afifi and Niles Goins, who is dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities and a communication professor at Marymount University, are members of that committee as is the NCA’s executive director and others. It remains unclear how Afifi, as president, could’ve been overridden by others in his wishes for his address.
The committee’s statement said it’s “actively ascertaining the series of interactions that contributed to the censoring and dismissal.” It said it “will consult with the membership to institute a series of measures to prevent future violations of our commitments to free speech and academic freedom.”