Targeting Professor Terri Ginsberg’s Academic and Speech Freedoms – by Stephen Lendman
Post-9/11, anyone challenging America’s war on terrorism faces possible recrimination, especially vulnerable Muslims, targeted for political advantage to incite fear to justify war.
Moreover, anyone critical of Israel leaves them vulnerable to vilification, intimidation and persecution. Even university professors are targeted, including distinguished tenured ones – censured, suspended and/or fired unjustly.
Yet America’s First Amendment states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Of all Bill of Rights freedoms, this one’s most important because without it all others are at risk.
Some would also argue that academic freedom derives from First Amendment rights, including US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (1939 – 1975). In 1952, he cited it in an Adler v. Board of Education opinion, calling its denial a violation of speech freedom.
He also believed that doing so is “the most dangerous of all subversions….There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies.”
In Wieman v. Updegraff (1952), Justice Felix Frankfurter (1939 – 1962) concurred, saying:
“To regard teachers – in our educational system, from the primary grades to the university – as the priests of our democracy is therefore not to indulge in hyperbole. It is the special task of teachers to foster those habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry which alone make for responsible citizens, who, in turn, make possible an enlightened and effective public opinion.”
“They cannot carry out their noble task if the conditions for the practice of a responsible and critical mind are denied to them. They must have the freedom of responsible inquiry, by thought and action….”
In Sweezy v. New Hampshire, Justice Earl Warren (1953 – 1969) concurred with a High Court majority, saying:
“We believe that there unquestionably was an invasion of petitioner’s liberties in the areas of academic freedom and political expression – areas in which government should be extremely reticent to tread. The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident….To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation….Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.”
In Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967), Justice William Brennan (1956 – 1990) notably said:
“Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.”
American jurisprudence today is much more hardline than earlier because two-thirds or more of all federal judges are from, affiliated with, or sympathetic to the extremist Federalist Society. It advocates rolling back civil liberties; ending New Deal social policies; opposing reproductive choice, government regulations, labor rights and environmental protections; as well as subverting justice (including speech and academic freedom) in defense of privilege.
As a result, academia is easily threatened, especially when challenging mainstream dogma, notably through honest discourse about Israeli/Palestinians relations.
North Carolina State University (NCSU) Professor Terri Ginsberg is one of many victims. She was denied tenure-track positioning, then fired as a visiting professor, “pertaining to (her) scholarship and teaching on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Ginsberg’s Distinguished Credentials
After receiving her doctorate in Cinema Studies at New York University (NYU), she taught film, media, and literary studies at Rutgers University, NYU, Dartmouth, Ithaca College, SUNY-Purchase College, and Brooklyn College-CUNY.
Her expertise includes:
— Palestinian/Israeli cinema;
— German cinema;
— Holocaust films;
— Critical theory; and
— Gender and sexuality studies.
Her authored, co-authored, and edited books include:
— “Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema;”
— “Holocaust Film: The Political Aesthetics of Ideology;” and
— “Perspectives on German Cinema.”
She’s also written articles for the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, Spectator, Situations, Arab Studies Quarterly, and other publications, including on Palestinian/Israeli conflict issues.
From 2006 – 2008, she co-chaired the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Middle Eastern Caucus. In New York, as part of Jews against Israel’s Occupation and International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, she’s also been a community organizer. In addition, she’s an International Council for Middle East Studies (ICMES) Programming Committee member.
In December 2009, she sued NCSU. At an October 25, 2010 Summary Judgment hearing, Judge Shannon Joseph summarily dismissed it without reason. At issue was either not understanding or being dismissive of First Amendment rights. “(S)he was apparently only looking for direct evidence of discrimination and speech suppression,” or bent the law to support power and privilege over justice.
Despite “mountain(s) of circumstantial evidence,” she dismissed it out of hand. In April 2011, Ginsberg’s Record of Appeal was filed, then “an Appellate Brief with the North Carolina Court of Appeals” on June 24. A late summer or early fall hearing should follow.
Ginsberg sued in December 2009. A State of North Carolina mandated mediation hearing followed in May 2010. No settlement was reached. During a week of subsequent depositions, NCSU “admitted that it suppressed (her) speech critical of Zionism and supportive of the Palestine liberation struggle” while employed as a visiting professor.
As a result, “it chose not to interview or hire (her) for a tenure-track position because” her scholarship focused honestly on Israel/Palestine, the Middle East, “Jewish” and related issues. “Amazingly, (NCSU) claims that it has the right to suppress, refuse and reject on the basis of these considerations.” As a result, Ginsberg filed a Record of Appeal and Appellate Brief for redress.
In September 2010, when discovery ended, “NCSU filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, held on October 25 as explained above. “By dismissing the case, Judge Joseph essentially decided that” the North Carolina Constitution’s Article I, section 14 free speech provision excludes anti-Zionist criticism and views supporting Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights.
As a non-tenure-track faculty member at the time, Ginsberg was fired as a visiting professor and denied a campus grievance hearing – one a tenure-track/tenured faculty member likely would have gotten. “(T)he judge’s decision also impacts the labor rights of contingent academic workers” nationally because they comprise 70% of faculty members today.
Ginsberg strongly believes her Summary Judgment dismissal was improper. As a result, she was denied a jury trial on grounds that no speech violations occurred. In fact, Judge Joseph’s ruling ignored evidence that “NCSU faculty exhibited symptoms of discomfort with (her) political views and public statements.”
For example, NCSU witnesses, including its Film Studies Program director, admitted they reacted negatively to views she expressed at a Palestinian film screening, during which she thanked audience members “for supporting the expression of a Palestinian liberation perspective in an alternative film screening.”
As a result, NCSU witnesses said they believed they would thus “perceive the Film Studies and Middle East Studies programs as biased. Shortly thereafter, (she) went from being the favored candidate for a tenure-track position to be denied an interview.”
Later, NCSU claimed she was denied for being “overqualified,” and because her scholarship “shift(ed) to Middle Eastern interests,” making her inappropriate for a European film position despite her “voluminous publication record” and European film work, “far exceed(ing) the prevailing candidate.”
Based on bogus reasoning, however, she was also denied a jury trial, a decision Ginsberg hopes will be reversed on appeal.
Terri Ginsberg v. Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina
Its Statement on the Grounds for Appellate Review says:
“Judge Joseph’s order, which entered judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendant on all of the plaintiff’s claims, is a final judgment and appeal is therefore proper pursuant to NC Gen. Stat. 7A-27(b).”
In October 2007, Ginsberg applied for a Film Studies tenure-track position. It requires candidates with “a primary concentration in at least one area of European Cinema, although additional areas of expertise are welcome (other national cinemas, digital media, theory, etc.),” as well as “an excellent research and teaching record in the area advertised.”
The search committee initially listed her most qualified among “First Tier Candidates” until “suddenly” she “fell out of favor (and) was not listed in either the first or the second tier, but moved to the bottom of the ‘reject’ tier, and was not even granted an interview for the position.”
The reason given was that she was “now working with Palestinian/Israeli, rank issue(s)….” Moreover, it called her “experience and the quantity of her publications exceed(ing) that which normally would be expected of a beginning assistant professor in our department.”
“Included in the tier above her were candidates who did not even appear to be in the field of Film Studies, including (one) about whom the notes said, ‘is he really film studies?’ “
Despite being the most qualified candidate, another one was chosen “whose publication and teaching records were not nearly as strong as Ginsberg’s….”
Moreover, although the applicant wrote about Holocaust film, she didn’t challenge Zionism, include alternative Jewish perspectives, or publish books. In addition, Ginsberg’s contract wasn’t renewed despite her cinema expertise and distinguished scholarship.
Clearly, her activist views about Israel/Palestine, Zionism, and America’s one-sided Middle East policy got her punished. As a result, her academic and speech rights were violated, subjecting her to Inquisition justice.
A Final Comment
Saint Xavier University Professor Peter N. Kirstein, a noted academic freedom supporter, said Ginsberg was fired:
“for daring to cross the ideological line into artistic and pedagogical assessment of the Palestine Question. (She’s) just one of many academics who support human rights and the decolonization of Palestine whose academic freedom has been denied. Many have either been silenced, fired, denied tenure, or non-renewed throughout academia” for daring to defend right over wrong – especially when challenging Israel, Zionism, or America’s one-sided support for both.
As a result, each censor victory “is a defeat of free speech and the right to conscience that this nation and the academy cynically trumpet,” while waring lawlessly against democratic values, including truth, justice, rule of law standards, human rights, civil liberties, and courageous activists who champion them.
Among others well known to this writer, Ginsberg notably qualifies honorably.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.