IU Faculty Letter in Support of Professor Abdulkader Sinno
Indiana University has suspended a tenured faculty member, Associate Professor of Political Science Abdulkader Sinno, for assisting students in sponsoring a lecture on a matter of public concern. So determined was the university to punish Professor Sinno that it refused to follow long-established procedures that guaranteed him a hearing in front of peers before such a severe sanction could be imposed.
As faculty members of Indiana University, we condemn this persecution of a colleague and the administration’s shocking expression of contempt for IU’s longstanding practices of shared governance.
The suspension comes as IU and other universities are under pressure to curtail free speech over the Israel-Palestine conflict. On November 15 Rep. James Banks (R-IN) called on IU President Pamela Whitten to demonstrate her opposition to supposedly “antisemitic” acts associated with the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), an officially recognized student group on campus.
A month later Professor Sinno, the faculty advisor of the PSC, was suspended.
The supposed reason for the suspension: alleged mistakes in the filing of a room reservation form to support a PSC event, a scheduled public lecture by Miko Peled, an Israeli-American IDF veteran and peace activist. The alleged mistakes led the administration to demand cancelation of the event two days before it was scheduled to take place. The PSC went forward with the event, which proceeded without a hitch—until the administration claimed that the “unauthorized event” was a form of reckless endangerment for which Professor Sinno, as the group’s faculty advisor, was being held responsible.
Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Carrie Docherty informed Professor Sinno on December 15 that he was suspended from all teaching and mentoring of students for the Spring and Summer 2024 semesters. The grounds: “serious concerns about the effect your behavior may have on members of the campus community. These concerns are enhanced by the potential impact that your inattention to university compliance requirements has on the students you influence in the classroom and in your role as a student organization faculty advisor.”
In suspending Professor Sinno on such trumped-up charges, Vice Provost Docherty, in consultation with IU’s Office of General Counsel, violated university and campus policies by purporting to act on her own authority, rather than referring the matter to the campus Faculty Misconduct Review Committee, as clearly required by IU policies ACA-33, Section 5e, and BL-ACA-D27.
These policies were collaboratively developed by faculty and administrators. While we may differ on the Israel-Palestine conflict, every faculty member must consider their rights – not to mention the integrity of their university – in danger when the campus’s chief faculty administrator and its lawyers collude to violate principles of shared governance in order to make an example of a colleague.
As for Professor Sinno, we consider his suspension to be a pretextual and unwarranted punishment based on groundless inferences about his character and ability. And we find it impossible to regard the administration’s handling of this matter as a normal personnel matter, because university administrators across the country are doing very similar things in response to very similar pressures to limit pro-Palestinian campus advocacy on their campuses.
On November 10, for example, Columbia University controversially suspended two student groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. According to the New York Times: “the action was justified because the two groups had repeatedly violated university policies requiring them to get permission and give 10 business days’ notice before holding an event.” This is essentially the official rationale used to suspend Professor Sinno.
We consider the suspension an injustice to Professor Sinno but also to the entire IU community, for it places into question the university’s commitment to academic freedom, civil liberties, faculty governance, and the free exchange of ideas about controversial matters that is at the core of any first-class public university.
We demand that this unjustified suspension itself be suspended immediately, for the sake of our colleague but also the credibility and reputation of our university.
Jeffrey C. Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science
Asma Afsaruddin, Class of 1950 Herman B Wells Endowed Professor of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures
Mark Roseman, Distinguished Professor in History and Pat M Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies
Steve Sanders, Professor of Law and Val Nolan Faculty Fellow
Jean Robinson, Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Former Executive Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Robert L. Ivie, Professor Emeritus in English & American Studies
Constance M. Furey, Ruth N. Halls Professor, Department of Religious Studies and co-founder, The Center for Religion and the Human
Heather Akou, Associate Professor of Fashion Design and Adjunct in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures
Aviva Orenstein, Professor of Law, Karen Lake Buttrey and Donald W. Buttrey Chair
William Scheuerman, James H. Rudy Professor of International Studies and Political Science
Bob Eno, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, retired
Maria Bucur, John W. Hill Chair of East European History and Professor, Department of History
Susan Seizer, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
Benjamin Robinson, Associate Professor of Germanic Studies
IU Faculty in Support of Academic Freedom Contact the author of the petition