New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Watchdog org. claims NYU violated policy in faculty suspension

The free speech group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression sent a letter to President Linda Mills accusing the university of violating its faculty handbook in its suspension of Gallatin professor Amin Husain.
A+box+with+a+paper+saying+THE+OFFICE+OF+EQUAL+OPPORTUNITY+and+FROM%3A+CONCERNED+STUDENTS.
Adrita Talukder
(Courtesy photo by Adrita Talukder)

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a First Amendment watchdog organization, criticized NYU’s administration for the suspension of Gallatin professor Amin Husain, citing a university policy that protects faculty from discipline when they “speak or write as citizens.” In a Feb. 2 letter to NYU president Linda Mills, the group demanded that the university reinstate Husain and “refrain from punishing faculty for their protected expression,” requesting that NYU respond to the letter by Feb. 12.

Husain was suspended from the university after a video of him saying reports that Hamas militants are “rapists” and claims that they are “people that behead babies” are “not true” during a Dec. 5 teach-in at The New School circulated online. An Oct. 17 petition with over 6,700 signatures is demanding Husain’s removal “due to his promotion of hate speech against Jews.”

In a written statement to WSN, NYU spokesperson John Beckman said the university would not discuss “the details of the matter involving Mr. Husain.” 

“Academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas are key tenets of our scholarly community; NYU remains fully committed to them,” Beckman said. “Those principles are not at odds with nor do they prevent the university from enforcing its long-established rules against prohibited conduct such as disruptions in applicable academic settings, engaging in discrimination and/or harassment and/or calls to violence.”

FIRE’s letter references NYU’s policy on academic freedom in its faculty handbook, which states that when faculty “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” The letter, written by FIRE program officer Graham Piro, said Husain spoke at the teach-in “in his personal capacity and not on behalf of NYU” and that “there was no indication his attendance was part of his job.” 

In an interview with WSN, Piro said that while NYU operates as a private institution and is therefore not legally bound by the First Amendment, it still “incorporates the values of the first amendment” in its policies.

“If he was speaking in his private capacity, then he, just like the rest of us, has a right to comment on matters of public concern — even if people take offense,” Piro said. “That is very important to keep in mind and NYU is not within its rights to punish the professors if they were clearly speaking as private citizens, exercising their rights to comment on major issues of the day.”

A day after the letter was sent to Mills, a petition calling on NYU to reinstate Husain’s classes and “issue an apology for having disregarded the students’ educational rights” appeared online. On Wednesday morning, a group of around nine students demonstrated outside the Office of Equal Opportunity, with two students delivering the petition — which has since garnered over 2,800 signatures — to the office.

Beckman announced Husain’s suspension in a universitywide statement on Jan. 25, noting the university’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policies. Just last week, NYU suspended another professor, Tomasz Skiba, after the university notified him that it would be looking into complaints about his “social media posts” related to the war, also citing its non-discrimination policies.

David Palmer, the chair of NYU’s adjunct faculty union, told WSN that he, along with other union members, represented Husain during meetings with the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Equal Opportunity. Palmer said that claims that Husain is “endangering the safety of people in the NYU community” appeared to come from “third-party platforms,” such as the groups StopAntisemitism and Canary Mission, rather than from inside the university.

“What has been revealed to us in meetings with Amin is that we did not hear any direct threats and did not hear any evidence from anybody from the NYU community saying that there was an issue,” Palmer said. “You can’t just make these unsubstantiated claims about safety being infringed on to then take away someone’s right for free speech.”

Palmer said that recent faculty suspensions have led to increased concern for adjunct professors over what they teach, what courses they can propose and whether they will lose their jobs because of what they say. He also said that there has been a sense of uncertainty regarding what is and isn’t allowed, saying that the university has remained “very silent on this issue.”

“The whole reason why there is academic freedom, and there’s freedom of speech, is because during these times of political stress, it’s really important that there are channels for people to be able to speak and not have this fear of retaliation,” Palmer said. “It’s the fear of retaliation that’s particularly concerning, not just in the cases of the professors who have been suspended, but in terms of the adjunct community as a whole, who are now subject to fear of what might happen next.”

Contact Adrianna Nehme at [email protected].

About the Contributors
Adrianna Nehme, News Editor
Adrianna Nehme is a sophomore still trying to decide what to major in. Originally from a small town in Indiana, she moved to Chicago, Illinois for high school — where she was also the news editor for the school paper! She loves experiencing music live at concerts, seeking restaurants to try in the city and reading fiction novels — her all-time favorite is "The Cider House Rules" by John Irving. Check out her latest adventures on Instagram @adrianna.nehme.
Adrita Talukder, Editor-at-Large
Adrita Talukder is a sophomore at CAS planning to major in Comparative Literature and International Relations. Outside of the paper, she's usually photographing her friends, watching movies, or polishing her NYU French award. You can find Adrita on Instagram @adritasphotos or @adrjta.
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