Academic Freedom for Palestine Justice Professor Denied at Ithaca College

Tenure travesty at Ithaca College

By Troy Pasulka | April 20, 2009

ITHACA, N.Y.–Sixty people gathered April 16 at the Workers’ Center to hear Professor Margo Ramlal-Nankoe describe how she was denied tenure at Ithaca College due to her complaints about sexual harassment and her outspoken opposition to the Israel-U.S. war on Palestinians. She is reaching out to the public for support.

Ramlal-Nankoe, a non-citizen immigrant and woman of color, says that she clearly meets Ithaca College’s tenure criteria for Sociology faculty members, and has many letters from students and peers to support this claim.

During her 2005 department-level tenure review, her colleagues recognized Ramlal-Nankoe’s excellence, and a majority voted to recommend she receive tenure. According to Ramlal-Nankoe, those who voted against her did so because she had previously spoken out about incidents of sexual harassment she faced from another faculty member in the department.

The Dean of Ithaca College’s School of Humanities and Sciences also decided at this time to recommend that Ramlal-Nankoe not receive tenure. Ramlal-Nankoe alleges this was because the dean is pro-Israel and didn’t like the fact that she was involved in groups like Students for a Just Peace in Israel/Palestine (SJP). In advising SJP, Ramlal-Nankoe helped the group bring outspoken critics of the occupation of Palestine, such as Ali Abunimah, Sara Roy and Marty Rosenbluth, to campus.

Ramlal-Nankoe appealed the dean’s negative recommendation and the votes against her within her department, arguing that these individuals had committed serious violations of the rules governing her tenure process. When the Appeals Committee and Provost at the time agreed with her, she was granted a new, supervised tenure review.

But Provost Peter Bardaglio, who was to supervise the second review, left Ithaca College before it began, and Ramlal-Nankoe was left to face a repeat of her first “tenure travesty”–a description of her situation coined by Norman Finkelstein, who was denied tenure at DePaul University because of his scholarship critical of Israel.

Norman Finkelstein has reviewed Margo’s case and has this to say regarding Margo and her situation:

“I have met and spoken at length with [Ramlal-Nankoe] and her husband,” Finkelstein wrote on his Web site. “They are the most decent of human beings: doing the right thing at great personal and professional expense. I have carefully scrutinized the facts in her tenure case. It simply cannot be disputed that she is the victim of a political witch-hunt.”

Finkelstein–and Joel Kovel, a professor who was recently terminated at Bard College because of his criticism of Zionism–spoke via Skype during the April 16 public meeting defending Ramlal-Nankoe.

The morning after the meeting, Ithaca College President Thomas Rochon claimed to a reporter that he didn’t “really understand” the request for a public tenure review because her “tenure review has been completed.”

Fortunately, many people do understand the injustice perpetrated against Ramlal-Nankoe. During the question-comment section of the meeting, Karen Ross, a member of United Auto Workers Local 2300, explained why Margo’s fight is important: “Where is the accountability? We need a fair depiction of both sides on controversial issues at institutions of higher education.”

Defending those who, like Ramlal-Nankoee, speak critically of the U.S. and Israel’s role in the Middle East is a crucial part of the project of rebuilding a left in this country that can pose a real alternative.

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What you can do

You can find out more about Margo Ramlal-Nankoe’s case, and you can support her struggle, at the Ithaca College Injustice: A Tenure Travesty [2] Web site.

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