Kirstein on Iymen Chehade Academic Freedom Case at I.E.A. Higher Ed Conference

Peter N. Kirstein Illinois Education Association Higher Education Conference October 11, 2014 at Elk Grove Village

I speak today with one purpose: to demonstrate in a workshop manner why the Iymen Chehade case was successful and what is needed for similar outcomes on your campuses. The five components are union, AAUP, lawyer, publicity and administration.

The only case that Illinois AAUP has won or at least impacted that led to a positive result was the Iymen Chehade case. That alone would have made it a significant moment but the fact that Iymen is an adjunct professor at Columbia College who is ineligible for tenure and does not possess the same degree of academic freedom that tenure track or tenured faculty possess, makes the case more unique. The most vulnerable faculty member that we have investigated in an academic freedom violation wins his battle for a restoration of a course section that was removed due to a student complaint for screening 5 Broken Cameras that is vital in the area of compensation and professional work.

The first significant element was the presence of a faculty union. Some full-time faculty look at unions as undignified and more appropriate for hard-hat jobs or those who may not possess a Ph.D. While that elitism is diminishing, it is still present among many tenured faculty who see part-time faculty as part of the lumpenproletariat.

To make matters worse, NLRB v Yeshiva in 1980 was a hammer blow against full-time faculty organising on private campuses. The Supreme Court ruled in that union-busting decision that full-time faculty at private universities are managers, not employees and, therefore, don’t have the right to organise. Tell that to faculty members on non-union campuses that have no rights, no shared governance, and no effective recourse to challenge administration diktat. Tell that to a Norman Finkelstein, Namita Goswami or a Mehrene Larudee who were at non-union DePaul or to a Steven Salaita at non-union for tenured, tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I did not feel like a manager when I was suspended several years ago for an antiwar email to the Air Force Academy. I did not feel like a boss when I was reprimanded. I did not feel like an employer when I was subjected to Gestapo tactics of abuse and intimidation from a nation clamouring to silence me and calling me as David Horowitz did in his book, The Professors, 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America one of the most dangerous professors in the US. Even a unionised faculty is not guaranteed academic freedom, free speech, shared governance and the right to challenge arbitrary administration authority. But it sure helps.

P-FAC was obviously significant in the Iymen Chehade case. It’s contract affords some measure of protection particularly among part-time faculty with the seniority of Professor Chehade. I don’t think, despite the credit that AAUP ILL Committee A received in engaging the case, that its role would have been as decisive without the careful and comprehensive summation of Professor Susan Tyma at various stages of the grievance procedures. Ill AAUP relied heavily on her conclusions of academic freedom violations and applied them to AAUP documents and reports. In January and February 2014 she filed grievance reports that were of great value to AAUP and we cited them in our March 25, 2014 report to Academic Vice President/Interim Provost Dr. Louise Love.

Professor Tyma in a significant February 19, 2014 memorandum affirmed “the union’s contention that the cancelation of the course was a denial of academic freedom… the fact that the college canceled only one and not both sections of the course establishes merely that there was a partial, rather than complete, denial of Mr. Chehade’s academic freedom.” Any denial of academic freedom is of great concern to the A.A.U.P.

Diana Vallera publicised the event on campus when Illinois Committee A needed closure and a consensus so that we would not belie our purpose by waiting endlessly for the facts. We knew the facts, moved on them and overcame some internal resistance.

Having AAUP intervention is certainly useful as well. I cite the other members of the Illinois AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure: Matthew Abraham, who left DePaul and was replaced by Iymen, Loretta Capeheart, Northeastern Illinois University, Walter Kendall, John Marshall Law School, John Wilson, Illinois Academe newsletter editor.

A third cog in this machine rolling toward academic justice was the grievant’s lawyer, Rima Kapitan. Counsel personally requested an investigation on March 19 2014 that contained a virtual legal brief and vital attachments of the P-Fac grievance, denials of grievance, and appeal of grievance denial. It also contained a sentence of considerable eloquence:

All of the complaints appear to have been politically motivated and similar to the types of obstruction experienced across the country by professors who have the temerity to present narratives that stray from the predominant political discourse in this country about Israel/Palestine.

Another significant component of a successful outcome is publicity, publicity, publicity. The Chehade case received demonstrations, panels and student protest on campus. While some professors fear public exposure, I think in the Chehade case and, just look at the Salaita case, it was a pivotal factor in the restoration of his second course on the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Get it into print, electronic media and use social media as well. The Chehade case was covered by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Chicago Reader, Arab Daily News website and podcasts and an AM radio station. I think the tipping point was the Chronicle story which, while somewhat harsh on Illinois AAUP’s Committee A report, did cause I think Columbia College’s administration’s to reverse course.

Having these four variables may induce the final piece of the puzzle: flexibility on the part of an administration to reverse course. I sent Dr Love on April 1, 2014 this email:

Dear Dr. Love:

Illinois AAUP Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure welcomes the decision to offer Instructor Iymen Chehade the opportunity to teach two sections of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict course for fall, 2014. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter and are pleased that your commitment to academic freedom that you so strongly affirmed in your e-mail of March 20 is so evident in these very recent curricular decisions.​

Best wishes,


Professor Chehade showed 5 Broken Cameras that cost him his course section. It was five components of the academic freedom struggle, union, AAUP, lawyer, publicity and administration that helped repair a broken process.

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