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IU suspends professor after Palestine event, faculty say IU broke procedure

Associate Professor Abdulkader Sinno will be suspended from teaching until the fall semester.
Indiana University Bloomington
Associate Professor Abdulkader Sinno will be suspended from teaching until the fall semester.

An Indiana University professor has been suspended for two semesters after a Palestine Solidarity Committee event.

Abdulkader Sinno, associate professor of political science and middle eastern studies, was suspended in December after the committee hosted an event without an approved room request. Sinno was the club’s advisor. Several IU facultyand the AAUPspoke against the suspension, saying the severe punishment violated university and campus policy.

Sinno is suspended from teaching and advising until the fall semester.

An IU spokesperson provided a statement in response to the recent letters.

"Indiana University carefully follows its policies and procedures and is fully committed to free speech and academic freedom that fosters robust intellectual inquiry," the spokesperson said.

Read more: IU faculty respond to Rep. Jim Banks in letter defending academic freedom

Jeffery C. Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of political science, drafted a Jan. 9 letter with six colleagues to support Sinno and demand his immediate reinstatement.

They think the suspension is an injustice, Isaac said, and they want to call attention to the problem.

“This is unprecedented,” Isaac said. “I've been here since 1987. I'm a member of the Distinguished Faculty Alliance. I'm a former chair of the political science department. I've never encountered anything like this, nor have my colleagues who've been here longer.”

Sinno did not respond to a request for interview or comment.

How was Sinno suspended?

The Palestine committee hosted a Nov. 16 event after IU denied two room reservations, the IDS reported. Seventy-five people attended to hear writer and activist Miko Peled speak. The event was peaceful.

According to the IDS, Sinno requested the room, and it was approved. But, a mistake on the form led to the reservation being canceled days later. After that, the committee submitted its own request, which was denied by IU because of short notice and the determination that security would be needed. IU said large, public events require more security.

The committee continued with the event because Peled’s flight had been booked and paid.

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The IDS reported that Sinno was notified by the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures of conduct violation hours before the event took place. After the event, IU Bloomington’sAAUP chapter said Associate Vice President for Public Safety Benjamin Hunter made a complaint.

Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Carrie Docherty informed Sinno of his suspension on Dec. 15. Docherty cited “serious concerns” about Sinno’s behavior and inattention to university rules.

Faculty and the AAUP said this punishment violated university policy. Isaac said the university’s administration — a “relatively new administration” — suspended Sinno without an understanding of IU’s traditions and rules.

Multiple AAUP executive members wrote or revised the current policy. The AAUP said Docherty should have filed a complaint with the Faculty Misconduct Review Committee, which would have resulted in a hearing and recommendations for discipline.

“The active intervention of upper administration in these matters makes the established procedure of independent faculty review especially important,” the AAUP letter said.

Read more: IUPUI Faculty Council says President Whitten and Board of Trustees 'undermine' shared governance

The AAUP said it alerted Docherty of the policy violation, but IU’s General Counsel said the university will not rescind the suspension.

“Regrettably, the IU administration here has demonstrated it will simply ignore clear, written policies designed to safeguard due process and academic freedom when it is expedient to do so,” the AAUP letter said. “This incident should gravely concern every faculty member. The integrity, character, and cherished traditions of our university are at stake.”

Isaac said he and the letter’s authors are open to speak with the administration, but their past attempts were ignored or rebuffed. At the time of publication, the letter had more than 215 signatures.

“We're concerned about our colleague, for reasons of principle also, because his career is on the line,” Isaac said. “He's a good person.”

Why are faculty worried about academic freedom?

This isn’t the first time the Palestine Solidarity Committee has been targeted.

Rep. Jim Banks (R, IN-03) wrotein a Nov. 16 letter to IU President Pamela Whitten that the university is failing to combat antisemitism. Banks threatened that IU could lose federal funding if the university condones or tolerates antisemitism on campus. He also took aim at student activists with the IU group, calling pro-Palestinian demonstrations "pro-terrorist.”

Faculty — including Isaac — sounded the alarm after this letter, saying Banks threatens academic freedom. They published a letter in response, saying they are concerned by the threatening tone of the letter.

“We believe that the IU administration has an obligation to maintain safety for everyone on our campus,” the letter said. “But we do not believe that any administration should be pressured to treat controversial political speech as a security threat, or to use legitimate safety concerns as a pretext to stifle academic freedom.”

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Banks wrote his letter one day before the event featuring Peled, and the event was denied because of security reasons. Isaac doesn’t believe the firing of the committee’s advisor was a coincidence.

“It is the consequence of direct political pressure in a broader political environment, which is very contentious,” Isaac said. “There needs to be a cessation of these kinds of political interferences in campuses, and efforts to quash speech.”

Technicalities over room reservations happen all the time, he said, and out of hundreds of student groups, the Palestinian group is the only one which saw its advisor suspended.

“If they have right on their side, let them prove it,” Isaac said about IU administration. “We are faculty members who care about faculty governance and care about academic freedom. And we stand behind those values.”

Aubrey is our higher education reporter and a Report For America corps member. Contact her at aubmwrig@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @aubreymwright.