We previously discussed the controversy surrounding Oberlin Professor Joy Karega, who has attracted fervent criticism for her social media comments including blaming Israel for the 9/11 attacks. In a move that will magnify the free speech issues discussed earlier, Karega has been suspended with pay as assistant professor of rhetoric and composition.
Karega reportedly posted controversial statements after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, including a picture showing an Islamic State terrorist with a Star of David tattoo pulling off a mask, exposing the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She added “This ain’t even hard. They unleashed Mossad on France and it’s clear why.” She explained that the massacre was part of a conspiracy to stop French support for Palestinians. She also posted a statement that Islamic State is not Islamic, but rather “a CIA and Mossad operation” and even frustration that “there’s too much information out here for the general public not to know this.”
Then there is her view that “Israeli and Zionist Jews” orchestrated the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
I previously expressed concern over the inconsistent approach of universities and colleges to controversial statements made by academics on social media. My long-standing view is that such statements are an exercise of free speech as well as academic freedom in many circumstances. Oberlin President Marvin Krislov appeared to side with free speech when the controversy was first raised. However, this week Oberlin issued a statement saying the school had been “considering carefully the grave issues surrounding the anti-Semitic postings on social media by Oberlin faculty member Dr. Joy Karega.”
Karega in turn referred to her representative, Chui Karega, who denounced the school as “being used as a personal tool of religious extremism by a small number of people.” Chu Karega further accused the school of “pandering to the dictates of a handful of vocal and wealthy religious zealots, has set out to push Dr. Karega out of her faculty position at Oberlin.”
The issue in this case is really not the merits but the threshold question of whether academics should be allowed to express their views on such issues regardless of their objectionable or questionable content. If not, it is difficult to see where the line is to be drawn between permissible and sanctionable speech. There are obviously a wide array of pro and anti speech related to Palestinians and Israeli policies or conduct. Much of this speech is heavily steeped in historical, religious, and political viewpoints. The emphasis should be on whether there is evidence of bias displayed toward students. Obviously, Oberlin is not a state school and thus does not fall under the rules government government parties. Yet, free speech is the coin of the academic realm. It is essential to learning that students and faculty feel free to exchange views as part of an open and robust debate.
What do you think?