AFA Urges Columbia to End Investigation into Professor’s Political Statements

Mar 22, 2024 | Press Release

AFA Urges Columbia to End Investigation into Professor’s Political Statements

Jewish professor investigated for criticizing activity of pro-Palestine student groups

PRINCETON, NJ – The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) today sent a letter to Columbia University regarding its investigation into a professor for criticizing the political statements of certain students and student groups on social media. On February 8, 2024, Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action informed Professor Shai Davidai that it had begun the investigation based on complaints that he “harassed” members of the community, asserting that his “public commentary since October 2023 . . . is perceived to be anti-Palestinian/Arab.” 

“The university’s actions represent an egregious violation of the principles of freedom of expression and due process to which Columbia University has contractually committed itself,” wrote Keith Whittington, founding chair of the AFA’s Academic Committee, in the letter to Columbia. “Harassment policies cannot be used as a backdoor means to censor, suppress, and punish unpopular political speech. We call on the university to immediately end its investigation of Professor Davidai and to take whatever corrective steps are necessary to ensure that such investigations do not occur in the future.”

As the AFA further explains in the letter, the social media posts are a form of what the American Association of University Professors calls extramural speech. Extramural speech is a protected form of freedom of expression. When professors “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” As the AAUP has emphasized, “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for the position.” 

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The Academic Freedom Alliance is a diverse alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech. These principles are central to the mission of our institutions of higher education for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The AFA is committed to defending universal principles of academic freedom and will come to the assistance of professors regardless of their individual views. As always, the AFA is not concerned with the substance or merits of a professor’s ideas but with the principle that universities should be places that tolerate controversial ideas and allow free inquiry and debate, not public opinion or political pressure, to separate error from truth.

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No one, at any academic institution, should fear suppression or retaliation for speaking out publicly in any form. We encourage you to join the movement in supporting the flourishing of intellectual life and the pursuit of knowledge and truth at institutions of higher learning.