DePaul Students Ask University to Censure Philosophy Professor for Writings on Palestinians


Jason D. Hill, professor of philosophy at DePaul University, recently wrote an article for The Federalist about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has prompted students at his university to launch a petition calling for his censure.

The article takes an anti-Palestinian stance, with Professor Hill claiming that “Israel made an altruistic mistake toward the Palestinian people” after the 1967 war by treating them “as human beings with specific, inalienable rights” and not removing them from the area, and that the Palestinians “have no moral authority.” He states that “Israel has every moral right to wage a ruthless and unrelenting war against Hamas and to re-settle the land if it ever so desires.”

Laila Shawa, four photolithographs from the series, “Walls of Gaza II”

The student petition, brought to my attention by Inside Higher Ed, refers to The Federalist article and alludes to other writings of Hill, and asks the University to take action:

We, the students of DePaul University call upon the administration to censure Professor Hill for his heinous statements against marginalized communities. His comments create unsafe and uncomfortable spaces for everyone, especially Palestinian and Muslim students who now all refuse to enroll in a class that is taught by Professor Hill. We are not only seeking censure, but for Professor Hill to commit to racial sensitivity training and to release a public apology for his immoral conduct. It is imperative for DePaul University to condemn Professor Hill in order to reaffirm and reinstitute our mission.

According to IHE, the university released a statement properly affirming the academic freedom of faculty and students while also acknowledging the possible effects of controversial speech:

It should first be noted that Professor Hill’s statements do not reflect the views of DePaul University, but are his personal views on the subject. DePaul recognizes academic freedom must be an integral part of an intellectual institution. This freedom belongs not only to faculty, but students and all other members of the DePaul community. Protecting academic freedom requires that we maintain an environment where the members of our university community articulate, challenge and defend their ideas; however, that does not eliminate the need for empathy and concern.

Interestingly, John K. Wilson, writing at the Academe Blog, notes that Professor Hill may not be such a big fan of academic freedom, and has argued that we should defund and disband universities and then rebuild them on an ideological basis: “with conservative principles—that is, values advocating individualism, capitalism, Americanism, free speech, self-reliance and the morality of wealth creation.” Regarding “today’s scholars in humanities and social sciences,” Professor Hill says, “one cannot argue with such people. The only alternative is to shut them down.”


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O.M.
O.M.
2 years ago

To say that Israel made a mistake in “not removing them [Palestinians] from the area” [the territory taken in the 1967 war] is to call for a war crime, or at a minimum to express support for such war crimes: the forced expulsion of population from occupied territory.Report

GL
GL
Reply to  O.M.
2 years ago

It’s not clear that forcing a defeated people to move 25 km east is a war crime. Expulsion alone from a territory isn’t a sufficient condition.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  GL
2 years ago

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:

“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

This is quite clear that “forcing a defeated people to move 25 km east” is a war crime.Report

Hector_St_Clare
Hector_St_Clare
Reply to  GL
2 years ago

It’s also not clear that it *should* be a war crime, or more generally illegal. Population transfers are usually not pretty, but they’ve been an important and valuable way of defusing conflicts in the past. Part of the reason Europe is at peace today is because ethnic Germans (and to a lesser extent other ethnic groups) underwent population transfers after the war to create more ethnically homogeneous societies. Removal of Germans from neighboring countries was pretty clearly the right thing to do, at least in my book.

To be clear, I don’t support Mr. Hill’s solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I don’t think that Israel should annex the West Bank. Appealing to international law, however, doesn’t really solve the problem when people disagree about what international law should be.Report

Chris Surprenant
2 years ago

It is never helpful to turn these discussions into arguments about the merits of whatever political position being taken. Depaul’s response is the correct one, and it’s nice to see a university come out and take that position quite clearly.

With that said, it’s not clear to me why the university/department couldn’t respect academic freedom, but at the same time take the step of removing him from introductory courses, only allow him to teach electives, and then penalizing him in some way if no students want to take his electives because of his views.Report

Michael
Michael
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
2 years ago

“… at the same time take the step of removing him from introductory courses, only allow him to teach electives, and then penalizing him in some way if no students want to take his electives because of his views.”
Any of those would constitute a content-based sanction, and so be a patently evident, actionable violation of academic freedom.
The guy sounds like a real peach, but DePaul can’t have it both ways.Report

Chris Sistare
Chris Sistare
Reply to  Michael
2 years ago

I hope you will not be shocked, but colleges and unis ‘promote’ offensive profs all the time. It might be unethical/inappropriate/ whatever, but for a private university to do so is not unconstitutional. Whether it is a violation of academic freedom is up for debate.

As far as I can tell, Prof Hill was not offering these vile propositions in any scholarly article. He might have been trading on his [assumed] status as a scholar, but I have always thought that was a bit of a stretch, and I am not surprised that people who despise academics so often use such examples to undermine academic freedom.

All that said, I do not see either students or political groups calling for his firing. That, certainly, would be a bridge too far.Report

Judith Norman
Judith Norman
2 years ago

Of course we need to take considerations of free speech and academic freedom into account when condemning hate speech and bigotry.

But it’s also important to remember that this isn’t happening in a vacuum. For one thing, the genocidal policies that this professor is defending, inform on-going policy in Israel. This is giving support to real violence.

Secondly, let’s remember that Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul just 10 years ago, for calling out the intellectual and institutional structures that threaten Palestinian human rights. His department voted to award him tenure but the recommendation was overturned by the university. He has not been able to find a job since – his career was ruined.

So by all means let’s defend free speech. But we need to think of the larger context and understand how selectively it is defended and the circumstances when it is simply the ideological correlate of violence.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  Judith Norman
2 years ago

Great. So, once we rethink this, what follows? Is it protected speech or not? Should he lose his job or not?Report

Alastair Norcross
2 years ago

DePaul’s treatment of Norman Finkelstein, in particular its egregious violation of his academic freedom, was unconscionable. Violating the academic freedom of the appalling Jason Hill won’t make it any better. On the contrary, calling for such violation will make it harder for the justified criticism of the violation of Finkelstein’s academic freedom to be taken seriously. Students can, and should, refuse to enroll in Hill’s classes. They can also exercise their own free speech rights in publicly condemning his views and in encouraging others to do so too.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
2 years ago

The fact that conservatives like Hill would abuse power to silence leftist professors on political grounds just demonstrares the importance of academic freedom. Dissolve academic freedom for conservatives like Hill and you’ve decided to fly the black flag. Leftists may win the battle *within* universities and eventually purge them of people like Hill. But by destroying the last vestiges of intellectual legitimacy they will ultimately lose the war (i.e., federal and state funding whenever and wherever conservatives come to power). And, of course, this is all setting aside the fact that the left would almost immediately turn on itself after finishing off conservatives, as the recent “TERF” Wars so nicely demonstrate.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  YAAGS
2 years ago

This is absolutely right – except that it’s negative-sum, not zero-sum. University leadership is tempted (simplifying a bit) to give into left-wing calls for censure to appease students and faculty, *and* to right-wing calls for censure to appease certain major donors. Content-neutral defenses of free speech work against both temptations. Conversely, letting administrators purge people like Hill makes it easier, not harder, for them to purge people like Finkelstein or Salaita.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

You’re right. And I’d add that I suspect most administrators are driven by ruthless pragmatism rather than by ideology, such that they will always try to get rid of troublemakers regardless of their political orientation if they think they can do so without hurting the university’s image. It is highly unlikely that leftist professors or students can change this fact so it behooves them to not give administrators any more power. My point was that even if one could actually carry out the envisioned coup and enforce strict ideological conformity across the university–which, again, is highly unlikely–it would just give conservatives the excuse they need to defund universities. Trump just attempted to do exactly that with his executive order.

It just baffles me how academics could seriously think that weakening academic freedom could possibly be a good idea. Sure, it sounds radical and subversive, which seems to be the primary indicator of truth in some circles. But even the people in these circles should realize that they are subverting themselves!Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
2 years ago

Prof. Hill’s views regarding Palestine are heinous, as the students point out. That said, the student petition is creepy. I’m always put off when someone demands that someone else undergo some sort of ideological “training.” For it seems clear that the students don’t want Hill to become more aware of the sensitivity of the Palestine issue. They want Hill to be forced to espouse the view that they regard as correct. Just creepy.Report

Judith Norman
Judith Norman
2 years ago

“The problem was that Finkelstein’s right to free speech and academic freedom was infringed upon. The solution is to make sure that with this conservative here, that his speech is never infringed upon and his academic freedom is defended.”

This is naïve.

This notion that we should open the doors to all forms of speech and sort things out in the messy yet beautiful and vibrant atmosphere that results is dangerously naïve. It rests on a mistaken image of a university as a place where power relations have somehow been suspended. Finkelstein is crushed – this guy will probably be lightly censured. This is typical when it comes to “free speech” around Palestine. Unequal enforcement of academic freedom isn’t the problem, it’s just a symptom of an underlying problem, which is rooted in power disparities. Defenders of Palestine have very very little institutional power. The liberal fixation on the notion that the answer to this is “free speech” just serves to maintain these power disparities by rendering them invisible.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Judith Norman
2 years ago

I must admit that I find your comment a little baffling. If defenders of Palestine don’t have any power in universities then how in the world is weakening academic freedom protections going to help them? By your own reasoning it would just give anti-Palestinian administrators even more leeway in crushing them.

“It rests on a mistaken image of a university as a place where power relations have somehow been suspended.”

But this is, quite literally, the exact opposite of the assumption that motivates institutionalized legal codes ensuring academic freedom. The whole point of such codes is that they are needed to prevent administrators abusing their power for political and ideological ends, and that without such codes universities would be ruled by the prejudices of those who hold political power.

Perhaps you aren’t suggesting that we weaken existing legal protections. Perhaps you are saying that it is wrong for us to say that academic freedom exists because this allows us to ignore blatant violations of academic freedom such as Fincklestein’s case. If so, you seem to just be making a case for even more stringent legal protections (e.g., that can’t truly be said to have academic freedom until we have laws that allow professors in Fincklestein’s sort of situation to sue the university and win). In that case, I agree!Report

Alastair Norcross
2 years ago

What is naive, truly dangerously naive, is the thought that calls to suspend or violate academic freedom in the case of views we (rightly and strongly) disagree with won’t come back to bite us. Even now, there must be conservatives gleefully rubbing their hands and trotting out op-eds snidely pointing out that all the liberal outcry over the violation of Finkelstein’s academic freedom was just a bunch of hypocrisy. “Sure”, they’ll say, “liberals love academic freedom when it protects the views they agree with, but they’re all for denying it to their opponents”. You’re correct that it’s all about power disparities. But calling for DePaul to sanction Hill for his writings will do nothing to ameliorate these disparities, and stands a good chance of making them worse. If you honestly think that the calls to subject Hill to official university-approved sanctions will do the Palestinians, or Finkelstein, even one iota of good, I have a bridge I can let you have for a very reasonable price.Report

Mark van Roojen
Mark van Roojen
2 years ago

There are downsides to academic freedom, but when things get difficult it may be all we’ve got when things matter most. At my university a lecturer was fired for (stupidly but not ununderstandably) giving the finger to someone in a public space. She had a lot less power than this particular idiot. A hard and fast rule against penalizing even stupid speech on the basis of content would have been useful.
That’s not to say an institution can’t distance itself from such things, nor to say that a universty can’t take steps to make sure students don’t have to be subject to certain sorts of abuse by people with such views. But having very bad views and expressing them probably needs to be protected just in order to protect the weakest folks who have OK views to express.Report

Chris Sistare
Chris Sistare
Reply to  Mark van Roojen
2 years ago

Umm.. what were the circumstances the giving of the finger? What counts as a public space? I can imagine an adjunct or at TT prof being fired for, say, giving a colleague or any administrator the finger in a faculty meeting, or giving a student the finger in – well – pretty much an situation – or giving the finger to any of the people who keep our campuses functioning (such a library staff, housekeeping and grounds staff, and do on).Report

mvr
mvr
Reply to  Chris Sistare
2 years ago

There is a whole This American Life episode you can listen to to get the details. Google Nebraska and Univeristy and I’m sure you will find it.Report

Memo
Memo
2 years ago

Ideally the students would call for a debate between the professor and someone else of their choosing. An example of a statement I’d like disambiguation on: “This is because Israel’s right to exist is non-negotiable and it has a right to unilaterally apply Israeli law over its nation-state.” Under what theory is this non-negotiable?Report

Hector_St_Clare
Hector_St_Clare
Reply to  Memo
2 years ago

Very few things are non-negotiable, and you can certainly argue with any country’s right to exist, but I think we’re better off when we have more distinct states for distinct nations, not less.Report

htauc
htauc
2 years ago

Have the actual university codes or regulations changed since Finkelstein was denied tenure on the basis of his views? If not, why is the university acting differently in this case? Does anyone know what the rules were then, and what they are now?Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  htauc
2 years ago

The official reason to deny Finkelstein tenure was that his alleged uncivil behaviour was incompatible with the Vincentian values of the school. Of course, despite denials, it seemed pretty clear that the university was caving in to Dershowitz’s (and the ADL’s) campaign of ludicrous accusations against Finkelstein (especially given that Dershowitz was one of the most famous targets of “uncivil” criticism). DePaul never admitted to be denying Finkelstein tenure due to the content of his views, as this would be clearly a violation of university policy. In any case, consistency in making bad decisions is rarely a virtue. Hill’s piece in the Federalist is vile, but, as other above point out, caving in to demands would be a blatant violation of academic freedom that would certainly backfire.Report

htauc
htauc
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
2 years ago

Wow, that is a huge crock of BS, then. DePaul can persecute someone for not being “civil”, but not for being an evil racist. Sounds like DePaul doesn’t really believe in freedom of speech at all.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  htauc
2 years ago

The people in Finckelstein’s department recommended him for tenure and the administrators rejected their recommendation. So if by “DePaul University” you mean the administrators in charge of the decision, then no, they obviously do not care about free speech. University administrators are basically corporate officers: they care about the bottom line, not free speech. If Hill was up for tenure like Finckelstein they would almost certainly do the same thing to him. But since he has tenure there is no loophole where they can screw him and maintain plausible deniability. This is one of the main reasons why we should be working to strengthen the legal protections of academic freedom, not weaken them.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

Personal criticisms of Jason Hill, as opposed to criticisms his position, are likely counter-productive. For the record, I could not disagree more strongly with his position.Report

Jason "Also on the Record" Brennan
Jason "Also on the Record" Brennan
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

A pseudonymous person bravely went on the record to decry Jason Hill’s authoritarian, warmongering bullshit.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse

Personal attacks on me are not constructive either. Let’s discuss the issues and not one another.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
2 years ago

It doesn’t seem as though anyone has advocated for Hill to be fired, so let’s dispense with that straw man to begin with.

A relevant question here: Does the value of academic freedom require DePaul to say nothing more than “that does not eliminate the need for empathy and concern”? Would it be permissible to say Hill’s “comments are utterly reprehensible” (as his university said about George Cicciarello-Maher) or that Hill made “disturbing comments … that stand in stark contrast to [the university’s] core values” (as his university said about Tommy Curry)? If not, why shouldn’t DePaul issue a stronger statement than what they did? If so, well, we needed to do better speaking up for academic freedom when those professors were condemned by their own universities.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

The Tommy Curry story was extensively discussed at Daily Nous and by Leiter Reports, and on rereading those discussions, it looks as his institution was at least as strongly condemned by philosophers in those discussions as De Paul has been here: e.g. Brian Leiter, “[AMU’s President’s statement] basically throws his faculty member under the bus”; me: “[this is] about the failure of university officials to take a principled stand in support of academic freedom and of their faculty even when they strongly disagree in a personal capacity with the thoughts being expressed, and even when there are financial (i.e. fundraising) consequences… I am outraged at his treatment.” The other story apparently wasn’t covered on DN and indeed I hadn’t seen it myself till now (perhaps not surprising: it didn’t involve a philosopher and happened over Christmas), but Brian Leiter picked it up and criticized Drexel.

So I’m not seeing any asymmetry of treatment here.Report