NYU-AUUP Letter on Faculty Suspensions and Violation of Freedom of Speech Concerns

Dear President Mills, Interim Provost Dopico, Vice Chancellor Westermann, and Chairman Chesler,

On January 17th, 2024, the Executive Committee of AAUP-NYU met over zoom with President Mills and Interim Provost Dopico (along with Fountain Walker and Jason Pina). Since then, three issues of urgent concern have arisen.

First, we have learned that Professor Amin Husain has been suspended from teaching both in Steinhardt and CAS on the basis of a complaint lodged against him at the OEO. The nature of the complaint and the status of the complainant have been kept from him, and so Prof. Husain has not been able to defend himself. Given the current eagerness of the tabloid press to sensationalize all campus free speech issues, he has been subjected to a great deal of public defamation as a result of NYU’s decision to suspend him. This has caused much distress and reputational damage to him, and he is unable to respond publicly about the complaint that led to the suspension because of the secrecy with which it is enveloped.

From the evidence of his questioning by HR, the complaint appears to revolve around his participation in the art-based collective, Decolonize This Place (DTP), which, over the years, has established a high-profile, international reputation for taking strong stands on issues of contemporary political concern, especially in the artworld. Most recently, DTP has weighed in on the much-noted censorship of artists for their views on the Gaza war. Prof. Husain is a well-known Palestinian advocate, so we can only speculate that he has been singled out for punishment due to his ethnic background and his advocacy for Palestinian human rights.

Prof. Husain also has been an adjunct instructor at NYU-NY in very good standing since 2016, and has never been the subject of a single student (or other) complaint. He has taught classes in Gallatin, Steinhardt, and CAS, and is a very popular teacher, in great demand from students as a mentor. According to the AAUP’s principles, extra-mural speech is fully protected, and should never be subject to retribution by an academic employer (https://www.aaup.org/programs/academic-freedom/faqs-academic-freedom). We are concerned that Husain’s suspension appears to be in clear violation of academic freedom and we fear that he has fallen victim to a speech crackdown that seems to be escalating at NYU, and that we had hoped the administration would forestall.

We are requesting clarity on Prof. Husain’s situation, as well that of other faculty colleagues who have recently been instructed to appear at OEO hearings.

Second, we have heard that one or several colleagues who teach at NYU-Abu Dhabi have been called in by UAE state agents/police for questioning. Once again, the issue seems to pertain to the airing of views on Gaza and Palestine. Given the lack of any speech freedoms in the UAE and the unsavory reputation of its criminal justice system, this development is exceedingly alarming to us. In addition, we have heard that the environment on NYU-AD campus is one of pervasive fear and suspicion over issues of academic speech freedom in this fraught situation.

We hope that the NYUAD administration is not implicated in these state actions and seek some clarity on the issue. Can you enlighten us on what NYU is doing to protect academic freedom in the face of government repression in UAE and what steps are being taken to mitigate the atmosphere of apprehension on NYUAD campus?

Third, we are concerned about the increase in punitive, disciplinary measures being imposed on students at NYU-NY who are exercising their right to political speech on campus. These punitive responses seem to be drawing on data from ID card swipes and facial recognition technology harvested from new cameras hung around campus to identify students and others exercising their speech rights. Many students are already facing egregiously long suspensions, and this use of intrusive technological surveillance is especially alarming to us.

NYU-NY is a university campus, not an illiberal state that surveils its citizens. We want to register our profound opposition to the potential criminalization of our student body in this high-tech, or any other, way. We should recall that this is a generation of students whose pandemic-era isolation is finally being overcome through personal community formation and political articulation. It is heartbreaking to see them subject to yet another imposition of trauma, this time from their own institution.

In conclusion, we urge you to prevent NYU from going further down a road that many on campus see as censorious and retaliatory. As at other colleges, the administration is no doubt under pressure from wealthy and powerful donors to crack down on speech. We urge you to show the campus community that NYU operates according to well-established principles of academic freedom for all who wish peacefully to exercise their rights to speech on campus. And we hope you will address our concerns directly, in a timely way.

Sincerely,

The AAUP-NYU Executive Committee

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