December 18, 2023

Since October 7th, our university community has experienced extraordinary challenges to academic freedom. These challenges emerge in a global climate of restrictions on Palestine-related speech, along with a national climate of attacks against the study of ethnic and racial inequality and structural injustice. The Israel-Palestine war has brought difficult and contentious issues to the forefront: the history of the conflict itself, the history of antisemitism and its definitions, the nature and definitions of ethno-states and apartheid, settler colonialism and genocide, international human rights and humanitarian law. As we know, academic freedom is a bedrock principle of university education precisely because it allows for the study of difficult and contentious issues through informed discussion. We expect NYU, on all its campuses and sites, to consistently and impartially provide spaces for such discussions to take place.

Instead, we have seen NYU violate its commitment to the “free inquiry, free expression, and free association” we believe is central to our educational mission. AAUP-NYU has been flooded with reports of repression of student and faculty expression in support of the Palestinian people. New student conduct policies are implemented day by day, resulting from decisions made behind closed doors.

We are aware that the administration is under great pressure from donors, alumni, parents, and trustees seeking to influence academic programs and appointments. In particular, recent letters from donors and alumni conflate criticism of the state of Israel or Zionism with antisemitism, and they urge the university to censor such speech. While we abhor antisemitism, like all forms of racism, we stand firm in the right of faculty and students to criticize states and political ideologies. The university cannot allow various stakeholder groups to define the speech and conduct norms of the university. Rather, NYU must trust the faculty to realize the university’s  academic mission through our teaching, research, and practice. Unfortunately, recent administrative actions at NYU have instead undermined our ability to uphold the university’s fundamental commitment to critical education and knowledge production.

The following is a partial list of the ways that the university’s recent unprecedented policies and practices have had a chilling effect on the intellectual life of our campus in recent months.

  • Censorship of Faculty Speech: Faculty teaching about subjects such as settler colonialism have faced harassment and have received no protection. Contingent and untenured faculty have been cautioned when teaching on sensitive subjects or organizing events within their fields of expertise. In addition, administrators have denied on-campus space for Palestine-related events organized by faculty and students, or have canceled them at the last minute. Representatives of the university administration have peremptorily warned faculty about the expected content and tone of our teach-ins, and have surreptitiously surveilled them. The administration has also applied event policies arbitrarily and unevenly.
  • Email Censorship: The university, without announcement or consultation, has employed email filters that prevent NYU faculty and students from receiving messages with Palestine-related content, including announcements of scholarly panels and teach-ins. This apparently new practice flagrantly disregards faculty privacy and impedes our ability to learn from and teach each other and our students.
  • Exacerbating Precarity: Administrators have targeted our most vulnerable colleagues, including graduate student teachers, post-doctoral fellows, and adjunct faculty. Disciplinary threats and actions have been wielded disproportionately against  BIPOC, Palestinian, Arab, and/or Muslim individuals. These colleagues have been threatened with loss of stipend or non-renewal of contracts for legitimate political speech, and some have been summarily suspended or terminated on unclear, ever-shifting charges. When union representatives or AAUP representatives have sought to accompany “accused” colleagues at conduct hearings they have been deterred, or their presence accepted as a charitable exception rather than a policy respecting the need for advocacy.
  • Restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Association: The NYU Administration created a new 10-Point Plan announcing “enhanced security” and increased oversight of faculty, staff, and student assembly and expression of political views. In the weeks since, various university administrators  have  amended, augmented, and escalated restrictions on expression and association both in writing and on an ad hoc basis. New signage in our classroom buildings promotes comprehensive surveillance and prohibits peaceful forms of political expression, including banners, signs, and chalking.These rules and their accompanying sanctions impose unreasonable restrictions and undermine some of the key functions of university education.
  • Escalation of Punitive, Discriminatory andDisproportionate Sanctions: Disciplinary hearings have proliferated for students, with Palestine solidarity action precipitating  extra scrutiny and sanction. The university has amplified bad-faith complaints against student supporters of justice for Palestinian people, and permitted interference by donors and other powerful actors who should have no direct influence over everyday academic life. The consequences for students have been catastrophic and traumatic, often fundamentally compromising their access to education and housing through summary and egregious punishments.
  • Unnecessary, Excessive Policing. The increase in on-campus policing and surveillance by the NYPD (specifically, by officers paid by the University) violates university policies, established in the Memorandum of Understanding between NYU and the NYPD required by NYS Education Law and Fountain Walker’s 2020 Statement to the NYU Community. Campus Safety and NYPD Officers have surveilled, harassed, and intimidated peacefully demonstrating students who are using their creative capacities to perform acts of resistance and solidarity. These violations represent a particular threat to BIPOC students given the well-documented history of racial profiling by the NYPD.

These actions have narrowed the space of free and open inquiry at our global university located in the most diverse city in the world. This narrowing has wider antecedents, including attacks on critical race theory in educational institutions, but this extraordinary two-month period has accelerated the national and global trends towards intolerance and policing of speech. Speech by people of color, and speech that protests the positions, policies and records of the Biden and Netanyahu administrations, have been especially vulnerable. Rather than be a bulwark against such trends, NYU is contributing to them in precedent-setting ways that may endure far beyond this particular crisis-ridden moment. In its longstanding policy, NYU “recognizes that a critically engaged, activist student body contributes to NYU’s academic mission” and that “free inquiry, free expression, and free association enhances academic freedom and intellectual engagement.”  Recent administrative actions fly directly in the face of these core commitments.

As an organization focused on protecting the academic freedom and professional interests of all instructional faculty and students, AAUP-NYU is dismayed by the administration’s efforts to discourage speech and study and the consequent weakening of faculty governance. We therefore call on NYU to affirm its commitment to transparency and due process in conduct policy investigations, and to immediately revise policies and practices that discriminate against Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and/or BIPOC community members, as well as those policies that have the effect of silencing advocates of sovereignty and justice for the Palestinian people.

In light of these abridgments of autonomy and free inquiry, we call upon our faculty colleagues to do the following in support of academic freedom in this moment of national crisis:

  1. Join the AAUP
  2. Rigorously support academic freedom at the school and department level and resolutely protect our students and staff from retaliatory activity, whether those emanate from the Administration, colleagues, other students or the Trustees.
  3. Support our Student Government Assembly that has passed a resolution on the Protection of Palestinian Speech and Civic Activity on Campus that will come before the University Senate in February.

Finally, as the Executive Board of AAUP-NYU, we request a meeting before the end of the semester if possible, with Linda Mills, Gigi Dopico, Jason Pina, and Fountain Walker to address our urgent concerns.


AAUP Executive Committee