University of Arizona students in the Early Childhood Education Undergraduate Program held a sit-in at the College of Education after two of their professors were placed on suspension.
Audio recordings of a lecture about the Israel-Palestine conflict went viral on social media and now the College of Education professors are being investigated by the university. The professors were holding a class discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict for a course about cultural pluralism for young children.
Those recordings, which protestors claimed were edited together, were shared by a pro-Israel account that has more than 260,000 followers.
According to a press release from the United Campus Workers of Arizona union, the professors are being investigated under UHAP 7.01 Professional Conduct and UHAP 2.10 Political Activity and Lobbying and USM 5-107 University Staff Standards of Conduct Policy and HR-104 Political Activity and Lobbying.
A UA spokesperson told AZPM last week that the “college and university will determine how to proceed after they have completed an ongoing investigation. In the meantime, alternative instructors will be taking on responsibilities for the course in question.”
Since its posting, the professors have received threats. According to some of the protestors, one of the professors is fearful to remain at home due to the threats.
Faculty Senate Chair Dr. Leila Hudson attended the sit-in to support and stand in solidarity with affected faculty, staff, and students. Hudson plans to bring this issue in front of the university’s Faculty Senate. She believes that it is time to address the recording and dissemination of lecture material on social media.
“Perhaps the Student Code of Conduct, perhaps a Faculty and Staff Code of Conduct would be a place to say yes, as a student, you have every right to record your class materials for your own educational purposes, for studying, for greater access, etc,” Hudson said. “But decontextualizing, weaponizing and disseminating classroom speech, critical analysis that you disagree with is not acceptable.”
This is the second time this semester that lecture material was shared on social media garnering criticism regarding its content. Earlier this fall, a College of Nursing faculty member resigned after a photo of their lecture slide addressing gender-affirming care went viral. That professor also received threats resulting in increased police presence at the college, according to comments made during a previous faculty senate meeting.
“How do you deal with the real world with all its pain, conflict, violence, and different positions on all those things in a professional, sensitive, and productive manner? That's what those instructors were doing. That's what they're teaching their students,” Hudson said. “If disagreements or complaints arise, we handle those sensitively and professionally. What we don't do is decontextualize with gotchas, snippets of tape, send them out into the outside world, and bring in the cavalry of outside organizations and interests.”
UA senior Sophie Chapman read a list of demands to College of Education Dean Robert Q. Berry, III asking for reinstatement of the two professors “with their full responsibilities and privileges, that the College of Education provide their students and staff with a written recommitment to supporting social justice issues, and that the college devise a plan to mitigate the effects of future instances of voice recording in classes.”
For her, that type of lecture material is crucial for her career as an educator.
“If a child asks us, ‘What is going on in the world? What should I think? What do I need to know?’...and we don't know what to say, what happens then?”
Testimonials from students, staff, and community members were shared throughout the sit-in, including a statement from one of the professor’s children.
“In the past two weeks, I have witnessed as university administration's unprofessional, dishonest, reckless, and frankly, genocidal behavior has affected my mother's life,” the statement read. “Their actions and the actions of the Zionist entity have endangered my family and the students that were non-consensually recorded and attempted to further that Zionist agenda on this campus.”
Berry, who also received threats, had several questions from faculty, staff, and students questioning the due process behind the professors’ suspension. Some wondered why their testimonials were being considered after the suspension. Berry said that he has been in consultation with the Office of the General Counsel, human resources, and the provost’s office. The Office of Institutional Equity has “moved on” from the investigation as the office investigates “particular types of action.”
“How come you made such a very important decision in a very short period of time,” one protestor said.
Former Pima County Attorney Isabel Garcia attended the protest. She shared concerns about First Amendment violations due to the suspension.
"If you are suspending two quality teachers for what they had to say, that is a violation of the freedom of speech. They did nothing wrong for you to do this,” Garcia said. “What kind of due process is that? That you suspend a teacher? I know that you say, 'Oh, it's with pay,' but what about their students? What about their career here? Are they damaged forever?”
Berry said these types of forums, like the sit-in, are “significantly important to understanding the feelings and sentiments of students.”
“It’s not lost on me. It really isn’t lost on me,” Berry said.
In the end, Berry informed those in attendance that he would speak with the professors who were suspended as well as the Provost’s office, OGC, HR, and the students.
“I heard the students, the faculty members, and I understand their passion around the issue. I just want to make sure we do our due diligence and have conversations with the people I need to have the conversations with,” Berry told AZPM.