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Published July 21, 2024

UMN faculty speak on academic freedom to make statements on official platforms

After a complaint filed with the Department of Education in December, current faculty and former affiliates share their stances on being able to speak about controversial issues on University platforms.
Image by Dean Tan
The front of the Northrop Mall on Nov. 1, 2022.

After an investigation was launched into the University of Minnesota by the United States Department of Education (DoE) Jan. 17 following complaints of antisemitism, faculty members on both sides have shared their stance on the current University policies for departmental statements.

The investigation began because of a complaint made by former regent Michael Hsu and law professor Richard Painter in December, which alleged antisemitism from multiple College of Liberal Arts (CLA) departments, primarily Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies (GWSS).

“For people to say, ‘It’s okay, I can say anything I want to on a University website, as long as I say that it doesn’t represent the University’s view, or it’s not an official policy of the University.’ That’s a bunch of horses—,” Hsu said.

The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) faced a similar situation, according to Hsu. UIC is now among 113 total higher education institutions being investigated by the DoE for alleged discrimination of students or faculty based on race, color or national origin.

According to Hsu, he and Painter went to the University with their complaint first and said they would take their complaints to the DoE if the University itself did not respond. 

Eric Van Wyk, the chair of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (AF&T), said tenure protects some faculty in their speech of more controversial topics while providing more job security. Statements like the one from the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature (CSCL) were written by tenured faculty.

Van Wyk said the current policy being cited is the Board of Regents’ academic freedom and responsibility policy, which outlines an individual’s responsibility to specify they are speaking for themselves and not for the University when using an official platform.

The University currently does not have an administrative policy to enforce the Board policy, Van Wyk said. This means even though it is a policy of the Board, it is not official for the whole system.

At the Friday Board meeting, Interim President Jeff Ettinger addressed the division caused by the ongoing conflict during his opening remarks.

Ettinger said he held several listening sessions with students, faculty and alumni on the topic of free speech and reiterated the University needs to remain a place where everyone can express their opinions.

“This University has a strong record of responding to and acting against bias or misconduct in all its forms, no matter who is the perpetrator and who is the victim,” Ettinger said.

Associate professor and Chair of CSCL Michael Gallope said he has seen statements for other social issues on University platforms that did not receive nearly this level of attention or backlash.

Gallope, who was also involved with the drafting of the original statement, said the moment issues become controversial is when a protected form of speech matters most.

“As scholars, we will not hesitate to analyze and critique U.S. foreign policy when the survival of tens of thousands of human lives are at stake,” Gallope said.

Gallope said social media websites like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook and others are equally valid places to express individual speech. The statements written by CSCL and other CLA departments, like GWSS, are constitutionally protected, vital for groups to express their shared opinion and fully compliant with University policy.

According to Gallope, the CSCL statement explicitly stated that it came only from the tenured faculty of the department when it was first posted on Oct. 20. It was later amended to show the exact names of its contributors.

Hsu said he and Painter did not have a problem with faculty exercising their freedom of speech, they just did not believe it should be allowed on official University platforms.

Hsu added he thinks the DoE investigation is necessary because he feels no policy change will come from within the University itself. It felt like the University was “playing a game of chicken” with their policymaking, according to Hsu.

Hsu said many things can happen during the course of the investigation that could resolve the dispute. For example, the University could settle with the DoE to avoid a prolonged investigation, or the DoE could reach a conclusion on their own.

“I sense that the University is afraid to make a decision,” Hsu said. “They want to have an outside source, whether it’s a court or government agency, make the decision for them, because then they don’t have to get their hands dirty.”

Gallope said Painter and Hsu’s argument against the use of the website is nonsense and that University websites are a forum for opinions and expert perspectives on matters of public concern, from both groups and individuals.

“If Painter and Hsu want to defend Israel’s conduct in the war, they should drop the ad hominem attacks and the contorted efforts to silence dissent, and engage in an informed discussion of the war itself,” Gallope said.

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  • KG
    Feb 23, 2024 at 5:27 am

    Our main concern should be that UMN continues to remain a great institution of learning. The hijacking of the University’s official platform in the service of a divisive, extreme Palestinian agenda by a mere 17 faculty members out of well-over 1,000 is a stain on UMN’s good name, and it is going to have material consequences. UMN will have to defend itself against charges of discrimination and antisemitism, and the cost to UMN is going to be very high —in terms of cash outlay to defend itself, possible curtailing of federal funding, and sullying UMN’s reputation.
    The CSCL and GWSS signatories –blinded by their narrow ideology–don’t really care about UMN or its students. They have empowered aggressive, extreme pro-Palestinian activists to continue their effort to take over UMN policy and discourse. Jewish students as well as all pro-Israeli students and faculty on-campus, indeed, all groups and individuals, should feel safe and welcome. These basic academic rights are now endangered.
    I originally thought that there was a simple way out of the impasse. These extreme faculty would take down their dangerous manifesto, and UMN’s admin would do some damage control. But this won’t work anymore. The pro-Palestinian extremist faculty dug in, and the issue has escalated to the US Department of Education.
    The incoming UMN president’s first measure should obviously be to remove the offensive pro-Palestinian statements from official UMN sites. That’s easy. The U. will also have to find resources to pay for the costs and damage done to UMN. It is programs for people of color, Native Americans, women, poor and deprived students that, unfortunately, are likely to suffer. Of course, the hypocritical, self-interested pro-Palestinians think nothing of the needs of these groups. The pro-Palestinians want to drag everyone down with them. But I am against marginal groups paying for the sins of others. The culprits should pay. CSCL and GWSS should be disbanded. They have become a disturbing on-campus source of tension, incitement, and divisiveness, rather than promoting inclusion. It is likely that some non-tenured faculty in these departments will lose their jobs. Of course, those extremist tenured faculty thought nothing of consequences to adjunct faculty when they embarked on their pro-Palestinian crusade. The tenured faculty can be dispersed among other departments. It is to be hoped that their extremist voices will be diluted somewhat by those more numerous and temperate in larger departments. If those tenured faculty continue to violate UMN policy, well, they can be terminated too, after due process, of course.
    The incoming UMN president will need to guide with a firm hand and clear policies.

  • MP
    Feb 22, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    Shout out to KG for this master class in hypocrisy. Perhaps you are paid by the word to spout your garbage. If you’re not paid by the word, be consoled that you’re revealing the deeply disordered thinking you and others use to support your poorly formed and poorly informed position. I’d close with ‘peace be with you’ but you clearly have no perception of the concept.

  • KG
    Feb 20, 2024 at 1:57 am

    The issue that must be addressed is whether a group of professors will succeed in misrepresenting the official position of UMN by co-opting its platform with their divisive, anti-Semitic, and false point of view. The CSCL and GWSS statements, with big banners prominently appearing in multiple places on the UMN site, are offensive and insulting. We are talking about 17 tenured faculty out of more than 1,000 at UMN. The issue could have easily been resolved long ago if these privileged faculty members had removed those personal, offensive statements. But, of course, they don’t want to. Why should they? Are there any consequences? They prefer to empower aggressive on-campus and off-campus groups interested in shutting down any normal discourse about Middle East affairs and arrogantly intimidate any contrary opinion. They want only their views to be heard.
    So, let’s think about the consequences for the University. The US Department of Education has already launched an investigation into antisemitism at UMN. This means that UMN will have to defend itself. UMN will have to start investing in legal counsel (lawyers are expensive), public relations to rehabilitate UMN’s tarnished reputation (public relations are also expensive), travel and accommodation expenses to Washington DC to defend UMN, wasted hours of faculty and university administrators that could have been devoted to teaching and academic matters, extra campus security resulting from the empowerment of aggressive groups on campus, and decreased student focus on their academic studies. There is also a serious risk of decreased or rescinded federal budgets because of discrimination and antisemitism. I think that you, dear readers, are getting the idea. The money invested in damage control will be coming from the University of Minnesota budget. The result will be curtailing academic and other services to UMN students, especially cutting back on teaching hours and courses. These cutbacks are likely to affect the budgets of the most vulnerable populations: people of color, Native Americans, women’s studies, poor and deprived individuals, and others. Remarkably, the entire tenured faculty of GWSS foolishly signed that statement on Palestine. They are actively cutting the branch on which they sit. Last year, Dean Coleman had already put GWSS on the chopping block.
    But, of course, all this doesn’t bother the pro-Palestinians because they don’t really care about people of color, Native Americans, women’s rights, or poor people (despite what they say). What they do care about is that their pro-Palestinian viewpoint dominates UMN discourse and guides UMN policy. And they don’t care if they bring down a great university like UMN to achieve their objectives.
    So, there is work ahead for the incoming president of UMN.

  • Anita S.
    Feb 19, 2024 at 3:23 pm

    Even if you put aside the (many) previous antics of Michael Hsu *sighs* His new tantrum should be taken seriously – as it absolutely IS an attack on Free Speech. Leave it to the weak to play puppet to a foreign government.

    People should not be muted, or have to mute themselves for fear of reprisals (employment or otherwise) when their view to stop genocide is (categorically) wrongly construed as anti-semitism.

    I am absolutely APPALLED that the propaganda asserting that a view expressing anti-zionism, anti-war crimes or anti-genocide *magically* equates to anti-semitism is being propagated to silence the voices against the mass slaughter occuring in Israel. Is this how they silenced the masses in Germany circa 1930s while the horrors began?

    Over and above the current situation – and if you want to address “comfort levels” of people – I am quite dis-comforted at what message the unchecked conduct of Israel is conveying to other countries. It is telling them that International Law means nothing; that violating the Geneva Convention means nothing; and that genocide may be the “crime of crimes” but *eh* – do what you will.

    Do not even mention October 7 as the beginning. This began 75 years ago. The only difference is this time the atrocities are being beamed all over the world. And, in case you were unaware, it is legally recognized that an oppressed/occupied people is within it’s rights to rise up against their oppressor/occupier.

    Do not even challenge usage of the term genocide. When the EXPERTS in that field roundly identify it as such – It. Is. A. Genocide. Lay people are not in a position to baselessly whine it is not genocide as they are just “defending themselves” because in no instance is one of the top militaries in the world against a people with no army considered defense. (Speaking of military – how is it that one of the most sophisticated armies is wholly unable to distinguish between a baby and a combatant?)

    Why do these voices of dissent need to be heard? Because what it seems to be (right now) is that the world community is fine with waiting to say (after-the-fact) “shame on you” and then congratulating themselves with a pat on their backs for their *efforts* at curtailment.

    Predictably, history will harshly judge those committing the atrocities against the Palestinian people. However, do not be fooled. History will also harshly judge those supporting this mass slaughter/genocide. You are supporting mass slaughter/genocide when you acquiesce to the silencing of the voices who wish to save the lives of these people. You are supporting mass slaughter/genocide when you support withdrawing humanitarian aid to an impoverished, indigenous people. You are supporting mass slaughter/genocide when you choose to stay silent when you have the means to stem the tide on this insanity.

  • MP
    Feb 19, 2024 at 11:40 am

    KG, you are correct that it is too much to expect to be able to silence faculty voices. Any and all attempts to do so are faulty and inappropriate. I appreciate your explanations and perspectives at the same time I think you have the wrong idea about the motivations and intentions of faculty who are using their right to represent themselves and their positions regarding the unnecessary pain and torment in Gaza. No one in CSCL or GWSS or AIS wants to make others on campus uncomfortable. Nor should they be silent or be silenced if the statement Pres. Ettinger made is unacceptable to them. You paint our faculty here in a very negative light. No one is trying to sully the U’s reputation. You appear to be uninformed as to the make up of who actually teaches here. Most of us are not tenured. That means we all must care for academic freedom by using it. If others are made uncomfortable, that is an opportunity to come together and talk. Please recognize that the departments who have made statements are some of the most vulnerable (see the disaster from last year when outgoing CLA Dean Coleman had to intervene to save GWSS, AIS and Ethnic Studies from draconian budget cuts). AIS and GWSS are not comprised of mostly tenured professors, in fact, AIS is supported entirely by non-tenure track instructors, none of whom want others on campus to feel threatened. Mn legislators are threatening to with hold funding unless the various statements are removed; you have issued multiple aggressive statements calling for faculty here be reprimanded for expressing themselves. Instead of threats to with hold money, instead of repeated calls to erase voices and punish who you call the“radical and willful few” we should be calling, as Gallope does, for an engaged conversation about the war itself.

    I’ll leave the last word here to you.

  • KG
    Feb 19, 2024 at 3:18 am

    The question at hand is whether a small group of vocal tenured faculty can hijack the official UMN platform to promote their own extreme agenda. Their actions raise concerns about willful misrepresentation. The posting of their manifesto on the official UMN platform and prominent banner, despite the statement’s small-print disclaimer, suggests this misuse. In effect, these faculty are intimidating, browbeating, and trying to silence those with differing opinions.
    The signers of these statements are only 17 out of the well-over 1,000 tenured faculty at UMN (the exact number could perhaps be obtained by the Minnesota Daily). But numbers aside, it is worrying that Jews and others who support the state of Israel feel uncomfortable on campus, and that the CSCL and GWSS statements are a distraction from formal on-campus studies of all students and that any civil and respectful debate on a significant issue is being stifled. It is worrying that a few privileged academics—self-righteous academics who selectively invoke “academic freedom” to suit their agenda—are sullying and misrepresenting the good name of an esteemed university like UMN to satisfy their own exaggerated egos and narrow advocacy.
    The most reasonable resolution would be for these CSCL and GWSS faculty, acknowledging the discomfort they have caused, simply to remove their statements from the official UMN platform. But that is probably too much to expect from this determined group. Similarly, it is probably too much to expect that the interim president will deal with the issue. The matter should definitely be addressed swiftly by the incoming UMN president (whoever it might be) by a clear and firm policy, as other universities have begun to do. These faculty should understand the damage they have caused to the university’s reputation and costs that may be necessary to defend and rehabilitate UMN’s good name. And, yes, these faculty should be reprimanded, if necessary.

  • MP
    Feb 18, 2024 at 1:05 pm

    People who say they care about the U sure seem to have time and energy to attack the people who teach here. That is both strange and unfortunate.

  • KG
    Feb 17, 2024 at 3:42 am

    Using the official platform of UMN to express a personal opinion, such as the CSCL and GWSS statements, is an abuse of faculty position and gives the false impression that official UMN policy supports those opinions (which it does not). As such, those faculty – tenured or not – are doing a great disservice to UMN by willfully misrepresenting UMN. “Free speech” does not mean that these faculty are entitled to sully the good name of UMN for their own partisan advocacy. But why should these professors, safely ensconced in their tenure, care about the good name of UMN? After all, it seems that they have free reign to poison the classroom and campus atmosphere by empowering intimidation and aggression. As a first step, their partisan manifestoes should be removed from official UMN sites. It is to be hoped that further official UMN steps would follow.

  • MP
    Feb 16, 2024 at 2:49 pm

    The suggestion instructors at the U should be “reprimanded by UMN” is deeply concerning. Hsu and Painter are miming concern for the U. They cast themselves as hero-saviors while insulting faculty here. Faculty are not playing games. Faculty are cultivating and supporting informed conversation and free speech via their advocacy. Ex-Regent Michael Hsu’s chronic habit of diminishing the work of faculty exposes his hypocrisy. We can thank free speech for that! To repeat and uplift what Gallope said so well in the article: “If Painter and Hsu want to defend Israel’s conduct in the war, they should drop the ad hominem attacks and the contorted efforts to silence dissent and engage in an informed discussion of the war itself.”

  • KG
    Feb 16, 2024 at 1:57 am

    Gallope, GWSS and others are giving the impression that their controversial opinion has the imprimatur of UMN, i.e., that their extreme advocacy is actively sanctioned by official UMN policy. This is patently false. Their advocacy should be removed from official UMN sites. These statements make Jews and those who support the state of Israel (not only Jews) feel uncomfortable on campus. These statements are a distraction from formal studies and stifle debate. Gallope and GWSS are using incitement and aggression to promote their views and should be reprimanded by UMN.

  • MP
    Feb 15, 2024 at 7:52 am

    This is the same Michael Hsu who accused faculty and grad student researchers of maligning the names of actual anti-semites and racists who have buildings named after them on the Mpls campus. This is the same Michael Hsu who voted against the renaming of these buildings. This is the same Michael Hsu who supported the arrest of esteemed Professor John Wright during a special Regents meeting to discuss the renaming of campus buildings. The video of this Special Meeting is on YouTube; the meeting took place in April, 2019.

    Richard Painter was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005-2007. It was during his tenure as such that the Supreme Court (Hamdan v Rumsfeld, 2006) determined that “military commissions set up by the Bush administration to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay violated both the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions ratified by the U.S.” (wikipedia)