Yesterday, October 23, over 10 different universities hosted webinars, meetings, and discussions over Zoom as part of We Will Not Be Silenced: Day of Action Against the Criminalization and Censorship of Campus Speech, organized by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Each of these webinars and events, organized by concerned faculty, students and university-affiliated groups, will include a message from Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled alongside prominent scholars and advocates addressing colonialism, occupation, social justice and liberation movements.
The actions of Zoom and the University of Hawai’i have underscored exactly why this day of action is so important. This event – organized to protest censorship and defend academic freedom – was itself censored by a technology company while the University of Hawai’i did nothing to uphold its responsibilities. In response to complaints from anti-Palestinian, pro-apartheid organizations, Zoom deleted the event organized by several academic departments and university groups, while the university itself remained largely silent at this corporate trampling of academic freedom except to issue inaccurate and distancing comments.
“In the age of COVID-19, when so much of university life is online, university administrations have the urgent responsibility to protect academic freedom. What we saw at SFSU, and are now seeing at the University of Hawai’i, is the dangerous convergence of Big Tech, Israeli interests, and a corporatized university to accelerate the demise of free speech. Students, faculty, and staff can and will resist censorship,” said Prof. Cynthia Franklin of the University of Hawai’i.
“We will continue to fight for our universities as spaces of free and critical thinking and to struggle for a free Palestine. We will not be silenced!”
Despite the deeply troubling news from the University of Hawai’i, 10 more events are moving forward as planned. The list of events, as well as links for participation, are below.
The national day of action against the criminalization and censorship of campus political speech was organized by USACBI in response to the events of September 23, when corporate tech giants Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube acted in lockstep with San Francisco State University (SFSU) to shut down an open classroom webinar co-sponsored by the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies Program and the Department of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University. Leila Khaled, along with Black, Jewish, and South African scholars, advocates, and former political prisoners, was a speaker at the open classroom.
“If Zoom will not withdraw its decision–which it has taken for entirely spurious reasons– college presidents should break their contracts with the company,” said Andrew Ross of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at New York University. “
“Administrators who shut down a campus event are in clear violation of the principle of academic freedom that universities are obliged to observe. Allowing a corporate, third-party vendor to override this bedrock principle is even worse,” Ross noted.