CFA-SFSU Chapter Resolution on Academic Freedom, Breach of Contract and Faculty Self Governance

Posted on May 12, 2023

The executive board of the SFSU chapter of CFA expresses its support for Professors Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa as they pursue arbitration to resolve several different statutory hearings. As some of you may recall, in 2021-2022 there were three such hearings, each resulting in a unanimous verdict in these professor’s favor. One hearing was held on whether Professor Abdulhadi suffered a breach of contract when the conditions upon which she was hired were violated by the university leading to her intellectual isolation, damage to her career and reputation and the diminishing of the AMED Studies program that has been targeted for years by pro-Israel lobby groups. Another two were held on whether the academic freedom rights of Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa respectively were violated when an open classroom they co-organized was censored by Zoom. This was due to pressures by pro-Israel groups that demanded such censorship on the pretext that one of the participants belonged to a group labeled as terrorist by the US government. The guest speaker, Leila Khaled, had participated in Zoom events before and after Abdulhadi and Kinukawa class was censored without any problems. In the face of Zoom’s announcement, the university warned the two professors that they might go to jail if they didn’t acquiesce and give up on the seminar. The university refused to provide them with legal representation, suggesting instead that they find their own lawyers.  

In all three cases, a randomly selected panels of faculty members ruled unanimously in favor of Abdulhadi and Kinukawa, demanding a reversal of every action the university took against them. This is no small feat. It is unprecedented to win 3 such decisive victories and especially on issues related to Israel, Islamophobia, and Arab, Muslim and Palestinian communities. The panelists recognized  that the rights of Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa had indeed been violated. The statutory hearing process, which is part of the CFA-CSU Collective Bargaining Agreement, works somewhat like a trial (although it is not itself a legal matter). It was created precisely to allow faculty to assert their rights in an open, public manner and to be judged by a panel of their peers. Unfortunately, the president of the university vetoed all three of these decisions, asserting administrative authority and favoring administrative over an exercise of faculty self-governance.  

At this time, Professors Kinukawa and Abdulhadi have appealed all 3 presidential vetoes and are pursuing these cases up through arbitration. Our SFSU CFA Chapter executive board would like to offer them our full support for this process. We believe that the stakes for both of these arbitrations (the two arbitrations on academic freedom have been combined into one) are very high and go far beyond the personal and individual interests of these two professors. They are part and parcel of our collective rights.  

For the case on breach of contract, the university has chosen to interpret the case as implying that initial hiring agreements do not constitute contracts and that therefore the administration (management) can choose to uphold or ignore such agreements as they see fit. If this interpretation is maintained, many of our faculty, who were recruited to and accepted SFSU’s job offers with certain explicit, written expectations, will lose a key protection for having their original agreement honored. For this reason alone, it is very important that we win this case! 

In terms of academic freedom, the case equally reaches beyond the specific issues and valid grievances concerns of Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa. Academic freedom is easy to support when there are no stakes involved. To support academic freedom in crunch times, such as these professors experienced, is what really matters. It is essential to send a message to these two professors and anyone who is targeted for their scholarship, teaching or advocacy to know that that the university fully has their backs and will act in a manner that maximizes the faculty’s ability to express their views without fear of retaliation or jail.  

For all these reasons, we, the Executive Board of SFSU Chapter of CFA, fully support Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa in their endeavors and commit to provide them with as much material support as they need and we can provide. We urge our faculty colleagues at SFSU, CSU as well as our students, staff, alumni, our colleagues at all CSU campuses and the broader SFSU/CSU community as a whole, to support these expressions of faculty self-governance, academic freedom and integrity. We wish to help ensure that going forward our university campus and all CSU campuses are wholly committed to the principles of faculty self-governance, honoring of contracts and academic freedom as well as upholding the principles of social and racial justice and the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all.

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