“I hear some people say Zionism is racism, how do I respond to that?” This question from a student in his Spring 2005 World Religions class, says Douglas Giles, ended up costing him his job as an instructor at Roosevelt University.(Email from Douglas Giles, May 9, 2006) The problem wasn’t anything Giles said about the state of Israel, but the fact that he allowed students to discuss the issue at all.
It may seem surprising that this dispute over whether instructors can discuss political issues and whether a department chair referred to Palestinians as “animals” is happening at Roosevelt University. Roosevelt, with 7,200 students at its downtown and Schaumberg campuses, was founded with a progressive vision 60 years ago, when Central YMCA College president Edward Sparling was fired for refusing the demands of trustees to impose a quota on minority admissions. He took nearly all of the faculty and students with him to form a new institution.(Roosevelt President Charles R. Middleton’s installation speech, March 10, 2003) But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most controversial subject in colleges today, with several Chicago-area faculty claiming they were fired for expressing their views about it.
Giles says that in response to the Zionism question, “I explained the religious dimensions of the belief of many Jews that God has promised the land of Israel to them and will eventually lead them back to the land. I explained that both Jews and Muslims consider Jerusalem a holy city and thus religious belief is a huge factor in the current conflict over Israel. I also explained that the charge that Zionism is racism was anti-Israeli political speech and that there is nothing in Zionism itself that is racist. The class responded very positively and there was discussion about the beliefs about the land of both Jews and Muslims.”(Email from Douglas Giles, May 9, 2006) Jonathan Lowe, a student in the class, reports that Giles “was very careful to remain neutral and diffuse any hot comments.”(Jonathan Lowe, May 14, 2006) On the final exam, Giles included an optional question on the topic: “What was the history of Zionism and how does it affect the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians?”(Email Douglas Giles, May 15, 2006, his transcript of September 13, 2005 conversation) One student who answered the question didn’t like the grade he received. A formal grade appeal went to Susan Weininger, the chair of Giles’ department. On Sept. 21, 2005, Weininger rejected the complaint, writing to the student that Giles “persuaded me that his political opinions did not figure in his assessment of your work.”(Susan Weininger memo, September 21, 2005) However, Weininger added, “I did have a discussion with Prof. Giles about the political content that was introduced into the course, and I believe that he is aware that it was inappropriate and will not be covering this material in the future.”(Susan Weininger memo, September 21, 2005) Weininger told Giles not to allow any discussions in his class critical of Judaism that might be “disrespectful to any Jews in the class.” According to Giles, Weininger said: “I hear you even allowed a Muslim to speak in class.”
Giles says he responded, “Yes, of course, I allowed all students to speak, regardless of their religion!” And Weininger reportedly replied: “You shouldn’t! What disturbs me is that you act like the Palestinians have a side in this. They don’t have a side! They are ANIMALS! They strap bombs to their bodies and blow up women and children! They are NOT CIVILIZED!”(Email Douglas Giles, May 15, 2006, his transcript of September 20, 2005 conversation) Roosevelt’s Associate Provost, Louise Love, defended Weininger by proclaiming that “it is within the University’s province to determine its curriculum,” and that Weininger’s demand for Giles to limit the content of the course “is not an issue of academic freedom but a pedagogical one.” But pedagogical issues are covered under academic freedom. Roosevelt’s Faculty Constitution explicitly protects “the right to discuss the member’s subject in the classroom with full freedom.”(memo from Louise Love, March 14, 2006) In March, 2006, Roosevelt finally announced their explanation for why they had fired Giles. Love responded to the adjunct union’s grievance by acknowledging that the university had violated its own procedures. So Roosevelt University reinstated Giles and then immediately fired him again (or “permanently not re-hired” him, as Roosevelt prefers to call it).(memo from Lynn Weiner, March 15, 2006) Love claimed Giles’ teaching in a Logic class was the cause for his dismissal:
“the decision not to rehire was based, in large part, on Giles’ interpretation of a particular problem he submitted to his class. His interpretation of the problem was submitted for review to the full-time faculty who found his interpretation severely wanting and who, as a result, did not want him rehired.” (memo from Lynn Weiner, March 15, 2006) The controversy surrounds the logical fallacy in this statement: “Crime in the streets, especially crime committed by gangs of teens, is increasing at an alarming rate. Senator Ess shares your concern about this issue.
Therefore, to reduce crime in the streets, vote for Ess.” Giles considered this an Appeal to Pity. A student believed that it was an Appeal to Fear and complained to Stuart Warner, the full-time philosophy professor in the department, who felt that it depended on the missing premises. Warner contacted Dennis Temple, a retired philosophy professor who teaches as an adjunct, who argued that it was Begging the Question. An expert in the subfield of logic disputes this explanation. Mark Criley, who teaches logic at Illinois Wesleyan University, disagrees with Giles, the student, and both of the philosophy teachers about the correct interpretation of the question. Criley observes, “it can be controversial which particular fallacy a bit of informal reasoning commits.”
Warner wrote, “If I were asked my professional judgment on Giles’ problem in Logic, my answer would be that he’s probably incompetent.” According to Criley, “if the claim is that this incident alone is the grounds for his termination, that strikes me as ridiculous.” Neither Weininger, Warner, nor Temple visited Giles’ classes, read his syllabus, or even looked at his student evaluations in the class. Dayna Lambert, a student in his Logic class, calls him a “fantastic Logic professor.”(email from Dayna Lambert, May 14, 2006) Perhaps the most troubling fact is that no one discussed the logical dispute with Giles. Giles reports, “Weininger never discussed it with me, I never heard the issue was ever raised until March 14, four months after the termination and three months after we filed our grievance. I was never given an opportunity to speak to the faculty who allegedly spoke about the issue.”(Email from Douglas Giles, May 9, 2006) If Roosevelt administrators are to be believed, Giles was fired for making a mistake on a philosophical question without ever having a chance to explain his side of the story. But this explanation is particularly difficult to believe because Warner had told Giles that he would be given two courses to teach in Spring 2006, and Temple was already scheduled to teach the Logic class at the downtown campus. That means Giles must have been fired from teaching a non-logic class (most likely World Religions, which Temple also ended up teaching) because of his response to one question about a logical fallacy. Even if Giles was deemed incompetent to teach logic, that would have nothing to do with his ability to teach World Religions. But for Weininger (an art history professor), the logic dispute must have seemed like a convenient excuse to get rid of a politically troublesome instructor who had offended a student.
Unlike most adjuncts who are fired and can do nothing about it, Giles has a union on his side and a grievance procedure where the reasons for his dismissal must be explained. The Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization is strongly defending Giles: “We continue to believe that the questioning of the instructor’s competence is a diversionary tactic to shift the argument away from the academic freedom violation. We believe the so-called evidence does not in fact indict the adjunct but rather shows that the university has no commitment to collegiality toward its adjunct instructors and it demonstrates a callous disregard for the evaluation of teaching.”(“More Details on Academic Freedom Grievance,” www.rafo.org) An arbitration hearing is scheduled for October 13, 2006 (Giles rejected a settlement offer of $6,150, his pay for teaching two classes).
But even if Giles prevails in arbitration, it may not repair the chilling effect on faculty who fear offending students by allowing discussions on controversial issues. Unlike Giles, most faculty seem to take it for granted that academic freedom is limited for adjunct instructors.
Giles notes, “I have been amazed and upset that so many people hear about this case and say ‘how typical’ and aren’t surprised that a university has acted this way. That is truly tragic.”(Email from Douglas Giles, May 9, 2006)