SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 07, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):San Francisco State University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 7, 2023, administrators at San Francisco State University (SFSU) opened a formal investigation into history professor Maziar Behrooz for displaying a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad during an Islamic history course, called “The Islamic World: 1500-1700,” during the Fall 2022 semester.

During the lesson under investigation, Behrooz reportedly gave a content warning to the class that he was going to show the photo, acknowledging that in some Muslim cultures, seeing a depiction of the Prophet in any shape or form is against their practices. After the class, a Muslim student registered their concern first to the department, and then to “higher” university authorities. Behrooz explained to the head of his department that this photo is important in understanding the history of Islamic countries. He also noted that not all Muslims share the student’s opinion, highlighting that this was not only the first complaint since he started teaching the course, but also that the exact photo can be bought in markets throughout Tehran, where he was born, and found in many Shi’ite Muslim homes. SFSU’s Office of Equity Programs & Compliance launched an investigation in April 2023, months after the original complaint.

The Middle East Studies Association and tenured professors at SFSU have spoken up in defense of Behrooz, asking SFSU to drop the investigation. SFSU professors have alluded broadly to several nonpublic instances of academic freedom violations at SFSU.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about an investigation into a professor in retaliation for the exercising of the right to academic freedom during a lecture. State officials and higher education authorities have an obligation not to interfere with expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, investigations stemming from such activity have a chilling effect on academic freedom and materials taught in courses, and undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society more generally.

Sources:
https://www.thefire.org/news/deja-vu-san-francisco-state-university-threatens-academic-freedom-investigates-professor
https://www.chronicle.com/article/power-shift
https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2023/04/07/san-francisco-state-investigates-professor-showing-image-muhammad
https://mesana.org/advocacy/committee-on-academic-freedom/2023/04/13/letter-to-the-president-of-san-francisco-state-university-protesting-the-investigation-of-professor-maziar-behrooz
https://goldengatexpress.org/102628/campus-original/freedom-of-speech-in-classrooms-is-in-debate-after-professor-shows-muhammad-portrait/

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El 7 de abril de 2023, los administradores de la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco (SFSU) abrieron una investigación formal en contra del profesor de historia Maziar Behrooz por mostrar un dibujo del profeta Mahoma durante un curso de historia islámica, llamado El mundo islámico: 1500-1700, durante el semestre de otoño de 2022.

Al parecer, durante la lección investigada, Behrooz avisó a la clase de que iba a mostrar la foto, reconociendo que en algunas culturas musulmanas ver una representación del Profeta de cualquier forma va en contra de sus prácticas. Después de la clase, un estudiante musulmán hizo constar su preocupación primero al departamento y luego a las autoridades superiores de la universidad. Behrooz explicó al director de su departamento que esta foto es importante para comprender la historia de los países islámicos. También señaló que no todos los musulmanes comparten la opinión del estudiante, destacando que ésta no sólo era la primera queja desde que empezó a impartir el curso, sino también que la foto exacta se puede comprar en mercados de todo Teherán, donde nació, y se encuentra en muchos hogares de musulmanes chiíes. La Oficina de Programas de Igualdad y Cumplimiento de la SFSU inició una investigación en abril de 2023, meses después de la denuncia original.

La Asociación de Estudios de Oriente Medio y profesores titulares de la SFSU han salido en defensa de Behrooz, pidiendo a la SFSU que abandone la investigación. Los profesores de la SFSU han aludido ampliamente a varios casos no públicos de violaciones de la libertad académica en la SFSU.

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Scholars at Risk (SAR) is a member of the Coalition for Academic Freedom in the Americas (CAFA), and partners with CAFA on Americas-focused monitoring activities. Relevant incidents, with factual details translated into Spanish, appear on both SAR and CAFA websites.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) es una institución que integra la Coalición por la Libertad Académica en las Américas (CLAA). SAR trabaja junto con la CLAA en el monitoreo de situaciones en las Américas. Los incidentes relevantes que reportamos, con descripción de hechos detallados en español, aparecen tanto en los portales de SAR como de la CLAA.