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: October 22, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Barnard College

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 22, 2023, Barnard College’s administration removed a statement titled “Solidarity with Palestine” from the website of the college’s Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS).

The removal of the statement took place two weeks after a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of early April 2024, has reportedly killed more than 33,000 Palestinians. The violence has led to heightened tensions on campuses in the United States and other countries.

On October 21, the WGSS department published on its website a statement of solidarity with “our students who have experienced a wide variety of emotions and reactions following the disturbing events that have occurred in recent weeks and over multiple decades.” The statement condemned the Hamas attacks and expressed support for Palestinian resistance to “settler colonial war, occupation, and apartheid.” According to the WGSS department, the statement drew on their faculty members’ academic expertise on feminism, militarized humanitarianism, settler-colonialism, among other issues, and it concluded with a list of resources, including solidarity statements by other organizations and academic associations, articles, and links to webinars and actions.

On October 22, Barnard Provost Linda Bell emailed the WGSS department to notify them that the statement violated Barnard’s Acceptable Use Policy that “College resources should not be used for soliciting, proselytizing, or political activity” and Social Media Guidelines that “no College employee may create an official College presence on any form of social media, now in existence, or created in the future, or represent themselves as a spokesperson or authorized representative of the College.” Bell explained that the statement would be unpublished. The WGSS department noted that the statement of Palestinian solidarity mirrored a statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter published on their website in 2022, which was not removed, and asked for clarification on how the statement violated the two policies. They reportedly received no specific explanation.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the censorship of an academic department’s website, apparently on political grounds. Higher education authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and take all available steps to ensure the exercise of academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

Sources:
https://mesana.org/advocacy/committee-on-academic-freedom/2024/04/09/letter-to-barnard-college-concerning-its-administrations-actions-suppressing-freedom-of-speech-and-academic-freedom
https://www.columbiaspectator.com/news/2023/12/08/barnard-altered-its-policies-after-removing-a-solidarity-with-palestine-statement-from-a-departmental-website-faculty-are-calling-it-censorship/
https://thebarnardbulletin.com/2023/11/14/students-and-faculty-say-barnard-administration-has-undermined-academic-freedom/
https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/24/nyregion/barnard-college-free-speech-restrictions-israel-hamas-war.html
https://docs.google.com/document/u/1/d/e/2PACX-1vTno2XvS7q-PoRfgyFF2grjk-gll5DLjDddfot-qHIhKRXk0l8_QjXbzsHJOCu2UhIy-E6yOnWSldKn/pub