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: January 25, 2024

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):New York University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 25, 2024, New York University (NYU) suspended Amin Husain, an adjunct professor at NYU’s Gallatin school, pending an investigation for comments he made about the war in Gaza.

Husain, who is Palestinian, is also the co-founder of the activist group Decolonize This Place (DTP)–an art collective based in New York City that organizes around Indigenous rights, black liberation, Palestinian nationalism, de-gentrification, and economic inequality. Husain’s suspension occurred nearly four months 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 March, 2024 had reportedly killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions on campuses in the United States and other countries. In mid-October 2023, a petition written by a group of NYU alumni calling for Husain’s dismissal garnered 6,400 signatures. The petition called Husain anti-semitic for criticizing Israel, including its military response in Gaza.

On November 17, 2023, Husain attended a teach-in at The New School where he argued the best strategy for pro-Palestinian activists is “ungovernability” and that the land belonging to Israel “isn’t for Jews.” A few weeks later, on December 5, Hussain participated in another teach-in hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine at The New School. In a video that was shared online, Husain was recorded calling New York a “Zionist city” and claiming that media reports referring to Hamas militants as “rapists” and “people that behead babies” are “not true.” He also encouraged students to do their own independent research into Hamas’s 2017 charter and the accusations made against the group.

According to the civil liberties organization representing him, a month and a half later, the university’s human resources department held two meetings with Husain, on January 19 and January 22, during which he was asked about his “speech-related activities and his affiliation with DTP.”

On January 23, Husain received two letters from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences notifying him of his suspension pursuant to an investigation into unspecified complaints made against him. NYU announced Husain’s suspension publicly. The university also canceled the two classes that Husain had been scheduled to teach during the Spring 2024 semester.

The university statement did not give a reason for the suspension, but referenced the university’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, which draw on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, including “the targeting of the state of Israel.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a professor in retaliation for exercising the right to academic freedom and free expression on matters within his area of professional expertise. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom and should employ transparent, fair processes when engaging in disciplinary actions. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions stemming from such activity undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.

Sources:
https://hyperallergic.com/868525/nyu-suspends-palestinian-professor-and-activist-amin-husain/
https://nyunews.com/news/2024/01/29/pro-palestinian-professor-suspension/
https://www.thefire.org/research-learn/fire-letter-new-york-university-february-2-2024