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 05, 2024

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):The New School | University of Cologne

Region & Country:Europe | Germany

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 5, 2024, the University of Cologne (UoC) announced the withdrawal of its 2024 Albertus Magnus Professorship because the intended recipient, Nancy Fraser, a professor of philosophy at The New School, had previously signed a letter in support of Palestine.

UoC invited Fraser to the professorship in late 2022. According to the university, the position is awarded to “a personage of international renown who in public lectures and seminars addresses issues that are important in many fundamental sciences, but also in public debate.” In an interview with Jacobin, Fraser shared that she planned to give lectures on “labor in capitalist society, a topic that had nothing directly to do with Israel or Palestine.”

In a statement, UoC explained that it had rescinded its invitation after learning that Fraser had signed an open letter, “Philosophy for Palestine.” The letter, dated November 1, 2023, was publish a month 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 mid April 2024, has reportedly killed more than 34,000 Palestinians. The letter expresses solidarity with the people of Palestine, states that Hamas’s actions on October 7 must be understood contextually within the broader history of the region, condemns Israeli military action in Gaza, and calls for an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. In its statement, UoC contended that, in the “Philosophy for Palestine letter “Israel’s right to exist as an “ethno-supremacist state” since its foundation in 1948 is called into question. The terror attacks by Hamas on Israel on 7 October 2023 are elevated to an act of legitimate resistance.” UoC goes on to state, “the assertions in the philosophers’ letter cannot be reconciled with the statements of the University of Cologne… on the situation in Israel and the Middle East. Moreover, they are irreconcilable with our close ties to Israeli partner institutions.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the withdrawal of an academic position in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. University officials should respect scholars’ exercise of such rights and refrain from disciplinary actions that punish or deter nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, disciplinary actions intended to deter or punish free expression undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.