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: March 04, 2024

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Texas Tech University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 4, 2024, Texas Tech University placed Jairo Fúnez-Flores, an assistant professor at the College of Education who specializes in decolonial studies, ethnography, and activist research, on paid leave because of posts that he made on social media expressing support for Palestine.

The decision to place Fúnez-Flores on leave came nearly five 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.

On October 7, the day of the Hamas attack, Fúnez-Flores made several posts rejecting the designation of Hamas as a terrorist group. On November 28, he published an article on Substack in which he referred to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as “colonial genocide…epistemicide, memoricide, femicide, and ecocide,” and argued for decolonization and liberation.

On February 22, 2024, the Texas Scorecard, a far right media outlet, published an article detailing a collection of Fúnez-Flores’ tweets, denouncing his criticisms of Israel and the United States’ involvement, and labeling him antisemitic. A few weeks after the article was published, Texas Tech announced that it was opening an investigation into Fúnez-Flores. The university stated his posts were “hateful, antisemitic, and unacceptable” and that, through the investigation, they sought to determine whether Fúnez-Flores had made similar comments in the classroom.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a professor in retaliation for exercising the right to academic freedom and free expression. 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.