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UCLA professor wins fight over academic freedom

July 20, 2012 |  5:12 pm

This spring, a UCLA professor was criticized by a faculty leader for linking an online syllabus for a World Arts and Cultures course to a website that called for a boycott of Israel. At the time, professor David Delgado Shorter reportedly was told that the link for his winter term class on Tribal Worldviews seemed to advance a political agenda that was inappropriate in the classroom.

Shorter, however, said his academic freedom was being violated and he questioned whether Andrew Leuchter, the chairman of UCLA’s faculty Senate, should have responded to a complaint about the link from a group that seeks to fight anti-Semitism at UC.

Shorter said that the link to the Israel boycott was just one of a number of suggested links for the class to explore the rights of various groups around the world and that he also discussed in class the point of view of people who are against the boycott.

Now, Shorter has won vindication.

The UCLA faculty senate’s committee on academic freedom last week said that Shorter’s use of the boycott link did not violate UCLA policy, which gives faculty the right to present controversial material relevant to the course as long as no student feels pressure to adopt a point of view.

Additionally, in a letter to Shorter, the committee said it was concerned that Leuchter looked into the matter at the behest of a group that was not directly affected by the course. “We think that faculty members should be free of such scrutiny and should not have to answer to interest groups outside the university,” the committee told Shorter in a letter.

Shorter said Friday that he was pleased by that finding but was still filing a grievance against Leuchter in another senate committee. He said he did not know whether he would again use that link but might if it proved relevant to future courses.

Shorter was not formally disciplined in the matter. But in April, Leuchter said he had asked the department chairman to informally tell Shorter not to post the link anymore on the syllabus.

On Friday, Leuchter released a statement that said: “As a faculty member and in my role as chair of the UCLA Academic Senate, I strongly support academic freedom. I thank the Committee on Academic Freedom for their perspective on this matter.” He declined further comment.


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