Temple University Board Chairman’s Comments on Marc Lamont Hill Risk Undermining Academic Freedom
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—Comments by the chairman of Temple University’s board of trustees about dismissing Professor Marc Lamont Hill propose unwarranted discipline and risk undermining the principle of academic freedom, PEN America said in a statement today.
A tenured professor at Temple, Hill ended a speech as part of the U.N.’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People last Wednesday by calling for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea.” The phrase came under heavy criticism, as it has been construed to imply the destruction of Israel and has been used in the past by some of the more militant wings of the Palestinian cause. As a result, Hill was dismissed from his role as a commentator at CNN last Thursday, and on Friday, Patrick O’Connor, the chairman of Temple’s board of trustees, suggested that his words constituted hate speech, that some in the administration there wanted to “fire him right away,” and that they were looking into other possible “remedies” to discipline him. Although Temple initially stated that Hill was exercising his constitutionally protected right to speak as a private citizen, O’Connor’s comments raised the specter of discipline. In an op-ed Saturday, Hill apologized to those he offended, emphasized that he is against anti-Semitism, and that he did not mean to imply calling for the destruction of Israel.
“Temple officials are free to disagree with and criticize Hill’s statements, but as a public institution, they may not exact punishments for speech in the way O’Connor has suggested,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America Project Director for Campus Free Speech. “Hill has admitted failing to exercise due care with his choice of words, recognizing the offense they caused, which he claims he did not intend. But the principle of academic freedom and the First Amendment offer protection for even the most objectionable speech. O’Connor’s statement was not only unwarranted, it has caused concern and confusion in the academic community. Temple’s leaders should publicly affirm that Hill will not be subject to discipline for his remarks, and restore confidence in their commitment to tenure and academic freedom.”
PEN America has previously addressed the problem of excessive discipline of faculty in response to their exercise of free speech in its 2016 report, And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities, and the incorporated PEN America Principles on Campus Speech.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org
CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]