(NEW YORK)— Although two instructors at the University of Arizona were reinstated after suspension over their remarks about Hamas, PEN America said today it remains concerned that they cannot continue teaching a course, calling it “a fundamental violation of academic freedom.”

Following sit-ins and campus protests, the university has confirmed that the instructors are no longer on administrative leave but another faculty member will finish teaching the course this semester. The administration also announced a series of workshops related to academic freedom, teaching “highly sensitive subjects,” and the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

The professors were suspended after a set of audio clips from the class were recorded, posted on X (formerly Twitter) and went viral. In the clips the instructors allegedly called Hamas a “resistance group,” comparing them to the Black Panther Party, and discussed the current war between Israel and Hamas. The dean of the college of education told the professors they were suspected of violating policies related to professional conduct and political activity and lobbying, without specifying any details.

According to the instructors, the clips posted online from the Oct. 30 lecture were edited to remove context and emphasize the more controversial portions of the conversation. The chair of the faculty senate said the comments were made during a planned discussion of current events in the class.

In response, Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, said: 

“We are relieved to see that the instructors have been reinstated, but we remain concerned that they will be unable to finish teaching their course this semester. It is a fundamental violation of academic freedom for the university to render judgment first, and look at evidence later. Further, it casts a chill over all professors’ speech to teach in an environment where a suspension could be wrought based on a snippet of conversation recorded surreptitiously and dispersed without authentication.”   

Shahverdian continued: “Instructors have an obligation to construct classrooms where all students feel welcome and supported. They must be conscientious of this when discussing controversial geopolitical issues, respectful of the breadth of students’ identities in the room, making space for a wide array of viewpoints, and differentiating between fact and opinion. As campuses across the country are roiled by the events in Israel and Gaza, the University of Arizona should avoid rushing to judgment in ways that could chill speech. To that end, we are hopeful that the planned workshop series is a step in the right direction.” 

About PEN America

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. 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057