Note: The following is a Press Release from the Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UVM Administration Cancels Invited Palestinian Poet and Journalist
Lecture Series will hold the event online
Contact: Fred Magdoff: 802-849-2315; 802-363-1362; fm******@uv*.edu
BURLINGTON, VT: On Saturday evening the University of Vermont administration announced that it was cancelling, without consultation with sponsoring organizations and departments, the long-planned October 26, 2023 lecture by award-winning Palestinian poet and correspondent for the Nation Mohammed El-Kurd.
While the administration claims that this cancellation is necessary for campus “safety,” the board of the Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series and members of the campus community charge UVM President Suresh Garimella, Provost Patricia Prelock, and other members of upper administration with silencing Palestinian voices and critical perspectives on Israel’s expanding war and US government support.
Board member Helen Scott said “UVM cancelled this event in the name of safety and security. In doing so, they have exacerbated a climate of fear and anxiety for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and their supporters. They feel less safe on this campus.”
With the sponsorship of two academic departments and other organizations, Palestinian poet and journalist Mohammed El-Kurd was scheduled, over three months ago, to speak as part of the Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series, which has a long history of holding events on campus.
In early October, in advance of October 7, the university began receiving messages alleging that El-Kurd’s poetry is antisemitic. The sponsors investigated the complaints and found that while Mohammed El-Kurd is an outspoken critic of Zionism and Israel’s policies, his poetry, journalism, and public statements show no evidence of antisemitism or hate speech and thus no grounds to cancel the event. A week before the lecture, the dean of the college of arts and sciences gave assurances that the university’s policy on academic freedom would be respected, and the event would not be canceled.
While some complaints continued to come in, sponsors also received messages from students and the community in support of bringing the speaker to the UVM campus. Organizers heard of no threats of violence or disturbance nor did the UVM administration share any evidence of such threats. Organizers were thus dismayed and mystified to receive on Saturday evening an unsigned message from the Division of Safety and Compliance saying that “the event will not be held on UVM’s campus.”
The lecture series, particularly its Jewish members, insist with the American Association of University Professors that “The conflation of criticism of Israel and Zionism with antisemitism is false and is used to attack academic freedom.”[i] The cancellation of El-Kurd’s lecture at UVM is an abhorrent attack on academic freedom with sobering ramifications for the campus and beyond.
The attempt by the UVM administration to silence El-Kurd against the wishes of sponsoring departments and organizations is part of a pattern on campuses and other institutions across the globe, of cancellations of Palestinian cultural and political events. This is deeply disturbing.[ii] One group expresses opposition to an event and creates a climate of controversy, and even though others support the event, the university cancels due to non-specific “safety concerns.” The public messaging implies that the event itself is a threat to safety, even though this is groundless.
The upshot is that Palestinian voices are selectively silenced just at the moment when we most need space for debate and dialogue in an attempt to understand the current conflict.
The lecture series is determined that the voice of Mohammed El-Kurd will not be silenced. The event will now be held online while concerned students and other community members continue to organize for reinstatement of a campus venue.
Lecture Series will hold the event online. Register Here
Students are also sharing their concerns with the university