The University of Arkansas apparently isn’t a paradise when it comes to free speech.
After University of Arkansas Professor Thomas Paradise disinvited a speaker (Dr. Phyllis Chesler) critical of some Islamic practices, the U of A suspended Paradise this week from his duties as director of the King Fahd Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
Mark Rushing, assistant vice chancellor of university relations for the University of Arkansas, told us in an email late Wednesday afternoon:
The University of Arkansas believes in the free exchange of ideas and in a balanced presentation of viewpoints and does not approve of a program director’s recent decision to cancel a presentation via Skype by Dr. Phyllis Chesler.
The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution. The decision, made without informing leadership, has resulted in the director’s responsibilities for administrative and operational control being suspended pending an internal review focused on the circumstances that led to this decision.
We believe that the cancellation was an isolated incident and not indicative of a broader approach toward one ideological viewpoint. However, in an abundance of caution, we are actively working to reinforce an inclusive approach to special events with the goal of maintaining an environment where a diversity of ideas is welcomed.
In a follow-up email response, Rushing confirmed the suspended director was Paradise.
According to her website, Chesler “has published four studies, and is working on a fifth, about honor-related violence, including honor killings, and penned a position paper on why the West should ban the burqa; these studies have all appeared in Middle East Quarterly. She has testified for Muslim and ex-Muslim women who are seeking asylum or citizenship based on their credible belief that their families will honor kill them.”
Chesler is a professor emeritus of psychology and women’s studies at the City University of New York.
According to reports last week in the Daily Caller and Breitbart, Chesler was disinvited from speaking at a University of Arkansas symposium in April after three professors complained about Chesler’s alleged “Islamophobia.”
Chesler’s writings had also appeared on “the ultra-right Breitbart forum as well as many other right-wing platforms,” the professors complained in emails to Paradise according to the reports.
We requested emails Monday via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) about the Chesler incident. A university spokeswoman waited three days and said the request wasn’t “sufficiently specific.” We’ll try again.
Universities should be places where students are introduced to a diversity of ideas. Disinviting a speaker because her views have been published in “right-wing platforms” short-changes both students and the taxpayers who fund their education.
We shall see if Prof. Paradise’s suspension ensures that an incident like this doesn’t happen at the University of Arkansas again.