National academic community comes together to defend Syracuse University professor’s academic freedom

Colin Davy | Staff Photographer

On June 22, Chancellor Kent Syverud released a statement acknowledging the potential interpretations of professor Dana Cloud’s statement, but stated the professor would not be condemned for her speech.

Last week, a statement of solidarity with Syracuse University professor Dana Cloud was created and posted on social media. By Monday nearly 1,400 individuals had signed it.

Cloud, a communications and rhetorical studies professor at SU, attended a counter-protest against the anti-Sharia rally being held in Syracuse on June 10. Organized by ACT for America, the rally opposing Sharia, defined as Islamic law, was part of a national effort to rile up Islamophobia, according to the solidarity statement.

Cloud used social media to convince more Syracuse residents to join the effort. Per the statement, she tweeted, “We almost have the fascists in on the run. Syracuse people come down to the federal building to finish them off.”

The tweet incited anger from several right-wing groups. Many thought Cloud was arguing in favor of violence with the phrase “finish them off.”

Cloud created the statement of solidarity on June 18 after she began receiving hate-mail and threats from “right-wing extremists.”

This wasn’t the first time Cloud has received backlash for expressing her opinions. She received hate mail in 2002 and 2006 when she condemned the United States invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli invasion of Gaza, respectively.

But the professor was still shocked when she began receiving threatening messages for this tweet, she said. Written in the heat of the moment and not given a second thought, the tweet aroused reactions Cloud was not expecting, she added.

A lot of the hate she received previously is similar to what she is being subjected to now, Cloud said, citing statements such as “you’re a poor excuse for a woman” and “hope you don’t meet me in a dark alley.”

However, Cloud said what’s different and scarier now is who is sending the attacks. A conservative commentator Ann Coulter, a conservative website CampusReform and a few other hubs give language for others to take aim at professors. These people, feeling emboldened partially because of the Donald Trump administration’s rhetoric, are not afraid of violence, she added.

For the last decade or more, there have been efforts to stigmatize leftist professors, said Mark Rupert, a professor of political science in SU’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Conservative backlash, funded by major conservative organizations, is widely known in the academic community and is recognized as a threat to academic freedom.

Rupert added he wasn’t surprised so many people unaffiliated with SU also signed the statement of solidarity. Even if they didn’t know Cloud personally, they shared the same sense that certain values were being threatened, he said.

People are also feeling this sense that she was unfairly targeted, said Claudia Klaver, an associate professor of English in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences. Cloud was legally and nonviolently protesting, and she had every right to do so, Klaver added.

Supporting and protecting the academic freedom of faculty members is an obligation of SU, said Osamah Khalil, an associate professor of history in the Maxwell School.

“In March, the Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning attempts to blacklist faculty,” Khalil added.

On June 22, Chancellor Kent Syverud sent an email to the university community acknowledging the potential interpretations of Cloud’s statement, but stated the professor would not be condemned for her speech.

“Our faculty must be able to say and write things — including things that provoke some or make others uncomfortable — up to the very limits of the law. The statement at issue is, I believe, within those limits,” Syverud said in the email.

Since Cloud only had a meeting scheduled with Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly on July 11, “the chancellor’s statement came as a welcome surprise,” she said.

Cloud added that especially given what the chancellor said, she doesn’t think appearing on these blacklists has negatively affected her relationship with the university. Her academic department within the university also has a “philosophy of engagement” and helped pass on the statement of solidarity and certain pieces of evidence to the chancellor, she said.

Even outside of the university, Cloud has received support from other organizations. She is a member of the International Socialist Organization and said they developed a strategy for her safety, helped build the statement of solidarity and started appealing to the school’s administration to defend her.

“I would encourage anyone facing this kind of blowback to build your networks and mobilize them,” she said.

Despite being a target of hate speech, Cloud said she doesn’t believe institutions should censor any kind of speech.

“When people try and claim platform in our spaces, people can use their free speech to challenge the speech of the bigots,” she said.

Cloud said this incident was not just about her as an individual, but was part of a nationwide movement. There were similar incidents that occurred with professors from Trinity College, the University of Illinois and Drexel University, among others.

“I think there are many people in political organizations and the academy who want to send a message at the national level,” Cloud said. “It’s about every faculty member.”


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