Dear President Christopher Eisgruber,
We write to express our support for Assistant Professor Satyel Larson, a scholar in the Near Eastern Studies department, and ask that you are vocal in your support for her and for principles of academic freedom.
Larson, an ethnographer, has faced attacks from both Israeli government officials and institutions supportive of Israel for her inclusion of the award-winning book The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Duke University Press, 2017), by Jasbir Puar, on a sample reading list for her fall 2023 course, “The Healing Humanities: Decolonizing Trauma Studies from the Global South.” In 2018, the book won the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association’s Alison Piepmeier Book Prize. This prize is awarded to “a groundbreaking monograph in women, gender, and sexuality studies that makes significant contributions to feminist disability studies scholarship.”
Academic freedom is a fundamental part of intellectual thriving, and the classroom is an integral site of academic freedom. As the American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure confirms, “Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning.” According to our own AAA Guiding Principles on Academic Freedom, “College and university professors are entitled to complete intellectual freedom in the classroom (and other channels for teaching) in constructing syllabi, assigning readings, delivering lectures, conducting discussions with students and colleagues, giving assignments, and evaluating student performance, while avoiding introducing material that has no relation to course’s subject.” Puar’s book is certainly relevant to Dr. Larson’s class on decolonizing trauma studies.
Puar’s book has been accused of being antisemitic because of its critique of Israeli policies. Accusations of antisemitism have become, unfortunately, an established tactic for undermining legitimate criticism of Israel. Teaching on the conflict between Israel-Palestine is important. Professors should be able to undertake this mission without fear of reprisal.
Attacks like those waged by Israel’s minister of diaspora and pro-Israel groups in the United States have effects beyond the threats they pose to individual scholars, and even beyond the environment for those teaching or writing on Israel-Palestine. Groundless accusations of antisemitism undermine the necessary struggle against actual antisemitism. Moreover, they can embolden others on the right to attack scholars who wish to teach about racism in the United States and other crucial topics.
With all of this in mind, we urge you and all of Princeton’s leaders to stand in vocal support of Dr. Larson in her right to design her course as she sees fit, and to offer her the encouragement she needs to move forward in the face of these ill-conceived attacks.
Ramona L. Pérez, President
American Anthropological Association