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US: Students demand suspended Indian-American prof be reinstated

By GeorgeJoseph
October 13, 2011 11:46 IST
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Students have called for a protest on Saturday at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco demanding the reinstatement of professors in the department of anthropology -- Richard Shapiro and Angana Chatterji.

Shapiro, the head of the department, and Chatterji, co-convener of the International People's Tribunal on human rights in Kashmir, have reportedly been suspended following complaints from students. Chatterji, an Indian-American scholar is noted for her opposition to religious nationalism.

There are also rumours doing the rounds that Shapiro and Chatterji could have been suspended for their work on Kashmir. However, there is no confirmation on the same. 

Though students said the professors were suspended since July 19, Jim Martin, director of communications at Continental Institute of International Studies, a private university, told that the duo were on paid leave. "Lot of misinformation is going on about the issue. The work of the professors as regards to the Kashmir issue has nothing to do with this action. In fact the institute had only supported their work on Kashmir," he said.

According to student leaders, there's a gag order issued on the professors on speaking about the suspension. However, Martin denied any gag order.

Jessica Hu, one of the organisers of the protest, told that students were unclear of allegations against the professors.

Hu expects students, alumni, faculty, and friends to join the protest in support of the only two full-time core faculty members in the anthropology department.

The American Association of University Professors urged their reinstatement in a letter sent on August 11.  "The issue is currently in the hands of a faculty hearing board, which students have been told by the academic vice president will convene late this month," Hu said.

"It has circulated that the administration is seeking the dismissal of these two professors, and it was communicated by the AVP, when they were notified of their suspensions that the proceedings could possibly lead to termination," she added.

Martin said the investigation started after the university received a complaint against professors at the institution. However, students maintain that it was not against Shapiro or Chatterji.

Martin clarified that the investigation was going on and the authorities had received a number of complaints from current and former students against them. The university president has appointed a three-member faculty committee to conduct an inquiry and were given the authority to demand the removal of Shapiro or Chatterji.

"Once the committee makes a recommendation, a decision will be taken about the future of the professors, Martin said. However, he declined to give details of the nature of the complaints.

Martin said the authorities have deep compassion for the students and have appointed qualified adjunct faculty to replace the professors for now. It does not view the proposed protest negatively.

Last year, students and activists had organised a rally in front of the Indian consulate in San Francisco, protesting the denial of entry to Shapiro to India. He has earlier visited India 30 times. 

During Chatterji's fourteen years of service at the CIIS, there was only one grievance against her, of which she was fully exonerated, the protestors noted. Institute and faculty evaluation mechanisms have rated both the professors highly. A faculty committee promoted Chatterji from associate to full professor in 2009 and renewed Shapiro's contract in April 2011. Course evaluations of both the faculty have been from good to excellent.

While Chatterji's Kashmir work is not under investigation, the procedure did not allow her to conduct her human rights work this summer, according to a statement from protestors.

"In conjunction to the protest, we have been reaching out to the press, politicians, activists and academic networks, alumni and other allies for solidarity and support. We are hopeful that the awareness and support will allow our demands to be heard," Hu said. 

A statement from the protesters noted, "Students of the Social and Cultural Anthropology Department at CIIS are enraged by the suspension of two highly distinguished professors. Since their suspension on July 19, the proceedings and the treatment meted out to them have had detrimental effects on the scholarly and advocacy work of both professors and students. Details of the allegations have not been revealed to the students, and a gag order has been imposed on the two professors. However, members of the CIIS administration have publicly aired their version of the facts as if they were uncontested. Further information will be available at the protest."

Chatterji has been threatened earlier before because of her work in Kashmir and on Hindu nationalism, and Shapiro has been vocal at the institute on issues of collaborative governance and academic freedom, the statement said.

MA and Phd students who have been affected because of the suspension. The overwhelming majority of students insist their studies continue with these two professors and around 35 students have retained legal representation with the Law Offices of Michael S Sorgen to pursue legal action against the institute.

"For the last three months, many students have tried to communicate and negotiate with administrators to protect our education, work, futures, and personal wellbeing. We have reached out to senior members of the institution for intervention into the process, which has diminished the quality of our education, but institute-wide disempowerment has left faculty hands tied. Many attempts at solidarity have been unsuccessful due to fear of retaliation," said protestors.

"Our options have been limited. Therefore we have chosen to bring our demands beyond the walls of CIIS to gain solidarity and support so our demands can be heard," they added.

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