In 2014 Columbia College Chicago was found guilty of an academic freedom violation when a course taught by Iymen Chehade was withdrawn after a student allegation of bias regarding the showing of an Academy Award nominated documentary called “Five Broken Cameras.” The college cited class enrollment and rotating curriculum as reasons for cutting the section until the American Association of University Professors conducted an independent investigation. After a grassroots campaign that drew national attention and support from thousands of petitioners, Columbia College was ordered to reinstate Chehade’s course.

And now his class for Spring 2016 has been cancelled again.

SJP Columbia Event from 2014
SJP Columbia Event from 2014

Although one would consider the first time enough, it seems as if Columbia College is saddled up once again and ready to face another battle against Professor Chehade, listing a decline in enrollment for the second time.

It wasn’t too long until former Chair and now Interim Dean, Steven Corey, notified Chehade about his class cancellation for the Spring 2016 semester.

With a Masters in History and Education, Chehade has been teaching about the Middle East for a total of eight years, five of which have been committed and more focused on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict – a course created and implemented by Chehade himself. Moreover, it is a course that has been highly ranked by previous and present students.

According to RateMyProfessor.com, a popular site visited by college students when choosing their professors, Iymen Chehade has been rated 4.4 out of 5, which is exceptional in comparison to other professors. Commentaries made by students’ include, “Of all the classes I’ve taken at Columbia… this one by far has had the most effect and impact on me. (2013).” Others include, “Iymen is easily the best professor I’ve had at Columbia. He may be the best teacher I’ve ever had. (2012).”

Despite the evident admiration by students, Columbia College appears to be disregarding the progressive impact Chehade has as an educator. After all, the school is dropping a class that is high in demand – an action that appears to be unprincipled and illogical by the college.

As a past student of Chehade, I can attest his classes reach capacity quickly. I waited in the advising center after speaking with several counselors about making an exception and opening one more seat especially since it was my senior year. Each counselor overlooked my need to enroll and recommended other classes such as dance or yoga. Finally, after four hours of demanding registration in the class, an administrator told me to email Chehade for acceptance. He replied shortly afterwards, saying, “Welcome.”

“I don’t believe it is enrollment,” says Chehade. “You are an example that it is not registration.” He then notes, “There has been consistency throughout the country in trying to silence the voice of the Palestinian narrative on college campuses, I’m not the first.”

From the Chicagoland area alone, professors that have also taught classes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have faced intolerance or in worse cases permanent termination. Some of those universities include the University of Illinois, Roosevelt, and DePaul. This pattern overrides not only the rights of professors, but it prolongs and exacerbates the oppression of Palestinians by not educating students about the conditions of the occupation.

“This is a class that allows students to think about what they’ve been told through the media and what the reality really is in Palestine,” notes Chehade. “It’s an opportunity for students to think critically about an issue that involves them since the U.S is heavily invested in the conflict.”

It is demoralizing to work hard towards giving a voice to the silenced but then slowly becoming repressed by environments that should support freedom of expression. “I inform, I educate, and I create awareness, “ states Chehade. “This is what wakes me up in the morning.”

When asked how he feels this time in comparison to the first cancellation, Chehade states, “I feel disappointed, especially for the many students, thousands of petitioners and supporters who helped in the victory. Furthermore, given that the situation in Palestine is only getting worse, it’s important that the Palestinian voice be heard on campuses and across mainstream America.”

Given his reputation and the previous verdict, Columbia College, not only faces a dispute against Professor Chehade, but the thousands if not tens of thousands of supporters, humanitarians, and activists standing beside him. “We will utilize strategies used before as well as new ones.”

Please join our efforts by sharing Chehade’s story and writing Columbia College Chicago. Below, see a letter addressed to President and CEO of Columbia College, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, by me, Laila Sadat:

Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim

I write to you on behalf of Professor Iymen Chehade in order to express my serious concern over the removal of his class for the Spring 2016 semester. I am severely ashamed as a past student of Professor Chehade, and more importantly, a Columbia College alumna. We as teachers, as students, as people, are entitled to full freedom in all facets of life. However, the circumstances surrounding the class cancellation strongly represent a violation of human rights, constitutional rights, and academic freedom.
 
It is my understanding that under the Committee on Academic and Academic Tenure of the American Association of University Professors, “teachers are entitled to full freedom in the classroom when discussing their subject.” Furthermore, teachers are “free from institutional censorship or discipline” as long as they are conscious of accuracy and exercise appropriate restraint.
 
It is my understanding that human rights include civil and political rights such as the right to life, liberty and freedom of expression.
 
It is my understanding that social justice is promoting an equal society by challenging bigotry and valuing diversity. It exists when all people share common humanity and therefore have a right to impartial treatment, in support of their human rights, and are not discriminated against nor their well-being constrained on the basis of religion, political affiliations, race, or other characteristics of background.
 
It is my understanding that Columbia College Chicago is an “institution whose principal commitment is to provide educational opportunity within a context of enlightened liberal education.” It is a facility that promotes acceptance, encourages creativity not only in arts but also in public perception of issues both racial and cultural. It is a learning center that finds value in diversity and strays from the ordinary system of education by inspiring students to embrace nonconformity, to rise above societal suppression, and to be the leader in national or global change. It is an atmosphere that is intended to cultivate stronger voices, improved characters and alternative opportunities to employ talents. More importantly, it is founded on the basis of individuality and self-expression in all its forms.
 
Iymen Chehade is a prominent, highly influential and sophisticated professor. He utilizes his leadership skills in a manner conducive to enhancing a better learning environment for Columbia College and its student body as a whole. He is a professor that has challenged my thinking, encouraged an attitude that is more accepting and most profoundly, instilled a fire within me that is burning for change. Nonetheless, Professor Chehade played and still plays a fundamental role in my journey to self-discovery – as I am currently pursuing a career in human rights advocacy. I strongly believe that without his passion, commitment, and vigor, Columbia College risks losing its reputation as it has began to deplete my sense of alumna pride. 
 

For me, the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict class ranks as my best undergrad courses and one that will not be forgotten. It is a course that raises awareness and inspires political and social participation – something that is desperately needed in this generation. It offers lessons that are based on the injustices, restrictions, and inhumanities of a population that has been silenced, censored, and oppressed for over 60 years yet, Columbia College is disappointingly demonstrating similar acts of injustice. Removing this course further intensifies the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Though Professor Chehade has been denied his rights as an educator on this subject, he has a support system that will not allow this injustice to happen again. This letter is just one of many and we will not stop until it is evident that Iymen Chehade is granted the academic freedom to which he is entitled. It would be in Columbia’s best interest to reinstate this class as it is clear its influence is considerable.

Sincerely,

Laila Sadat

Class of 2015

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.

1 COMMENT

  1. Sadly I learned the most AFTER my undergrad and advanced degree courses. Students: Don’t wait for academia to provide you with balanced information. Seek out books on your own and never stop questioning authority and keep learning.

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