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Palestine Exception: U.S. Colleges Suppress Free Speech, Academic Freedom for Students & Professors

Written by on 27/12/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end now with a Barnard professor and student, as we continue to look at what some are calling the “Palestine exception” to free speech and academic freedom on college campuses across the United States. A New York Times story this past weekend noted, quote, “a sustained antiwar protest like the one against the Gaza invasion has not been seen for decades,” unquote. But many schools have tried to shut down students and teachers who comment on Gaza or call for a ceasefire.

In one of the latest developments, professors at Syracuse University say upper-level administrators surveilled, harassed and intimidated undergraduates peacefully gathering for a study-in in support of Palestine earlier this month. So they issued a “Statement of Solidarity in Opposition to the Repressive Climate on US Campuses.” That’s what the letter was called, signed by more than 900 educators at this point nationwide, and the list is growing.

In a minute, we’ll be joined by a professor from Barnard College, sister school to Columbia. New York Civil Liberties Union recently sent a letter to the president of Barnard to protest a new policy that requires departments to submit content for their websites for approval by the Office of the Provost. Democracy Now! spoke with Safiya O’Brien, a Barnard College student and student organizer with Columbia Univerity chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

SAFIYA O’BRIEN: The most prominent discrimination and harassment on campus has been through not only other students and faculty on campus, but the administration’s vilification of Palestinians through these university-wide emails that they’ve been sending. This is not only vilifying us as student groups that are advocating for an end to the violence as it ensues, but even allowing professors and adults that have very prominent positions in the university to speak so harshly against us and call for harm against students of color that are advocating for Palestine, and with impunity. We have documented hundreds of harassment complaints, because the administration hasn’t helped us at all with these harassment cases.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Barnard College student Safiya O’Brien, organizer with the Columbia University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

For more, we’re joined by Premilla Nadasen, a professor of history at Barnard College, also co-director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and author of the recent book, Care: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Nadasen. We just have a minute. Then we will do a post show interview and post it at But if you can talk about what’s happening on campus and why you signed this letter?

PREMILLA NADASEN: What we’ve seen, Amy, over the past couple of months is a whole series of strategies that universities have deployed, including Barnard College and Columbia University, to censor student and faculty speech and curtail academic freedom. This includes the suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace on campus, the cancellation of events, the policing of content on departmental websites, as you’ve mentioned, the presence of NYPD on campus. And this relates back to what you started with, and that is a Palestine exception.

What Barnard College has been doing is actually writing new policy as a way to then retroactively decide that events are unauthorized or, in fact, do not follow procedure. And I think there are some really critical issues here, and one of the critical issues is how are decisions at the university made. A lot of these have been made unilaterally, without consultation by faculty or students, and is, in fact, a violation of the university’s own conduct guidelines. And clearly, there’s a tremendous amount of influence by trustees, administrators, alumni and donors, who are making decisions about what kinds of speech ought to take place on college campuses and what can and cannot be posted.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Barnard College professor Premilla Nadasen. We want to thank you so much for being with us. We’re going to do Part 2 at, felt it was critical to get in the Gaza journalist. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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