Laurie L. Patton
Office of the President
9 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury, VT 05753
Dear President Patton:
We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern about Middlebury College’s response to a recent incident of harassment involving students advocating on campus for Palestinian rights. We are concerned that some Middlebury college officials’ actions and statements regarding this incident may not have adequately protected students’ right to free expression and to a safe environment in which to exercise that right.
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has almost 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
The incident in question, which took place in March-April 2021, involved several students involved with the Middlebury chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a recognized student organization. Rather than enter here into the details of this incident, we refer you to the letter dated 5 May 2021 sent to you by Palestine Legal. The account of this incident in that letter raises what seem to us to be legitimate concerns that Middlebury did not speak out, and act, forcefully and clearly enough in defense of several students subjected to harassment for expressing their political views, and more broadly in defense of students’ right to free speech. Palestine Legal’s letter also suggests that, in their response to this incident, college officials may not have consistently or effectively distinguished between antisemitism, on the one hand, and on the other hand criticism of Israeli policies, of Israel as a state or of Zionism as a political ideology.
We call on you and the Middlebury College administration to carefully review how this incident was handled and to ensure that the right of all Middlebury students to express their political views, and to be free of harassment for doing so, is fully protected.
We look forward to your response.
Dina Rizk Khoury
Professor, George Washington University
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California
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