Academic Freedom | Campus Speech

Pro-Palestinian Faculty Sue To Stop Penn From Giving Wide Swath of Files to Congress

The entrance to the Biology laboratories building on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 25, 2017. (Reuters/Charles Mostoller)

By The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pro-Palestinian faculty at the University of Pennsylvania have sued the Ivy League school to stop it from sending sensitive internal material to a congressional committee investigating antisemitism on campus — a probe they call “a new form of McCarthyism.”

Professor Huda Fakhreddine and other members of Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine fear the school is poised to send files, emails, student records and other material to Congress, putting both their safety and academic freedom at risk.

Fakhreddine had organized a Palestinian literature festival on campus in September that is one of the areas of congressional interest. The 14-page request from the Republican-led committee, dated Jan. 24, seeks a wide swath of material on Penn’s handling over two years of everything from antisemitic social media posts to foreign donations to performance metrics for its Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging.

“This nation is seeing the advent of a new form of McCarthyism, in which accusations of antisemitism are substituted for the insinuations of communist leanings which were the tool of oppression in the 1950’s,” the lawsuit said.

They have asked a federal judge to block the school from sending the information to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, whose inquests led the presidents of both Penn and Harvard University to resign after their testimony in December. No hearings have yet been scheduled.

“When Congress knocks on your door, it’s really hard to tell them to go away,” said lawyer Shahily Negron, who represents Fakhreddine and the others. However, she said, “The University of Pennsylvania is about to produce documents that we feel will put my client(s) … at risk.”

The lawsuit, which seeks an emergency injunction, was filed Saturday in federal court in Philadelphia. It argues that both faculty and students have the right to privacy and free speech.

The university, through a spokesman, declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit or specify which materials it planned to give Congress.

The suit follows a flurry of complaints filed over the handling of tensions and protests on American campuses since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and Israel’s ensuing ground invasion of Gaza. People on both sides of the conflict have complained of harassment and bias incidents. Two students also have sued Penn, alleging the school has not done enough to stifle antisemitism on campus. Penn has denied the claim.

Fakhreddine’s suit notes that the House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent Penn only a voluntary request for the material, not a legally binding subpoena.

Fakhreddine, an associate professor of Arabic literature, is joined in the suit by Eve Troutt Powell, a history professor who once led the Middle East Studies Association.

“Neither of them is an anti-semite, but both have been falsely accused of bias towards Jews,” the suit said.