Oberlin College & Conservatory – March – November 2016

Professor fired for anti-Semitic tweets

Oberlin, OH

Oberlin College & Conservatory fired Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, in light of seemingly anti-Semitic messages she had posted on social media. The posts included assertions that the terrorist group ISIS was actually a prop of the Israeli government and U.S. intelligence agencies and that the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in 2015 had been organized by the State of Israel. President Marvin Krislov first said that Karega’s statements were protected by academic freedom, but the Oberlin Board of Trustees later suspended her, pending an investigation into her conduct. A vocal cohort of both students and faculty supported Karega’s suspension and insisted the posts were tied to a broader atmosphere of anti-Semitism on campus. In November 2016, the board voted to dismiss Karega.

Key Figures

Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on her personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Oberlin’s Board of Trustees, led by Chair Clyde S. McGregor, voted to fire Karega for “failing to meet the academic standards that Oberlin requires of its faculty and failing to demonstrate intellectual honesty,” The board’s decision to fire Karega was a reversal of President Marvin Krislov’s initial position that her online posts were protected by her right to intellectual freedom.

The General Faculty Council found, by a majority vote, that Karega’s posts “could not be justified as part of her scholarship” and that her conduct had irreparably harmed her ability to act as a college professor.

Further Details

The board of trustees condemned Karega’s rhetoric in March 2016 after a number of her personal Facebook and Twitter posts came to light. The posts, some of which were sent before she was hired by Oberlin, contained anti-Semitic theories including Israeli state support for ISIS and the Charlie Hebdo massacre. She also wrote that the State of Israel had played a role in the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, and had been involved in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines passenger flight over Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on July 17, 2014.

The board conducted an eight-month investigation into Karega’s social media posts. Five months into that investigation, the board placed Karega on paid leave. The investigation and faculty review resulted in her dismissal.

Karega insisted that her firing was a violation of her rights to intellectual and academic freedom. In an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed following her departure from Oberlin, Karega argued that administrators, students, and other critics had taken her posts out of their proper context and had “grossly misrepresented” their content for political purposes. She also argued that Oberlin had unfairly sought to “implicate [her] professional fitness” through “arbitrary, inequitable and discriminatory practices.”

The board argued that Karega’s firing was not an issue of intellectual freedom, but rather of “professional integrity and fitness.” The school found, through a faculty review process, that she had not adhered to the American Association of University Professors’ Statement of Professional Ethics, failing to practice good judgment and intellectual honesty. It also noted that Karega had been granted “numerous procedural protections” during the faculty review process. She had been represented by counsel and allowed to use witness testimony, documents, and cross-examination in her defense.

One hundred and seventy-four professors, more than half of Oberlin’s faculty, also signed a statement condemning Karega’s rhetoric. It read, in part, “Bigotry has no place on the Oberlin campus (or anywhere). It sullies the values of equality and mutual support that are embedded in our institutional DNA.” Some student groups, however, criticized Karega’s firing, arguing that she was being used as a scapegoat for exaggerated accusations of an anti-Semitic atmosphere on campus. In an op-ed for The Oberlin Review, five Jewish members of the pro-Palestinian group Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine wrote that they “…saw the level and form of condemnation [of Ms. Karega] as unproductive, polarizing and reinforcing oppressive anti-Black and anti-BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement] narratives on campus.”

Outcome

Professor Dismissed

The Oberlin Board of Trustees fired Karega “effective immediately,” on November 15, 2016, eight months after initially condemning her speech as bigoted and anti-Semitic.

President Steps Down

Oberlin President Marvin Krislov, who originally defended Karega’s right to academic freedom but was overruled by the board of trustees, announced in September 2016 that he would step down at the end of the academic year. It is unclear whether Krislov’s decision was related to the Karega controversy.

External References:

Oberlin ousts professor, Inside Higher Education

Oberlin College dismisses professor who posted anti-semitic messages on social media, Washington Post

Jewish Students Oppose College’s Response to Karega Case, The Oberlin Review

Board of Trustees Statement on Assistant Professor Joy Karega

Prepared by Jack Lynch ‘18

August 22, 2017