Our nation's campuses have seen a groundswell of support for Palestinians in the wake of Israel's indiscriminate retaliation for Hamas's attack on Oct. 7. Unfortunately, media reporting often gives the impression that such support is hate speech or support for terrorism.
One example is the Dec. 12 Star Tribune article, "Wartime words at U prompt letter," which describes Prof. Richard Painter's and former Regent Michael Hsu's request to the U.S. Department of Education that it conduct a federal investigation into antisemitic prejudice at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.
The allegations reported in this article are unsubstantiated opinions of dubious veracity. By giving a public platform to these individuals without checking their claims or consulting with university community members against whom the allegations are leveled, the Star Tribune is helping to create a public perception that there is a culture of antisemitism and pro-terrorist sentiment on campus and that the university condones it.
As educators at the University of Minnesota, we object to the dangerous mischaracterization of our campus and our students fostered by this coverage of Painter and Hsu's complaint. Further, as the executive committee of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) — an organization with a long history of defending the free exchange of ideas on university campuses — we are compelled to respond to the allegations pertaining to academic freedom in the report.
Students and faculty on our campus have rallied several times in support of Palestinians in Gaza, where over 18,000 people have been killed in Israeli military attacks. However, none of these rallies have been "pro-Hamas," as Painter and Hsu claim. By labeling legitimate expressions of grief and solidarity as pro-terrorist rallies, Painter and Hsu malign U students and other U community members who are trying to draw attention to the injustice being done to Palestinians.
While the U administration was quick to acknowledge the impact on Israel and our community of Hamas's attack, it has yet to issue a public statement reassuring our Palestinian students of its support after Israel's bombardment of Gaza began. In this context, the Star Tribune's reporting of Painter and Hsu's claims trumpets them in a manner that adds to these students' trauma.
Painter and Hsu complain that College of Liberal Arts department statements, particularly that of the gender, women and sexuality studies (GWSS) department, which criticize Israel's response to the Oct. 7 Hamas atrocities, are antisemitic. People can dispute the GWSS statement's analysis of the events and may conclude, as Painter does, that the statement should have covered Hamas atrocities in more detail. However, an evenhanded reading of this statement should reveal that there is nothing antisemitic in its criticism of Israeli state power or support of the Palestinian people.
That the Star Tribune has uncritically reported Painter and Hsu's assertions only helps to propagate the dangerous myth that criticism of Israel is hate speech.
Prof. Painter is also quoted as saying that statements like that of GWSS are "not academic freedom" because "at a certain point, you're abusing your position to intimidate your students and to make them feel unwelcome."
The U Board of Regents Policy on Academic Freedom and Responsibility states that academic freedom includes the right to "speak or write on matters of public concern." Department faculty have the right to issue collective commentary on matters of public interest, especially when it relates to their research expertise and field of inquiry. Reporting Painter's allegations without examining their veracity has the problematic consequence of legitimizing them.
Given the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Vermont last month, and the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy in Illinois in mid-October, U Palestinian, Arab, Arab American and Muslim students, staff and faculty — as well as their campus allies of all identities and backgrounds — are rightfully fearful for not only their reputations but their personal safety and well-being.
Publicizing unsupported and misleading allegations without investigating their basis in fact is irresponsible behavior under any circumstances. In a country and climate where there is widespread prejudice, reckless reporting can have dire or even lethal consequences. We urge the Star Tribune to do better.
Sumanth Gopinath, Nathaniel Mills and Gopalan Nadathur are professors at the University of Minnesota. They submitted this statement on behalf of the Executive Committee of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).