Over 2,000 artists, cultural workers, scholars, and students have signed a letter in support of Amin Husain, the Palestinian adjunct professor at New York University (NYU) and co-founder of the art and activism movement Decolonize This Place (DTP) who was suspended from his teaching position last week, allegedly due to his pro-Palestine speech. The petition’s signatories include artists Walid Raad and Chloë Bass, and scholars Robin D. G. Kelley and Ariella Azoulay.
The letter, published in its entirety at the end of this article, calls on NYU President Linda Mills to reinstate Husain and “urges the NYU administration to change course and stand on the right side of history.”
“As we witness the genocide unfolding in Palestine, measures of repression against pro-Palestinian speech around the world are intensifying,” the missive reads. “These attacks on speech (and speakers) reflect the ideology behind the logic of destruction inflicted on the cultural infrastructure of Palestine itself.”
According to a statement issued by the New York-based civil liberties group Parachute Project, Husain met with NYU’s Human Resources team on January 19 and 22 and was asked about his statements and affiliation with DTP in light of the group’s social media posts about Gaza. He was allegedly notified of unspecified complaints against him and informed of his suspension on January 23.
NYU spokesperson John Beckman issued a brief statement informing the college community of Husain’s suspension two days later.
“All members of our community must adhere to the University’s discrimination and anti-harassment policies; we investigate all complaints we receive and take appropriate action, which may include taking measures such as suspension,” Beckman said. On January 29, the school also suspended Clinical Psychology Professor Tomasz Skiba, also allegedly for his statements regarding Israel’s attacks on Palestine.
Hours before NYU’s public January 25 announcement, a video was circulated by the Free Press, run by cultural commentator and self-described Zionist Bari Weiss, showing Husain calling on his students to conduct their own research into Hamas’s 2017 charter and declaring New York a “Zionist city.” Right-wing news platforms proliferated the comments in a continuation of their unfavorable coverage of the DTP member dating back years.
The NYU branch of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a nonprofit that advocates for the faculty and higher educational professionals in its ranks, penned a January 29 letter to the school criticizing Husain’s suspension, stating that “the nature of the complaint and status of the complainant have been kept from him, and so Professor Husain has not been able to defend himself.” The group sent a second letter on February 2 calling on NYU to reverse its decision. Culture and equity leaders as well as scholars, including eight NYU professors, sent the school 32 personal and collective letters, reviewed by Hyperallergic, in support of Husain. A petition first circulated in October by NYU alumna Sherrie Soleymani calling for Husain’s removal from the school’s faculty has almost 6,700 signatures.
Decolonize This Place has played an outsized role in museum protest movements in the last five years, including the 2019 ousting of Whitney Museum of American Art Vice Chair Warren Kanders over his connections to the tear gas business and most recently actions at the Brooklyn Museum calling on the institution to “take a stand against genocide.”
Read the full text of the letter in support of Amin Husain below.
Free Palestine, Decolonize This Place: A Statement in Support of Professor Amin Husain and Collective Speech Against Genocide
As we witness the genocide unfolding in Palestine, measures of repression against pro-Palestinian speech around the world are intensifying. Among the latest examples is the suspension last week of Professor Amin Husain from his long-standing adjunct teaching job at New York University for speech-related activity about the U.S.-funded war on Gaza. These attacks on speech (and speakers) reflect the ideology behind the logic of destruction inflicted on the cultural infrastructure of Palestine itself. Every university in Gaza has been destroyed, not to mention most libraries, archives, and bookstores. Museums have been looted, and cultural and religious sites decimated. Scholars, poets, students, artists, journalists, medics, doctors and at least two Palestinian college presidents are among the 26,000+ Palestinians assassinated.
This statement amplifies calls by students and colleagues to NYU president Linda Mills to immediately reinstate Professor Husain’s classes, Justice Lab and Art and the Practice of Freedom, and to issue an apology for having disregarded the students’ educational rights. More importantly, this statement is a call to each other to protect and strengthen our spaces of assembly, anti-colonial pedagogy and aesthetics.
Professor Husain has been teaching for a number of NYU departments since 2016. He is a popular teacher, which is why departments continue to call on him to offer courses. A week before classes were to start, Professor Husain was called to meetings with NYU Office of Human Resources, where he was questioned about speech-related activities and his affiliation with Decolonize This Place (DTP), an art-based collective. The officers referred to DTP’s social media and brought up posts relating to the war on Gaza, indicating there were allegations and complaints but refusing to provide further context. Hours before Professor Husain’s first class was set to begin on Tuesday January 23, the class was canceled by the administration, leaving students at a loss without explanation. NYU publicly announced his suspension in a statement given to the press, which was then sensationalized by media outlets that published doxxing articles with malicious intent. The administrative actions appear to be a clear violation of academic freedom because off-campus speech is fully protected from retaliation by an employer according to the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) principles of academic freedom.
Professor Husain’s situation is egregious, but not unique. Many NYU students have also been suspended, and other faculty members have been interrogated and cautioned. In the words of Shay Negron, an attorney for the Parachute Project, a civil liberties organization representing Amin and others who are facing repression on campus, “A new form of McCarthyism, in which accusations of anti-Semitism take the place of charges of pro-Communism, has been creeping to the fore for many years, but greatly accelerated after October 7. Among the faculty and students we are representing at a variety of universities, we are seeing accusations of anti-Semitism based on uses of the phrases and terms ‘settler colonialism’, ‘genocide’ and ‘Zionist’. First Amendment-protected speech critical of a nation-state, Israel, is now routinely punished and chilled. We are dedicated to assisting Professor Husain and our other clients re-establish their rights of academic freedom and free speech and to oppose all attempts to destroy their reputations and careers.”
The crackdown on pro-Palestinian speech in the university aims to prevent people from seeing each other and learning together; it is a war on our collective intellect, memory, and imagination. Repressive measures are also an attack on people’s livelihood and material condition, entangling us further with bureaucratic and legal mechanisms that sap energy away from doing the work and caring for each other. In these ways, the university acts to extend and normalize an ongoing genocide and settler-colonial occupation, which it upholds most explicitly at the ground level by maintaining a satellite campus in Tel Aviv.
Classes are canceled. Students are assembling. Faculty are opening their homes to foster and support, rather than regulate and suppress, study. Unions are stepping up to defend academic workers. The unsavory power of Zionist trustees and donors is being publicly exposed and called out. Artists and cultural workers are making the connections between museum boards, empire and genocide. We are taking action in the places where we are, standing with each other across institutions, movements, and borders, cultivating our interconnected struggles with Free Palestine as our compass.
We urge the NYU administration to change course and stand on the right side of history. End the punishment, policing, and silencing of all students, faculty, and staff speaking out against genocide, and redress the harm already done.