On October 15, adjunct English professor Divya Nair faced a disciplinary hearing regarding her suspension from the Community College of Philadelphia. What had she done? She spoke at a rally organized by three social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter, to protest a Philadelphia Police Department campus recruiter. Though the university did not specify the particularities of her suspension, including how she violated the school policies they listed in their letter to Nair, the timing of the suspension indicated that it was a result of her participation in the rally.
It's hard to figure exactly how the school determined that Nair's participation in a political protest warrants suspension. But her case echoes that of Steven Sailata, whose faculty appointment at the University of Illinois was rescinded over comments he made about the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2014.
Another concerning aspect of this incident is Nair’s vulnerability as an adjunct, and therefore non-tenured, professor. Philadelphia Magazine quoted another speaker from the event, Drexel professor George Ciccariello-Maher, who recounted this about Nair’s participation last Thursday:
She was not disorderly in any way…she was quieter than most people present. There was no aggression. It's egregious that she's being targeted. She an adjunct faculty member, and they think they can get rid of her.
This vulnerability can have serious free speech implications, as adjuncts might decide that self-censorship is better for one's career. Unless public colleges actively promote and protect their employees’ First Amendment rights, professors will not be able to fully participate in campus discussions, and the intellectual freedom of everyone in that academic community will suffer.
As we wait for the results of the hearing, a petition to reinstate Nair has recorded almost 1,500 signatures.