ginsbergvsncsu: Film scholar Terri Ginsberg’s petition denied in NCSU wrongful dismissal case

We regret to report that the North Carolina Supreme Court decided in conference on June 13 to deny a Petition for Discretionary Review filed last December by film scholar Terri Ginsberg. The Petition asked the Court to reconsider a North Carolina Court of Appeals decision affirming a November 2010 lower court dismissal of Dr. Ginsberg’s lawsuit against North Carolina State University (NCSU). In October 2009, Dr. Ginsberg filed a complaint alleging violation of her right to academic freedom under the North Carolina constitution. Dr. Ginsberg had been denied a tenure-track position because of the University’s discomfort with her scholarly speech and writing critical of Israeli policy and Zionism and favoring Palestinian rights and self-determination. The Court’s Order to deny Dr. Ginsberg’s Petition offers neither an opinion nor a reason for the decision.

Dr. Ginsberg’s Petition was supported by an Open Letter sponsored by several national and international human rights organizations and delivered on February 7, 2012 to both the North Carolina Supreme Court and NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson. As of its closure on June 22, the Open Letter had accrued 1274 signatures. Dr. Ginsberg states in both of these documents that by ignoring her voluminous evidence of an academic freedom violation, the Court of Appeals set a dangerous precedent by which academic employers have been given carte blanche to suppress the politically unpopular speech of their faculty, to the detriment of North Carolina students and to public discourse generally.

Dr. Ginsberg’s appeal was rejected despite direct and circumstantial evidence that NCSU took employment actions against her for unconstitutional reasons. During depositions held in June 2010, NCSU’s witnesses, including Prof. Marsha Orgeron, director of the Film Studies Program, and Prof. Akram Khater, director of the Middle East Studies Program, admitted to having reacted negatively to Ginsberg’s supportive statements at a screening of a Palestinian film, Ticket to Jerusalem, during which she thanked the audience for attending and thereby supporting the airing of Palestinian liberation perspectives such as the views displayed in the film. Profs. Orgeron and Khater stated that Dr. Ginsberg’s comments caused them to worry that members of the audience would perceive the Film Studies and Middle East Studies programs as “biased.” Shortly thereafter, Dr. Ginsberg was forced to resign from the Middle East screening series that she had helped curate; NCSU then chose not to interview or hire her for a tenure-track position for which she had previously been ranked as the top candidate. She was rejected despite NCSU’s admission that she was more qualified than the candidate NCSU eventually hired, because her scholarship had “too much focus on Jewish/Israel,” in the words of one search committee member. The Film Studies Program did not purchase Palestinian films for her Spring 2008 course on Israeli–Palestinian conflict cinema, and she was shunned from further extra-curricular and departmental activities until her termination that May.

The Court’s dismissal is particularly troubling in the wake of Arizona’s recent outlawing of Chicano/a studies curricula in that state’s educational system, and as pro-Zionist groups in California are attempting to force California State University–Northridge to forbid mathematics professor David Klein from posting to his faculty website information about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in support of human rights for Palestinians.

Dr. Ginsberg says she has not given up on her quest for justice from North Carolina State University and encourages supporters to e-mail letters of protest to Chancellor Woodson (see sample letter) requesting that she be permitted a long-overdue campus grievance hearing. Dr. Ginsberg also plans to approach BDS about issuing a boycott of NCSU. For more information about Dr. Ginsberg’s case, please visit the website Ginsberg vs. NCSU.

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