Victory for Academic Freedom at CSU Fullerton

BY HANK REICHMAN

In a victory for academic freedom and faculty rights, a California State University, Fullerton part-time anthropology lecturer facing dismissal after a fracas at a campus demonstration in February has been reinstated by order of an arbitrator.  The university’s College Republicans had accused Eric Canin of striking one of them at the demonstration. Canin denied hitting anyone, although he acknowledged that the confrontation got heated.

Eric Canin interacts with College Republicans, February 8.

The incident took place February 8 as pro-Palestine students and counter-protesters marched through campus. Canin reportedly approached the counter-protesters and tried to rip a sign out of a student’s hand.  He was accused of then striking another student who tried to step between them. The Young Republicans’ president, Chris Boyle, said he saw the hit and proceeded to restrain Canin until police arrived.  An internal investigation by the university determined that Canin did strike a protester.  As a result the university issued a letter of termination.

With the support of his union, the AAUP-affiliated California Faculty Association (CFA), Canin utilized his contractual right to appeal and the case was heard by an impartial arbitrator, who ordered the lecturer’s reinstatement and converted his termination into a two-month suspension.  Arbitrator Jan Stiglitz concluded that Canin may have grabbed an offending sign and probably used an open hand to push a student away, in response to being pushed by someone else.  “But he did not engage in anything resembling a fight and did not have any conscious intent to cause any harm to the students in question,” Stiglitz determlned.

The decision was announced publicly today as the CSU Board of Trustees met in Long Beach.  Speaking to the trustees during the public comment period, Canin said the school needs to protect faculty “from these unfair assaults on our freedom to teach and our students’ right to learn.”

“Teaching my students, opening their minds and helping them succeed is what I love doing most,” Canin said.  “Now more than ever we are teaching in a time of fear.  This must change.”

In a statement, CFA declared:

Dr. Canin is one of several college faculty throughout the country who have found themselves unfairly vilified by students aligned with the nationally-organized, ultra-conservative youth factions that appear to be growing bolder following the election of Donald Trump.

Differences of opinion will always be present in an academic setting; learning the ability to have a vibrant discourse involving dissenting views contributes to the very essence of higher education.  A political group has no right to censor or target faculty or students who challenge their views, and faculty should not fear losing their careers to unabashed hatred and unfounded assertions.  The CSU has an obligation to protect its employees from such attacks.

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