1,000+ Sign Letter in Support of Artist Shellyne Rodriguez

IMG 7233
Artist, activist, and former adjunct professor Shellyne Rodriguez (image courtesy the artist)

Over 1,000 academics and artists have signed an open letter in support of activist and former Cooper Union adjunct professor Shellyne Rodriguez following her termination from the school in January over concerns about an anti-Zionist online teach-in she participated in last year.

The letter, which is still accepting signatures and has garnered support from artists Molly Crabapple, Chloë Bass, and Chitra Ganesh among hundreds of others, calls upon Cooper Union to both reinstate and apologize to Rodriguez and to “recommit to the principles of Academic Freedom at the college.”

Rodriguez has been especially vocal regarding the liberation of Palestine and identifying how Zionist entities also impact the fabric of New York City, which she underscored during a virtual and password-protected teach-in hosted by CUNY for Palestine last December during Cooper Union’s winter recess. As part of the “Radical Solidarities” teach-in, Rodriguez presented the connection between Golden Bridge Funding LLC, an Israeli lending group that finances NYC real estate investors, and their transactions with landlords who manage various dilapidated buildings across the Bronx that primarily house Black and Latinx residents. The artist called for a rent strike as well as protests for both local and Palestinian advocacy.

In an interview with Hyperallergic, Rodriguez alleged that the teach-in had been infiltrated and a video recording of it was shared with the Cooper Union, whose letter of termination characterized her statements during the online event as “obvious antisemitic tropes” that “call for taking harassing action and do so on the basis of someone’s identity characteristics.”

In response to Hyperallergic’s inquiry, a Cooper Union spokesperson declined to provide more information, saying that the school “does not provide comment on personnel matters.” Cooper Union’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter posted the news of Rodriguez’s dismissal in a January 24 Instagram post, stating that the decision to terminate her represents an “intense escalation of McCarthyist repression meant to intimidate and punish those in support of a free Palestine.”

Right-wing media outlets such as the New York Post, Fox News, and College Fix caught wind of Rodriguez’s dismissal from Instagram and reignited their campaign against the former professor less than a year since her termination from Hunter College, where she confronted anti-abortion activists on campus. After weeks of doxxing, threats, and online harassment, Rodriguez threatened an NY Post reporter who showed up at her doorstep. She faced a misdemeanor charge that will be withdrawn upon completion of behavioral therapy, per a conditional plea deal last fall.

“What has happened to me is not isolated,” Rodriguez told Hyperallergic. “These decisions set a precedent for the future of both academic freedom and freedom of expression across schools in the United States moving forward. The specificities of my situation are a distraction, but universities and schools are no longer standing by their faculty and student bodies in the face of right-wing media campaigns.”

The open letter in support of Rodriguez underscores her concerns, noting that the “anti-academic attacks are primarily affecting historically targeted groups including Asian, Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities.”

Read the full text of the letter below.

Open Letter and Petition in Support of Shellyne Rodriguez and Against Violations of Academic Freedom

We, educators, scholars, artists, and cultural workers add our voice in chorus with those concerned faculty, staff, students, and alumni of The Cooper Union. We call for an urgent action plan to re-establish the principle of Academic Freedom in the Cooper Union, a principle under severe attacks in US academic institutions.

The ongoing US-backed Israeli assault against Palestinians in Gaza has killed over 27,000 and wounded over 66,000. Thousands more remain missing, likely buried under the rubble. Two million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, families seeking shelter in “safe zones” have been massacred, and mass detentions, torture and executions have been documented. The Israeli military and US weapons have targeted and destroyed most of Gaza’s homes, as well as its hospitals, schools and all of its universities. Survivors in Gaza are deprived of all basic necessities for life: water, food, electricity, fuel, healthy soil, and access to basic healthcare. In the meantime, the US joins Israel in its attack on UNRWA, blocking funding to the primary humanitarian aid provider for Palestinians besieged in Gaza.

As Palestinians are facing this military annihilation and mass expulsion campaign, ruled as “plausible genocide” by the ICJ, students, staff, and faculty in US academic institutions are being silenced, targeted, doxxed, and threatened for their Pro-Palestine positions and their criticism of the racist and supremacist politics of Zionism, the ideology that has historically upheld the Israeli nation state’s colonial ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinians and the targeting of their cultural and educational infrastructure.

Misleading and misinformed attempts to conflate anti-Zionist statements with antisemitism are in-line with the Israeli government’s efforts to intimidate and silence anti-Zionist and anti-colonial scholars, educators, and students, not only in the US, but worldwide. These tactics of diversion, censorship, and policing are waged at anti-war and anti-colonial groups and individuals within US campuses, including at The Cooper Union. Right-wing and Zionist media campaigns play a critical role in pressuring academic institutions to retaliate against their faculty and students. Not only does this jeopardize the personal safety of doxxed students and faculty, but it often results in suspensions, firings, disciplinary hearings, and threatened livelihoods. These anti-academic attacks are primarily affecting historically targeted groups including Asian, Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities.

It is in this context that Shellyne Rodriguez was fired from The Cooper Union on January 23rd, two weeks into her Spring 2024 Sculpture class, and into her second semester as an Adjunct Professor at the School of Art. She was fired allegedly for statements she made during a teach-in at CUNY in December titled “Radical Solidarities.” In it, she presented research on ties between Israeli banks and New York City landlords in the Bronx, particularly in buildings with derelict housing conditions, threatening the lives and health of Black and Latinx tenants. She called for continuing solidarity protest efforts, and speculated on the possibility of a BDS rent strike as a form of protest against Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Professor Rodriguez’s termination appears 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. The manipulative conflation of Zionism and Judaism, currently weaponized by Israel as an excuse for genocide, continues to benefit from the unethical and anti-academic silencing practices by universities such as The Cooper Union.

In addition to being an experienced educator, Professor Rodriguez is a celebrated artist and community organizer. Prior to joining as a faculty member, she was no stranger to the Cooper Union. In 2022, she participated in an Intra-Disciplinary Seminar Series lecture with Ruth Wilson-Gilmore, in the Great Hall, discussing Gilmore’s book “Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation.”

The Cooper Union prides itself for offering a diverse and critical education, and claims to stand for Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech. Ironically, one week after the firing of Shellyne Rodriguez, The Cooper Union held the panel discussion “Read On: Book Bans and Censorship in America”, in conjunction with its recent public colonnade exhibition with the same title.

We call on The Cooper Union President Laura Sparks to rectify The Cooper Union’s course, recommit to the principles of Academic Freedom at the college, and immediately reinstate Shellyne Rodriguez in her position as Adjunct Professor. In addition, we call on the college’s administration to issue an apology for disregarding Professor Rodriguez’s right to free speech and the educational rights of Cooper Union students.

Following the doxxing and intimidation fueled by racist, Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian prejudice against Cooper Union students who participated in a Palestine solidarity walk-out on October 25th 2023, and the more recent firing of Professor Rodriguez, we urgently call on The Cooper Union to implement a Harassment Response and Prevention Plan to protect its students, staff, and faculty rather than capitulating to pressures and harassment from the right-wing social media ecosystem.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top