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UPenn Professors File Lawsuit Against University To Block Release of Antisemitism Inquiry Documents


Two professors from the University of Pennsylvania, along with the Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine group, have taken legal action against the institution. They seek to prevent the university from providing documents to the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce for its antisemitism investigation.

UPenn Professors File Lawsuit Against University To Block Release of Antisemitism Inquiry Documents

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Bohao Zhao)

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Saturday, alleges that the committee demanded various categories of information from UPenn, including protected student files under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Additionally, the committee requested documents related to an annual scholarly event focused on Palestinian literature, organized by one of the professors named in the lawsuit, Huda Fakhreddine. The legal action follows previous reporting by The Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper on the matter.

Fakhreddine, an Arab American and associate professor of Arabic literature at UPenn, was involved in organizing the September Palestine Writes literature festival at the university. The festival sparked controversy even before the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. The other professor involved in the lawsuit is Eve Troutt Powell, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History and a former president of the Middle East Studies Association.

READ ALSO: Harvard Fails to Meet Subpoena Standards in Antisemitism Probe 

Argument Presented in the Lawsuit

According to statements in the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the request for documents from the House committee was not a subpoena but rather a letter asking for voluntary compliance. They assert that UPenn had the right to refuse compliance to protect its community. However, the university chose to comply with the committee's request, allegedly influenced by concerns of anti-Semitism. The plaintiffs claim that UPenn has already started producing documents in response to the committee's letter.

Response from House Committee and University

A spokesperson for the House committee declined to provide a comment on the matter at this time. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the university stated on Tuesday that UPenn had not yet been served with the lawsuit and had no further comment.

Implications of the Lawsuit

The lawsuit filed by the UPenn professors and the Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine group raises questions about academic freedom, privacy rights, and the university's obligations to comply with congressional inquiries. It also highlights the tensions surrounding discussions of Middle Eastern politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on college campuses, particularly in the context of allegations of anti-Semitism. The outcome of the legal action could have significant implications for how universities engage with congressional investigations and navigate sensitive issues related to free speech and academic inquiry.

The lawsuit could potentially set a precedent for how universities balance their obligations to protect student privacy and academic freedom with demands from external entities, such as congressional committees. It may also prompt discussions within the academic community about the appropriate boundaries of governmental oversight and intervention in university affairs. Overall, the case underscores the complex intersection of legal, political, and ethical considerations inherent in higher education governance and policymaking.

RELATED ARTICLE: Columbia President and Board Chairs To Face Congress Over Handling of Campus Antisemitism Crisis

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