Academics

DePaul University Adjunct Fired for Optional Assignment on Palestine and Health

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The recent dismissal of adjunct professor Anne d'Aquino from DePaul University has ignited a debate about academic freedom and the boundaries of classroom discourse.

The controversy arose when d'Aquino, midway through her first quarter teaching Health 194: Human Pathogens and Defense, included an optional assignment focusing on Palestine and its impact on health, leading to her swift termination. This incident has raised questions about the limits of academic freedom, especially for non-tenured faculty, and the role of universities in safeguarding free expression.

DePaul University Adjunct Fired for Optional Assignment on Palestine and Health

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Tony Webster)

The Assignment and Its Fallout

The assignment in question asked students to explore the impact of genocide and ethnic cleansing on the health and biology of affected populations, specifically referencing the situation in Palestine. This was particularly relevant given the ongoing conflict in the region and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. However, DePaul spokespeople stated that students had expressed concern about the assignment and an accompanying email from d'Aquino, which they felt introduced political matters into the classroom and made some students feel unsafe.

D'Aquino's email encouraged students to use scientific analysis and critical thinking to understand and communicate the impacts of genocide on human biology. She also provided resources for students to explore the intersections of biological sciences, health, and history in Palestine. While d'Aquino believed the assignment was academically relevant and encouraged critical thinking, the university felt it was unrelated to the course objectives and microbiology, which led to her termination.

READ MORE: Police Regain Control Of UC Irvine And DePaul University Campuses Amid Ongoing Pro-Palestinian Protests 

Academic Freedom and Classroom Discourse

The case of Anne d'Aquino raises important questions about academic freedom and the autonomy of faculty members in shaping classroom discourse. Academic freedom is a core principle that protects the rights of faculty to teach, research, and speak freely, even on controversial topics. However, this freedom is not absolute and must be balanced with other considerations, such as the educational goals of the institution and the well-being of students.

In this case, DePaul University cited concerns about the introduction of political matters into the classroom and the impact on the learning environment as reasons for d'Aquino's dismissal. While universities have a legitimate interest in maintaining a balanced and respectful learning environment, some argue that this should not come at the expense of academic freedom. Critics of d'Aquino's dismissal argue that her termination sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the principles of free expression and open inquiry in academia.

The Role of Universities and Due Process

One of the key issues raised by d'Aquino's dismissal is the question of due process for non-tenured faculty. While tenured faculty enjoy greater job security and procedural protections, non-tenured faculty, such as adjunct professors, are more vulnerable to dismissal without adequate cause or recourse. In d'Aquino's case, she was terminated without a formal review or opportunity to respond to the concerns raised by the university.

Critics argue that this lack of due process violates basic principles of fairness and academic freedom. They argue that all faculty members, regardless of their employment status, should be entitled to a fair and transparent process when facing disciplinary action. This includes the right to be informed of the reasons for their dismissal, the opportunity to respond to those reasons, and the right to appeal the decision to a neutral body.

The case of Anne d'Aquino highlights the complex issues surrounding academic freedom and the autonomy of faculty members in shaping classroom discourse. While universities have a legitimate interest in maintaining a balanced and respectful learning environment, this should not come at the expense of academic freedom. Non-tenured faculty, such as adjunct professors, are particularly vulnerable to dismissal without adequate cause or recourse, highlighting the need for greater protections for all faculty members. As universities navigate these challenging issues, it is crucial that they uphold the principles of free expression and open inquiry that are fundamental to academic freedom.

RELATED ARTICLE: Diploma Withheld: Pro-Palestinian Protesters' Activism Costs Them Degrees 

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