Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT alumni demand full reinstatement of dismissed TAs and protection for Palestine solidarity

Abriella Corker

Editor’s note: This column was submitted to the Texan by members of the UT community.

We are aware earlier today news agencies reported “possibility of other, unspecified work” was offered to the TAs for next semester, however — if confirmed in a statement from the University — this falls below our demand for full reinstatement of their TA-ships and makes acceptable institutional retaliation for protected speech.

We maintain the administration’s initial retaliatory behavior against the TAs and free speech norms must be addressed, as well as continued safety concerns. 

As UT alumni, we are disappointed and alarmed by the recent dismissal of two graduate teaching assistants (TAs) at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work by Dean Allan Cole, following a message of support the TAs sent their students regarding the mental health implications of the genocide in Palestine. The TAs wrote to share mental health resources to all students who may have been struggling with the violence of the past eight weeks. We are appalled by Dean Cole’s response taken in gross retaliation against TAs acting well within their professional capabilities to provide support to their students. We — along with graduates from across nearly all UT schools and colleges, including Texas Law and former Daily Texan staffers — are gravely concerned about the threat to freedom of speech and student safety on campus this action emboldens. At the time of publishing, 354 alumni have expressed concern over these events and stand in solidarity with the TAs and UT students. 

When students requested supportive resources, these TAs bravely and compassionately stepped up, seeking the proper channels through which to collaboratively draft and post the message. What does it say about a School of Social Work when sharing mental health resources is treated as an offense for which someone can lose their job? What does it say of a Dean who knew students asked specifically for such support, but chose to admonish and dismiss, rather than champion, the TAs who sought to protect their well-being?

The current environment at U.S. academic institutions is hostile to students and faculty speaking up against the violence in Palestine with widespread suppression and harassment. Three Palestinian students in Vermont were shot on Nov. 25. This is not a moment for inaction and silence, but one demanding direct and meaningful support for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students — and those who stand in solidarity with them -– as well as concrete actions to ensure their safety on campus and to safeguard academic freedom and integrity. 

Free speech is the bedrock for all institutions of higher education who regard themselves as sites of academic inquiry. The suppression and retaliation of academic freedom creates an environment of censorship, prejudice and discrimination where students and faculty cannot freely participate. Simply put: in order to align its position as an academic institution of integrity with its purported values of freedom of speech and expression, UT must ensure the physical, mental and emotional safety of all students who express solidarity and support with regard to the most urgent political issues of our time. As alumni, we cannot remain silent and allow the University to acquiesce in such blatant retaliation, silencing and punishment of future alumni.

This retaliation establishes a dangerous precedent to disregard Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students looking for support and safety, as well as any others who may express empathy for the lives and dignity of Palestinians during a time when they are surrounded by overwhelming grief and pain. This unjustifiable action reinforces a culture of fear on campus, at a time when students already feel unsafe.

Dean Cole must issue a public apology and reinstate both TAs in full. The University must show its material commitment to addressing the safety concerns of all students — and in particular the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students who have been disproportionately impacted by this brazen negligence for their wellbeing. 

We will not stand for suppression permeating classrooms that are familiar to us. We will not stand for the safety concerns of students being disregarded and the genuine attempts to address them being retaliated against. If the University wants to be seen as a legitimate institution of higher education, it must stand for academic freedom.

Rhiannon Hamam is a 2016 graduate of Texas Law. She is a former public defender and currently works as Supervising Attorney in the Mithoff Pro Bono Program at Texas Law. She is Palestinian American.

Myra Ali is a 2016 graduate from the College of Liberal Arts, former Daily Texan Associate Copy Desk Chief and UTSG diversity & inclusion agency director, and received her MSc from Oxford in 2019. She is currently a FLAS fellow at Columbia University.

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