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Dean plans no further action in UA speaker's cancellation

by Jaime Adame | September 22, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- No formal action resulted from a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville dean's review of an April decision to cancel a Skype talk by a speaker known for remarks critical of Islam, UA spokesman Mark Rushing said Thursday.

The UA administration in May criticized "the decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views" as "not reflective of the values and practices of our institution," according to a statement made at the time by Rushing.

The university in May suspended geosciences professor Tom Paradise from his administrative duties as director of UA's Middle East Studies center for his decision to cancel a presentation by Phyllis Chesler at a UA academic symposium April 13-14 on honor killing in Western countries.

Chesler has written that academics wrongly ignore the role of Islam when discussing honor killings and similar violence in Western countries.

The rightist Breitbart news organization reported the cancellation before the university took action, and an April 26 email released under the state's public disclosure law shows some Middle East Studies faculty members describing "a wave of emails," including "abusive" messages, related to the canceled invitation.

Paradise resigned in June as director of UA's King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies, at the time stating in an email to the Democrat-Gazette that he stepped down "due to too many commitments outside of Middle East Studies." He remains a UA professor.

Rushing in an email Thursday said no disciplinary action resulted from the review completed this month by Todd Shields, dean of UA's J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

Shields did not respond to email, phone and text messages asking about the review. On Thursday he was in the Dallas area as a university representative at informal and publicized alumni events, said Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications for UA's Fulbright College.

"After talking to all faculty, the Dean confirmed that the center will take an inclusive approach to special events in the future with the goal of maintaining an environment where a diversity of ideas is welcomed. The University of Arkansas believes in the free exchange of ideas and in a balanced presentation of viewpoints," Rushing said in an email.

Paradise, asked in a phone interview about the Chesler cancellation, said, "I'm accountable for that. The decision came to me."

Paradise said ideological concerns were "an extrinsic component" of the decision to cancel Chesler's appearance at an event co-sponsored by the UA School of Law and the Fahd center. In May, Lisa Avalos, a co-organizer for the symposium and a UA assistant professor of law, told the Democrat-Gazette that both her and Paradise agreed to the initial invitation.

Emails released by UA show faculty a week before the event asking the Fahd center to "publicly withdraw its sponsorship from this symposium," citing concerns about Chesler.

Paradise on Thursday said he had scheduling concerns related to Chesler's scheduled Skype talk, titled "Worldwide Trends in Honor Killing." It was scheduled for lunchtime, but meal service was in a separate room from where the Skype presentation could be viewed.

Paradise said he did not view the suspension of his administrative duties as punitive.

He said he had requested administrative leave, though he could not say exactly when he asked for it.

"It had been in discussion for months, all through the winter and spring," said Paradise.

Rushing's email said Shields "considered his review complete this month after talking to faculty and meeting with faculty on a regular basis as the acting director of the center." The review was announced in May.

Shields is considering bringing in someone new to serve as leader of the Fahd center, Rushing said.

"If he takes that step, the search would begin later this fall with the goal of having a new director in place by the start of the 2018 fall semester," Rushing said.

Metro on 09/22/2017

Print Headline: Dean plans no further action in UA speaker's cancellation


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