The University of Texas has found no wrongdoing in a faculty member's treatment of Palestinian students who staged a protest at the outset of a lecture in November about the birth of the Israeli military.
A months-long UT investigation came after students complained that professor Ami Pedahzur, who was overseeing the event and heads the university's Institute for Israeli Studies, singled out UT law student Mohammed Nabulsi and unfairly linked a Palestinian student group's actions to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
UT President Gregory L. Fenves expressed strong support for Pedahzur in a statement Wednesday, while the lawyer for the students called the investigation "really one-sided."
Just before the start of the Nov. 13 campus lecture, a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee displayed the Palestinian flag while Nabulsi delivered a speech about how the Israeli military had forced his family to become refugees. An edited video of the encounter posted on YouTube by the student group shows that, at one point, Pedahzur was held back by other attendees as he approached Nabulsi.
Afterward, Pedahzur wrote a letter on Facebook that later was removed, saying, "Less than forty eight hours after horrific attacks in Paris, I feel that is my responsibility to ask you to join me in an attempt to confront the radicalization process on campuses and to protect students, staff and faculty members from intimidation and violence. After spending two decades of learning how people turn to terrorism, I fear that what I witnessed on Friday should raise many red flags. ... We cannot let such individuals terrorize us."
UT officials said in a summary of a 33-page investigation that after receiving "a number of complaints" they looked into the conduct of the students, Pedahzur and others. The full report wasn't released Wednesday.
"The Office for Inclusion and Equity found that the faculty member who organized the event and responded to the students' demonstration did not violate the university's Nondiscrimination Policy and did not engage in harassment of the student organization," the summary says. "Nevertheless, the university is taking this as an opportunity to offer training to faculty members in how to respond to student demonstrations during university-sponsored events."
Brian McGiverin, the lawyer for Nabulsi and the student group, said the investigation was weighted in Pedahzur's favor.
"I don't think they really did an honest investigation," McGiverin said. "They certainly talked to a lot of people, but he (Pedahzur) took actions that were rooted in part on the student's national origin. ... If he (Nabulsi) had been an Irish kid or a Japanese kid or someone from Sweden, I don't think the professor would have accused him of displaying red flags of terrorism."
McGiverin added that the investigators allowed the professor to define the context of his words but failed to give the students that same opportunity. McGiverin said he is reviewing whether to pursue a civil rights lawsuit or a federal complaint with U.S. Education Department.
In his statement, Fenves said, in part: "Over many years, Dr. Pedahzur has fostered open, responsible dialogue, often on contentious political issues, including those involving Israel. He is known for working in a constructive and proactive manner with people from across the political spectrum."
Pedahzur's lawyer Carly Gammill said in an email Thursday morning her client was pleased the "baseless complaint" was dismissed and reiterated his concerns that "Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community are increasingly finding themselves the targets of calculated campaigns of intimidation."
Gammill added that it was a credit to investigators that they uncovered the truth. The student group, she said, "confronted Dr. Pedahzur and the other attendees with the intimidating chant of 'Long Live the Intifada,' and then published misleading footage of their conduct that had been highly edited to give the appearance that Dr. Pedahzur was to blame for the hostile environment they themselves created."