The director of a Middle East studies center at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville was suspended Wednesday from his administrative duties after canceling a Skype presentation from a speaker known for remarks critical of Islam.
Tom Paradise, a geosciences professor who joined the university faculty in 2000, dropped scholar Phyllis Chesler from an academic symposium on honor-based violence in Western countries held April 13-14 at UA, university spokesman Mark Rushing said.
"The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution," Rushing said in a statement Wednesday. "The decision, made without informing leadership, has resulted in the director's responsibilities for administrative and operational control being suspended pending an internal review focused on the circumstances that led to this decision."
Rushing said in a phone interview that Paradise is not suspended as a faculty member. His faculty salary of $114,512 is unaffected, but his compensation as director of the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies -- which over the course of a year would be an additional $28,628 -- is being withheld pending a review done by the dean's office of UA's J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, Rushing said. Todd Shields is dean of the college.
Chesler, a professor emeritus of psychology with City University of New York, has written about honor killings and violence for outlets including the New York Post and Breitbart.
A report published by the U.S. Department of Justice defined honor-based violence as "a mechanism to maintain or regain a family's honor by punishing or eliminating girls and women whose actions invite rumors of sexual impropriety or disobedience."
Chesler was to give a lunchtime talk titled Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings, according to materials prepared in advance of the symposium sponsored by UA's King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies and the UA School of Law.
Emails released in response to a public disclosure request from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette show UA faculty before the event asking that the center withdraw its sponsorship of the symposium. An email states that faculty members earlier had asked the center to "provide, via Skype, a qualified speaker to follow Chesler's remarks," with the request "deemed not feasible," according to the email.
In an email, faculty members cited Chesler's writings on "the ultra-right Breitbart forum." They also cited her role as co-author of a pamphlet, The Violent Oppression of Women in Islam, noting that the other co-author, Robert Spencer, has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "one of America's most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists."
Three UA faculty members with the center -- Mohja Kahf, Ted Swedenburg and Joel Gordon -- wrote in an April 7 email that they "cannot countenance official Center endorsement (without some protest noted) of the participation on campus in an academic forum of the kind of hate speech that has been included and therefore tacitly accepted as part of the discourse."
Chesler contends in her writing on honor-based violence that Islam plays a key role in attacks taking place in the United States but that some scholars have ignored this.
"The whitewashing of Muslim honor killings in America has seeped into academia," began an opinion essay from Chesler published last year in the New York Post.
Breitbart last week reported that the university canceled Chesler's presentation, and an April 26 note from Gordon, Kahf and Swedenburg to Shields, the college dean, and others stated: "We wish to note that we stand by our decision to protest Chesler's participation and our request that the KFC disavow formal support for her inclusion."
The email, with the subject line "Honor Symposium Blowback," went on to cite "the blog storm that resulted" as well as "a wave of emails," including "abusive" messages.
The note, written before the suspension, concluded: "We salute the KFC and the UA for taking a courageous stand supporting reasoned academic discourse. We are glad to be part of a faculty that does not shy away from complex, controversial issues while insisting that such issues be addressed by real experts, those who search for nuance rather than those who castigate religious, ethnic, or national communities in broad smears."
Rushing, in his statement announcing the suspension, said: "We believe that the cancellation was an isolated incident and not indicative of a broader approach toward one ideological viewpoint. However, in an abundance of caution, we are actively working to reinforce an inclusive approach to special events with the goal of maintaining an environment where a diversity of ideas is welcomed."