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Oberlin College Board of Trustees fires professor

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OBERLIN — The Oberlin College Board of Trustees fired a professor who came under attack earlier in the year after some of her social media posts were decried as anti-Semitic.

Posts made on the social media accounts of Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, were widely criticized, including in national media outlets.

Karega-MUG-jpg

Joy Karega

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Screenshots of the posts accompanying a news story on the Fox News website included attacks on Israel and Jews, and posts attributed to Karega blamed Jews for the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Board of Trustees issued a statement Tuesday evening announcing they had voted to dismiss Karega “for failing to meet the academic standards that Oberlin requires of its faculty and failing to demonstrate intellectual honesty.”

The statement said the vote came after extensive consideration and a comprehensive review of recommendations from multiple faculty committees and Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov.

College administrators had initially stood behind Karega when the posts came to light.

In March, Krislov defended academic freedom on the college campus and Karega’s right to free speech. Krislov said that such freedoms enable Oberlin’s faculty and students to think deeply about and to engage in frank, open discussion of ideas that some may find deeply offensive.

However, at that time Krislov also said that as a practicing Jew and grandson of an Orthodox rabbi with family members who were murdered in the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are hurtful.

After a meeting with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland that same month, the chair of the Oberlin Board of Trustees said Kargea’s posts were “anti-Semitic and abhorrent.”

Karega was placed on paid leave in August while the college reviewed her posts. At that time Karega responded with a statement from a representative named Chui Karega which said the college had engaged in a relentless persecution of her since March, and that the decision to place her on leave was an assault on the rights and protections she was afforded as a faculty member.

The statement issued by the Board of Trustees on Tuesday said Oberlin College is still committed to academic freedom.

“As a Board, we agree with President Krislov and every faculty committee reviewing this matter that the central issues are Dr. Karega’s professional integrity and fitness,” the statement said.

The board said that during the review process Karega received “numerous procedural protections” including representation by counsel, the opportunity to present witness testimony, documents and statements to support her position and the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses testifying against her.

The faculty review process examined whether Karega had violated the Statement of Professional Ethics of the American Association of University Professors.

The statement requires faculty members to “accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending and transmitting knowledge” and to “practice intellectual honesty.”

“Contrary to this obligation, Dr. Karega attacked her colleagues when they challenged inconsistencies in her description of the connection between her postings and her scholarship,” trustees wrote in their statement. “She disclaimed all responsibility for her misconduct.  And she continues to blame Oberlin and its faculty committees for undertaking a shared governance review process.”

The Board of Trustees said Karega’s postings had “irreparably impaired (her) ability to perform her duties as a scholar, a teacher, and a member of the community.”  

“In the face of Dr. Karega’s repeated refusal to acknowledge and remedy her misconduct, her continued presence undermines the mission and values of Oberlin’s academic community,” the board wrote.

Professor responds

In an email Tuesday evening, Karega said she intended to release an official statement today. A posting made to Karega’s Facebook account Tuesday night said she wasn’t surprised by the decision because she’s been dealing with “persecution, incompetent leadership, and discrimination from Oberlin College since March.”

The post went on to say she intends to fight the decision.

“There will be a challenge and defense of my rights, using ALL the avenues I have available to me — litigation, public, etc.,” the post read. “The pathway for that has already been laid.”

The post on Karega’s page said she gave the college more than enough opportunities to step back and do the right thing and they unfortunately chose not to.

“What’s really messed up is that several of the people in governing and administrative positions who have had a strong hand in making this decision won’t be at Oberlin to deal with the consequences of this decision,” the post read. “That should anger some folks.”

The post on Karega’s page also had strong words for those who had a hand in the decision and those who said nothing.

“When this precedent that is being set extends beyond mere harm to faculty of color, you will have NO right to complain or say anything,” the post read. “You had a chance, and you either fought for my dismissal or sat silent, watching as the College discriminated against me and applied arbitrary and biased standards to me in ways that many of you KNOW were wrong and unfair.”

Professor Pamela Brooks, associate professor of Africana Studies, when reached Tuesday evening said she had no comment on the board’s decision, but she didn’t think the decision would impact student or faculty speech in the future.

“I think it will be sobering, but I don’t think our students will feel any less free to speak their minds,” she said. “And I would imagine that most of our faculty are pretty careful thinkers about the kinds of things they say and do.”

In the Facebook post Karega apologized to Africana faculty who supported her and said they would now be placed in the center of upcoming litigation. In the post Karega also thanked students whom she said she loved and who she said had approached the controversy with fairness and respect for her as a faculty member.

Karega received her doctorate from the University of Louisville in 2014 and according to Oberlin College’s website, began teaching courses at Oberlin in 2015.

In December, students in the Black Student Union issued an extensive list of demands to the Oberlin College administration. One demand was to guarantee tenure to a number of professors, including Karega.

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com.



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