BY YAZMIN TORRES
CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
Supporters of faculty and union members are expected to attend today’s North Orange County Community College District meeting in what UF leaders are describing as an effort to make their voices heard.
UF sent out an email to Cypress staff on Monday, stating that students will gather at district offices on May 11 in order to raise awareness of the situation and make their voices heard. “Our students repeatedly showed up for us. It is time we show up for them,” said the letter.
According to UF leaders, the district coordinated with a media consultant in order to diminish media attention, the email said. Leaders were advised by the consultant to ignore the situation until it went away, according to the UF letter.
UF leaders responded and said this approach “can only come from a privileged position, as there has been an unmistakable disproportionate impact on our colleagues that are women, Arab, Muslim, or belong to other minoritized groups.”
“The District’s silence is deeply troubling and is setting a dangerous precedent for potentially similar future incidents concerning academic freedom and our work safety,” the UF letter said.
A video of a zoom exchange between 19- year old student Braden Ellis and adjunct professor was recorded on April 28, where Ellis gave a presentation, expressing his pro police views, leading professor Salim to question Ellis on whether police belong on children’s TV shows. The video has gained over 250,00 views on Youtube.
Professor Salim, has since opened up with a statement, according to a Facebook post by colleagues, noting that the exchange was actually part of the assignment, in which students, like Ellis, would be challenged in a questions and answers portion after presentations concluded.
“This was a skill-building and role-playing exercise. Our students have been taught the skills to stand their ground, substantiate their claims with facts and citations and maintain control of the floor against critics during question and answer sessions that follow,” said the professor in the statement.
Although the viral video gained attention across all conervative media platforms, where Professor Salim was portrayed as a “triggered anti-police professor,” a skewed portrayal of the incident led to split views on what actually occurred.
Response from United Faculty
After Cypress college placed professor Salim on a leave of absence for the duration of her assignment, they did not leap to her defense, instead, said that “any efforts to suppress free and respectful expression on our campus will not be tolerated.”
Christie Diep, president of the United Faculty for the North Orange County Community College District, along with Mohammad M. Abdel Haq, U.F’s lead negotiator, have asserted in a letter that the initial statement released on April 30 by Cypress college, was not supportive enough of faculty and has “left colleagues feeling like their jobs and academic freedoms are at risk.”
“The Cypress College statement and the poor-handling of this incident has exposed the truth about who our District will rush to protect when their most vulnerable faculty are targeted. It exposed the superficial claims to diversity and equity,” said Diep in the May 7 letter.
Following the events that took place in April, the united faculty have requested a “strong and clear public statement in support of all faculty, and their right to a safe workspace” according to a letter from the united faculty. “More importantly, we request that the District clearly outline the meaningful steps they plan on taking to protect our members and support them.”
Cypress College had to cancel their on-campus classes on May 3, after various professors were mistakenly identified as the professor Salim. Political Science instructor at Cypress college, Gloria Badal was among those that were targeted and mistaken.
During the campus closure, Cypress college stated they have worked with the Cypress Police department to maneuver around the threatening emails, investigating the correspondence, in hopes to ensure the safety of staff and students. The closure impacted 200 students, out of the 16 thousand that are currently attending classes virtually, according to a May 3 letter from Cypress President, Dr.JoAnna.Schilling. A portion of on-campus activities resumed the following day, with normal pandemic-like operations continuing on Wednesday May 5.
Academic freedom for professors
On May 7, an updated statement was posted by Cypress College communications director, Marc Posner, in which he said “we have done the right thing for the right reasons. In this case, the right thing has been honoring the request of the faculty member in the video to protect her identity for her own safety. The decision to remove her from the classroom was done to protect her safety, maintain her confidentiality, and mitigate attacks from those who sought to threaten her as well as the students in her class.”
Cypress College president, Dr. Schilling added in a letter, “The actions we took were always focused on protecting the safety and well-being of our campus community, and specifically the adjunct faculty member and other faculty who were misidentified on social media, and out of concern for our students and staff. Our communications staff actively monitored our social media accounts and reported and removed threats and identifying information, and they continue to do so.”
The incident has led Cypress professors to question, just how much they will be sheltered, in which events like this lead to unforeseen circumstances.
A GoFundMe campaign has been organized by colleagues for Professor Salim, striving to raise money for her security and help keep “her family safe while violent white supremacists attempt to harm her.” The campaign has raised over $4,000 guardian Professor Salim against any legal fees.
While some members of the Cypress community have been quick to judge the college for the incidents that unfolded, President Schilling said in a letter to Colleagues, “we remain committed to protecting the individual rights of all those involved and are giving respect to an objective review process that will help us understand the full context of this situation. The disruptions in higher education are real, and our commitment to equity and eradicating systemic barriers for colleagues and students is unwavering. We have not abandoned this effort, but we do have more work to do.”