Stop the termination of Chatterji and Shapiro at CIIS

For Immediate Release
Contact:
Jessica Hsu | jesseshoe@gmail.com | 415.200.7862
Eva Goodwin | edwgoodwin@gmail.com | 415.846.5123          The Law Offices of Michael S. Sorgen | msorgen@sorgen.net | 415.956.1360

Graduate Students Pursue Legal Action Against California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS)

Following months of unsuccessful negotiations with school administrators to safeguard their education

(San Francisco, October 25, 2011)– Thirty-eight students out of department of fifty have retained the Law Offices of Michael S. Sorgen to pursue legal action against the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) following the suspension of two core faculty of the Social and Cultural Anthropology (SCA) Department, Chair Richard Shapiro and Professor Angana Chatterji. These students believe the investigation into Chatterji and Shapiro has been in violation of institutional due process and protocols and are raising questions regarding the authority and ethics of particular administrators. The matter is currently before a Faculty Hearing Board, which is slated to convene later this week.

“Our initial analysis leads us to believe there to be serious violations of student rights,” states Sorgen, who has sent multiple letters to the Institute requesting a meeting with CIIS counsel and Administration since August 3, but this meeting has yet to materialize. The Law Offices of Michael S. Sorgen litigates matters pertaining to civil rights and education at federal and state levels, and one of their specializations is student rights.

The proceedings at CIIS have thrown Anthropology students’ lives and education into uncertainty, resulting in detrimental impacts on their physical and emotional well-being. Many have disenrolled and all have struggled to piece together their lives with the disruption and damage to academic studies and community-based advocacy work; some are scrambling for livelihoods without financial aid, while international students had to choose between paying for unwanted classes and losing their student visas. The situation has been exacerbated by what they strongly feel has been mistreatment by CIIS and the circulation of lies by Administration to justify the recent actions taken against core Anthropology faculty and a majority of students. Many students believe administrative actions have been inconsistent in dealing with student complaints. In late April 2011, a grievance was filed against a part-time faculty by 36 students, and students have received no formal report regarding their complaint to date; they suspect the investigation into the part-time faculty was used as a façade to extract information from students to build a case for what they understand as a “witch hunt” leading to the suspension of the two professors.

Unnamed students who participated in the  investigation have stated it is not their intent to ‘bring down’ the department, but have struggled to have their concerns and issues heard preceding the investigation. Other students demanding the reinstatement of faculty are concerned  that  the Administration is using student concerns as fuel to dismantle the department. The Student Handbook outlines a formal grievance procedure, and many students demanding  Chatterji and Shapiro’s reinstatement  do not understand why it has been bypassed, nor why the two faculty have been banned from teaching and advising during these proceedings. Moreover, many communications by the Academic Vice President (AVP) and Dean of Students (DoS) appear to be contradictory around the suspension and the investigation.

Many students  are disturbed that the proceedings seem in opposition to all institutional and faculty-led review mechanisms, which indicate high student satisfaction rates and a well-functioning department, including the promotion Chatterji received in 2009 (with outstanding commendations) and the renewal of Shapiro’s contract on April 1, 2011. For more than three months, students have repeatedly requested accountability and clarifications from CIIS Administration around the proceedings toward safeguarding their education and well-being. They say that their complaints, questions, and requests for meetings, starting 6/28, did not result in a collective meeting with Administration until 8/26. Students were disappointed that this meeting did not address their needs satisfactorily, and on September 8, 39 students signed a symbolic no-confidence motion against the DoS and the AVP, who also holds the titles of Interim Anthropology Department Chair, Dean of Faculty, Chief Academic Officer and Secretary to the Board of Trustees.

The Academic Vice President has recommended termination of Chatterji and Shapiro to the Hearing Board, and students now believe that their dismissal was the objective of particular administrators preceding May, when the AVP claims to have initiated the investigation.  A worker in higher administration has just placed on record a ten-page statement, which has been submitted to the Faculty Hearing Board.  The statement describes events that led to the worker’s understanding that the Dean of Students sought to instigate an investigation targeting Professors Richard Shapiro and Angana Chatterji and the Anthropology Department, beginning in March 2011, and that she requested and obtained permission from the AVP in April 2011 to do so.  Further, the statement details tactics of the ‘investigation’ that the worker witnessed and experienced, including the coercive solicitation of student complaints through promises of ‘protection’ and compensation for those willing to participate, and intimidation for those unwilling (to participate.) This statement is in contradiction to CIIS Administration’s October 14  ‘fact’ sheet which states: “It was not proactively initiated by the CIIS Administration.”

“We just learned about this employee statement indicating that Dean of Students initiated this investigation proactively in the Spring, confirming what students suspected. We are outraged and appalled to hear about the coercive solicitation of student complaints– how is this ‘research’ or ethical? The ways in which administrators continue to broadcast ‘facts’ in disregard of what has already been communicated to students is a gross betrayal of student trust in the administrative procedure and administration claims of good faith,” said Tanisha Payton, an SCA doctoral student.

Elizabeth J. Pimentel, an MA student, adds, “Chatterji and Shapiro were tried, judged and sentenced before they could ever respond to allegations made against them. Then they were told not to speak of it, and asked to be available for the remainder of the investigation, making Chatterji’s human rights work in Indian-administered Kashmir impossible. We are extremely concerned for communities and those struggling for justice in Kashmir.”

The latest actions by the Administration also include a publicly circulated ‘fact’ sheet dated 10/14 on the investigation of the Anthropology Department which students can refute point-by-point based on their interactions and documented exchanges with CIIS Administrators. Students perceive their mistreatment by CIIS as part of a trend in higher education toward the consolidation of autocratic administrative power and the dissipation of faculty and student rights. The Institute does not have a tenure system, nor does it have a faculty, student or staff union. Professor Shapiro has been at the Institute for 25 years, and Professor Chatterji has been there for 14 years. Both have been vocal advocates for collaborative governance and tenure.

The Department’s curriculum prioritizes social justice and advocacy research and is connected to community organizations and human rights activists around the world. “My work this summer was in support of refugee rights in Burma, and I had to cut my trip short because of the suspension of my advisor,” stated Jen Cordaro, another doctoral student in the Anthropology Department. “This targeting of our faculty has wide-reaching repercussions on marginalized communities around the world– these damages are immeasurable.”

On October 15, 40+ SCA students and supporters of Chatterji and Shapiro staged a rally at CIIS during a Board of Trustees meeting. The  rally had multiple demands, including: 1) the immediate reinstatement of Professors Chatterji and Shapiro to full faculty status, 2)  the immediate addressal of outstanding student grievances against the professors, but that such grievances be dealt with through the established institutional procedures, 3) the empowerment of CIIS senior faculty to constitute a body to investigate the role of the President, the AVP, and Dean of Students in the actions against the Anthropology faculty and their students and to determine appropriate disciplinary action, including termination of the named administrators.

On the day of the rally, MA student Safiya Bird-Whitten broke a 13-day fast she had undertaken in “protest of what feels like is the demonization of two professors who have helped [her] believe that [she] indeed [has] the capacity to be influential, who have challenged [her] more intellectually than [she has] ever been challenged before.”

Professors Chatterji and Shapiro have received an outpouring of support from academics, community organizations, and activist networks, including Asia Human Rights Commission, Jammu Kashmir Civil Society Coalition, and from organizations like the publishing group Verso who recently released the book called Kashmir: The Case for Freedom. Chatterji is a contributor alongside Arundhati Roy and Tariq Ali.

Angana Chatterji and Richard Shapiro work with social justice issues and disenfranchised communities. Chatterji is internationally renowned for her work as co-convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK), and currently has sedition charges against her for her research into mass graves in the region. Shapiro, her life partner, was banned from Indian in November 2010 in connection with her work. Shapiro, also the Department Chair, is known for his anti-racist, anti-Islamphobic, and alliance building work.

For more information: www.injusticeatciis.net

India Bans US Professor from Kashmir, threatens Indian writer with sedition charges

(I received this letter last night)

India Bans US Professor from Kashmir, threatens Indian writer with sedition charges

November 2, 2010

On November 1, 2010, shortly after 5.10 am, Professor Richard Shapiro was denied entry by the Immigration Authorities in New Delhi. Richard Shapiro is the Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco. He is also the life partner/husband of Angana Chatterji, who is the Co-convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and also Professor of Anthropology at CIIS.

Richard Shapiro, a US Citizen, has been accompanying Angana Chatterji, a citizen of India and a permanent resident of the US, to India since 1997, and has travelled here approximately thirty times. His area of work is not India or Kashmir, but focuses primarily on issues of race, class, gender, and alliance building in the United States, and discourses on power and subjectivity. He is not someone who has made India a “career,” but invested in thinking and learning through the various struggles that Angana has been a part of across India.

Since July 2006, Richard regularly travelled to Kashmir, and interacted with various human rights defenders, scholars, youth, to bear witness and learn from their experiences. He has been conscientious in not violating the conditions of his tourist visa. He has not participated in formal conferences, and has not conducted any applied research in Kashmir or in India. He also helped form a Jewish-Muslim Friendship Circle. Richard Shapiro had written an op-ed in 2009 and another in September 2010. These were analytical pieces based on articles and newspaper reports, and not on primary research that had been conducted by him. Any scholar can do that. This is a matter of academic freedom, and beyond the control of states and their desire to regulate thinking on the injustices they perpetrate.

This Monday, Richard Shapiro had travelled a long way from San Francisco to be with Angana Chatterji, who was traveling to Kashmir for work, to think and learn. When he first presented his passport to the Immigration Authorities, he was stamped an entry permit. Then, they started processing Angana Chatterji’s passport. She has been stopped regularly since the inception of IPTK in April 2008. As they paused over her passport, the Immigration Officer again asked Richard Shapiro for his passport. Then, he was informed that he may not enter India, and that the ban was indefinite. The Immigration Authorities insisted that Richard return immediately. They stamped “cancelled” on the entry stamp they had provided minutes ago. They did not stamp “cancel” on his visa.   However, Professor Shapiro was not deported. His visa was not cancelled. The Immigration Authorities refused to pay for his return airfare. He was made to leave at 11.50 am that same morning. The Immigration Authorities refused to give any reason, while stating that Professor Shapiro had not been charged with anything.

While no charges were framed against Professor Shapiro, the persons at the airport were categorical in stating that he is not to return to India, impinging on his academic freedom, freedom of movement, and rights to travel
with his legal partner, and visit his family in Kolkata.

The Government of India has initiated various “accesses” and confidence building measures without the consent of the Kashmiri people. With friends like Richard Shapiro, we are able to think and learn together. This is what is
urgently required to build an atmosphere in which Kashmiris are not isolated from new ideas, other worlds, from the friendship and hospitality offered by those who seek out a place that has been forsaken by so many. The ban on Professor Shapiro days before the visit of the US President speaks volumes to the arrogance of the Indian State. It is ironic too because the Government of India desires that the US Government grant more visas to Indians, even as it just evicted a US Citizen without warning or due cause.

The ban on Richard Shapiro also further seeks to intimidate and target Angana Chatterji and the work of IPTK with Parvez Imroz, Gautam Navlakha, Zahir-Ud-Din, Mihir Desai, and Khurram Parvez. JKCCS condemns this ban.

The ban on Richard Shapiro is also a ban on Kashmiris, condemning them to isolation.

The Indian state has targeted those that have been outspoken on injustices and military governance in Kashmir. Since 2008, Parvez Imroz and his family have been attacked in their home. Angana Chatterji and Zahir-Ud-Din have been charged under Section 505 of the Ranbir Penal Code, with writing to incite against the Indian State. Last week, Arundhati Roy has been threatened with charges of sedition. JKCCS condemns the attack on the home of Arundhati Roy in New Delhi, and the continued targeting of her stand on Kashmir, and the dangerous role being played by the mainstream Indian media in inciting violence against her.

These actions speak to the intent of the Indian State as it continues it impunity rule in Kashmir, with deliberate actions to isolate Kashmiris from the world and the world from Kashmiris. In the past, several academics and
journalists have been banned from entering India, and numerous Kashmiri scholars, journalists, and activists have also been banned from leaving Kashmir to travel abroad.

Sincerely,

Adv. Parvez Imroz

President, JKCCS
Khurram Parvez
T: +91-194-2482820
M: +91-9419013553
www.jkccs.org