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Students, locals stage sit-in for punished UA professors at education dean’s office

University+of+Arizona+students+and+community+members+held+a+sit-in+at+the+College+of+Education+on+Monday+to+protest+the+suspension+of+two+university+professors.+Speakers+at+the+sit-in+expressed+concern+about+rights+to+free+speech+and+the+future+of+open+dialogue+in+college+classrooms.
Colton Allder
University of Arizona students and community members held a sit-in at the College of Education on Monday to protest the suspension of two university professors. Speakers at the sit-in expressed concern about rights to free speech and the future of open dialogue in college classrooms.

University of Arizona students and community leaders staged a sit-in Monday morning, Nov. 20, at the College of Education, demanding that professors Rebecca Lopez and Rebecca Zapien be reinstated immediately. 

The professors were recently put on administrative leave with pay after a video was shared of comments they made about the Israel-Hamas conflict during a class discussion. Students claimed the video was selectively edited to take the professors’ comments out of context, and the university acted without due process in its decision.

“Their intentions with the lecture were obvious, that they wanted to examine different perspectives in this conflict. This was only an introduction to the topic of how children are impacted in this situation, and all conflict and wars in general. Many points made were very relevant to our current placement and future as teachers,” student organizer Lily Mansfield said. “We do not believe the situation was approached appropriately.”

The students involved in this sit-in expressed concern about how this decision relates to their right to free speech on campus, and are debating if professors, along with themselves, can express how they feel without the risk of repercussions. 

Students at the sit-in believed the precedent set by this university decision is a detriment to their education and program. Other concerns expressed were why the professors were immediately put on administrative leave without talking to them or their students first, and what precedent this sets for other colleges following this situation.

Other non-students in attendance addressed these concerns as well.

“I commend the professors because they are teaching our children to be critical thinkers. And here we’re going to suspend? Two professors who simply wanted to engage in a discussion? I’ve been a lawyer for a long time and this is outrageous. They must be reinstated, because this community built this, you must reinstate them,” Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Coalición de Derechos Humanos said.

Dean of Education Robert Berry was in attendance, taking questions from UA students and Tucson residents who were demanding accountability. One student organizer gave three demands to Berry, which were: reinstate the two professors, find a way to mitigate similar situations in the future and to establish guidelines for recording video and audio in the classroom.

A student organizer spoke with Robert Berry III, the dean of the University of Arizona College of Education, about the suspension of two university professors. Professors Rebecca Lopez and Rebecca Zapien were placed on administrative leave after a video of their class discussion about the Israel-Hamas conflict was leaked. (Colton Allder)

“I’ll take your demands, and I will consult with who I need to consult with to consider those demands, but right now I cannot make a commitment to anything,” Berry said to an audibly upset audience.

“Where’s the due process?” someone said. “Where’s your backbone?”

“What is your timeline?” another member of the sit-in said. “The community is demanding an answer.”

“How long did the process of suspending them take?” a third audience member asked. “You took a very short time to suspend them, and now you want to take your time to reinstate them?”

Berry continued to take questions and hear demands, but didn’t have much to say beyond his earlier statement. Multiple protestors asked that, if he was willing to reinstate them, then who else would he need to talk to for it to happen?

At the end of the sit-in, Berry agreed that he would like to talk to professors Lopez and Zapien Tuesday or Wednesday, then reach back out to the students to move forward.

The professors are still currently on administrative leave, and due to this, another sit-in took place today at the College of Education. The organizers and participants were adamant that the sit-ins will continue until something is done about Lopez and Zapien.

More information on when the sit-ins are taking place can be found on the UA sit-in Instagram page.


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