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University of Arizona professors reinstated after Hamas comment controversy

University+of+Arizona+students+and+community+members+held+a+sit-in+at+the+College+of+Education+Monday+to+protest+the+suspension+of+two+university+professors.+Those+involved+in+the+sit-in+demanded+the+immediate+reinstatement+of+the+professors.+
Colton Allder
University of Arizona students and community members held a sit-in at the College of Education Monday to protest the suspension of two university professors. Those involved in the sit-in demanded the immediate reinstatement of the professors.

Two professors at the University of Arizona were reinstated Friday, following weeks of protests and discourse among members of the campus community. 

College of Education Dean Robert Berry announced Dec. 1 that professors Rebecca Zapien and Rebecca Lopez would be allowed to return to teaching. However, the head of the department will continue instructing the course where the incident occurred as the fall semester wraps up.

The two had been suspended with pay in November after a recording of comments they made during their class regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict was posted through a pro-Israel social media platform @IsraelWarRoom on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The recording included a comment from one of the professors comparing Hamas to the American “resistance group” the Black Panther Party.

In Berry’s statement to students, faculty and staff within the College of Education, he said he recognized the “difficulty of addressing contentious current events in the classroom” and noted the college’s pursuit of promoting a healthy and inclusive community.

“The College of Education acknowledges and apologizes for harm that has been caused to students, faculty, staff, and broader community members,” Berry said in the email statement. “The College of Education community is dedicated to moving forward in a constructive way that encourages healing through the affirmation of our shared commitment to denounce language or behavior that discriminates or marginalizes any student, faculty, staff, and broader community members.”

The suspension of professors Zapien and Lopez sparked outcry amongst community members and organizations, including students within the College of Education and members of the United Campus Workers of Arizona

In coordination with the student caucus of UCWAZ, the groups organized multiple sit-ins at the College of Education, demanding the immediate reinstatement of the two professors. Members of these groups, during these demonstrations, held conversations with Berry, urging him to re-evaluate the school’s decision and reinstate the professors. 

In the petition circulated by UCWAZ demanding the reinstatement of the professors, the organization contended that the leaked clips which led to the initial suspension were “selectively-edited” and that “what followed can best be characterized as retaliation and a public smear campaign calling for their termination, in addition to online doxing and hate mail.”

Additionally, the groups argued the decision by senior officials in the College of Education set a concerning precedent for classrooms across the university. 

“At a time of escalating tensions and violence, our universities must remain a place where people can have dialogues and learn from one another,” the petition stated. “This current case is only the latest event in a pattern of UA leadership stifling the speech of faculty, staff, and students. This semester, for example, the administration distanced itself from — rather than protecting the academic freedom of — a Professor of Nursing when she taught about gender-affirming healthcare. We must not allow this to happen again.”

Berry acknowledged this concern in Friday’s statement.

We remain committed to upholding the fundamental principles of academic freedom, which foster an environment where intellectual curiosity thrives, diverse perspectives are valued, and the pursuit of knowledge remains unrestricted,” Berry said.

To follow through on this commitment, Berry announced a workshop series through the College of Education, some primary focal points of which will be:

  • “Teaching highly sensitive subjects in a responsible manner that utilizes appropriate scholarly sources in keeping with the high academic standards of our College and University.
  • Deepening our understanding of academic freedom.
  • Providing guidance from faculty in Judaic Studies and Middle Eastern and Northern African Studies on teaching about the Arab-Israeli conflict respectfully, objectively, and with strong facilitation skills to engage in conversations with students.”

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About the Contributor
Sam Parker
Sam Parker, Editor-in-Chief
Sam Parker is a senior at the University of Arizona studying journalism and public relations.