Editor’s Note: The headline of this story has been updated to clarify the nature of the rally.
Last Thursday, at a rally initiated by the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee, PHL, Black Lives Matter activists and others took to the grounds of Community College of Philadelphia to protest, among other things, the presence of a Philadelphia Police Department recruiter on campus that day. The speakers at the protest included CCP adjunct English professor Divya Nair, and later that same day, Nair was suspended by the school.
“The administration suspended her with no explanation at all within hours of the protest,” says Kasturi Sen, a Philadelphia attorney who is assisting Nair in an unofficial capacity. More recently, says Sen, CCP administration sent Nair a letter citing a number of policies that she had supposedly violated, but the school did not explain exactly how she violated those policies. “We still, to date, don’t have any factual basis. They’re not saying anything. We’re staring into a black hole at this point.”
Nair has not responded to our requests for an interview, and we were told by her supporters that she is likely to refrain from commenting until after a closed-door disciplinary hearing that will take place Thursday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at 1500 Spring Garden Street, an administrative building at the school. Another protest is scheduled outside of that building at the time of the hearing.
Last Thursday’s protest began outside, where Nair spoke about policing and colonization, according to Drexel politics professor George Ciccariello-Maher, who also spoke that day. “She was not disorderly in any way,” he observes. “Security kept yelling about people being disorderly, but she was quieter than most people present. There was no aggression. It’s egregious that she’s being targeted. She an adjunct faculty member, and they think they can get rid of her.”
As the rally progressed, some of the protestors, including Nair, went inside, where the police recruiter had a table. (As fellow protestor Ciccariello-Maher put it, the protestors were taking issue with “police on campus recruiting poor students of color to then send them into their neighborhoods to police and kill their own people.”) The protest moved into the same room as the recruitment table, and according to two people in attendance, CCP president Donald Generals asked the protestors to go back outside. They refused, and one protestor reportedly shouted over a bullhorn “Go fuck yourself!” at Generals in response to his request.
Eventually, officials decided to move the recruitment table outside the building, as seen in the video below. The protest continued, with a small group of protestors chanting, “Tell the pigs: Pack up, go home.”
Philly RSCC forces Philadelphia Police recruiters out of the student center
Posted by George Ciccariello-Maher on Thursday, October 8, 2015
CCP told us that it could not comment on the suspension, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters. But officials did send us a copy of the collective bargaining agreement for adjunct professors. That document does not preclude professors from being involved in on-campus protests or speaking out against the school, assuming that the employee does not imply that they are representing the school:
When an employee speaks or writes as a citizen, or exercises his/her legal or constitutional rights, said Employee shall be free from institutional censorship or discipline. However, in the Employee’s extramural utterances, s/he has an obligation not to permit the implication that s/he is an institutional spokesperson.
At Thursday’s hearing, Nair will be represented by her union, the Faculty and Staff Federation of Community College of Philadelphia. “We’re going to use every means at our disposal to defend her from this,” says union co-president Steve Jones. “This case relates to the expression of opinions, and we believe that if an employer wants to discipline someone for activities that are protected by the First Amendment, they have a very high burden to meet.”
Meanwhile, Nair’s supporters have started a Change.org petition demanding that she be reinstated immediately with back pay. “We believe that a failure to do so would foster a chilling effect on free speech, and undermine respect for academic and campus workers,” reads the petition. “In the wake of an intensified carceral state, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the increased hostility experienced by adjunct and contingent faculty across the nation, we believe it is important to respect the free speech rights of Nair and others.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had over 270 signatures.
Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.