After being accused of “islamophobia,” one college professor was told by his school that he had to apologize. Instead, the professor stood firm in his convictions and fought back.
In the end, it was the school doing the apologizing, adding a tick in the victory box for academic freedom.
Nicholas Damask, chairman of the political science department at Scottsdale Community College, describes himself as “the only tenured political science faculty currently teaching in Arizona to write a doctoral dissertation on terrorism,” according to FrontPage Magazine.
Using his expertise, the professor wrote a quiz about contemporary terrorism that angered one student and prompted the school to demand that Damask apologize.
The three quiz questions were “Who do terrorists strive to emulate?” “Where is terrorism encouraged in Islamic doctrine and law?” and “Terrorism is __ in Islam,” with the answers being “Mohammed,” “the Medina verses” and “justified within the context of jihad,” according to FrontPage Magazine.
A student emailed Damask to say the quiz “offended” him because it was “in distaste of Islam.”
In turn, Damask sent back a lengthy reply explaining why he believed there was nothing wrong with the quiz questions.
Shortly after that, the professor was being attacked on social media and receiving death threats.
Comments were added to unrelated Instagram posts from Scottsdale Community College, calling it a “RACIST SCHOOL” and saying, “You need better professors who don’t spread hate ideology!”
In the post, the school said Damask would be “required” to apologize.
However, that post has since been taken down, Campus Reform reported.
Damask stood with his convictions and refused to cave in to pressure from the school or the death threats he was receiving.
“It goes without saying that I will not apologize for anything, that it is perfectly appropriate to discuss Islam, Muhammad, the Quran, the hadiths and any other matter related to Islamic terrorism,” he said, according to FrontPage Magazine.
“Incidentally: there has been no official complaint, no due process for me, just a mad scramble by the school to appease Islam,” the professor said.
Damask then fought back against the school’s insistence for him to apologize and enlisted the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
In a letter sent to the school on May 7, FIRE said, “Although the student who expressed his concern to Damask and the numerous other individuals who commented on Instagram were offended by the quiz questions, this reaction does not give SCC license to restrict Damask’s expressive and academic rights.”
Only a few days after FIRE sent the letter, on May 11, Scottsdale Community College’s interim chancellor, Steven Gonzales, issued an apology for the school’s actions in restricting Damask’s freedoms.
“I am troubled by what appears to be a rush to judgement in how the college responded to the controversy and the apparent failure to follow policy and procedure in addressing both the student’s concerns and the faculty member’s rights,” Gonzales wrote.
“I apologize, personally, and on behalf of the Maricopa Community Colleges, for the uneven manner in which this was handled and for our lack of full consideration for our professor’s right of academic freedom.”
Additionally, Gonzales announced that the school district would be taking steps to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.
“Today, I am announcing the formation of the Committee on Academic Freedom, to be led by Provost Karla Fisher with members identified by the end of the week, to champion academic freedom education and training and to resolve academic freedom disputes in the hope of ensuring this fundamental academic value is better understood and realized alongside our longstanding commitment to the value of inclusion,” he said.
FIRE responded to the academic freedom victory in a May 11 post on its website.
“FIRE will continue monitoring the situation, but we’re heartened that professor Damask can now focus on his teaching instead of defending his basic rights from his own institution,” it said.
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