Open Letter to CSU President Castro: Attack on Academic Freedom

June 2, 2017


Joseph I. Castro, Ph.D., M.P.P.
President, California State University, Fresno
Harold H. Haak Administrative Center
Henry Madden Library, 4th Floor, Room 4104
5200 N. Barton Ave., M/S ML48
Fresno, CA 93740
Phone: (559) 278-2324

Dear President Joseph I. Castro:

I am writing out of concern that the interview process for a position at Fresno State University, the Edward W. Said chair, has been compromised. Though “procedural error” is stated to be the reason, it is clear that influences outside of the university are to blame. As a tax paying Californian and educator I respectfully request that you retract your recent decision to cancel the process and allow the fair higher process to continue. Anything less would be an affront to academic freedom, freedom of speech, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the expenditure of California taxes.

My concerns stem from multiple positions. I was born in California and spent my childhood years in the hills of Monterey. I returned after graduate school to work as an educator and raise a family. This decision was made with intention, knowing we could live and work within principled communities. It was with great pride that I sent a child through one of the two unique educational systems offered by our state. Your recent decision is not in keeping with our values as Californians committed to diversity, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and perhaps most pertinent to this case, giving voice to those who are underrepresented.

It is a well-known fact that scholars with Middle East origins within the academy are under represented. It has been publicly acknowledged that those who objected to the search objected to the ethnicity of your final candidates. We should encourage opportunities to broaden perspectives and representation within the institution, not attack the advancement of divergent perspectives or specific ethnicities.

In addition, I pay taxes toward your administrative salary and I expect more from public servants within higher education. I believe it is your duty to serve all of us not one interest group.

As a retired University of California administrator I am familiar with the tactics used by Israeli organizations, personalities, and funding channels to exert pressure on faculty and administrators within the UC systems of higher education. It is important to resist such pressure because it violates academic policies, because it is morally reprehensible, and because it models cowardice behavior to those you serve: faculty, staff, community, and most importantly, students.

We cannot claim to be educators of future leaders if we, today’s leaders, model fear and cowardice in the face of this form of political pressure.

In these highly charged political times, Islamophobia and Xenophobia are on the rise. It is not only the blatant racist statements we hear from our current president or the violent hate crimes sweeping the nation that contribute toward the wave of intolerance directed at anyone deemed “other.” It is acts such as this, cancelling an academic search for the Edward W. Said professorship, which also promotes hatred and intolerance. The EEOC website currently states, “At this time, employers and unions should be particularly sensitive to potential discrimination or harassment against individuals who are - or are perceived to be - Muslim, Arab, Afghani, Middle Eastern or South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, etc.).” Please rectify Fresno State’s current contribution towards Islamophobia, Xenophobia, and intolerance.

What message would be conveyed to your students if you fail to do so? I believe those with Middle East backgrounds will come to Fresno State this fall with fear and trepidation regarding their safety, value, and voice. I believe those who are part of organizations that promote ethnic cleansing in the Holly Land and within educational institutions may feel emboldened and model these bullying tactics. I believe the majority of your students will be ashamed that their school has buckled to political, financial, and racist pressure from forces outside of the institution they attend and invest in. As critical thinkers I imagine they will ask the appropriate, question:

Who is in charge?

I implore you to make a stand for justice, academic freedom, Title VII, your faculty, your students, and your community. Please honor the extensive work of the faculty search committee and California taxpayers by allowing the current search and selection to continue. This is the only way to rectify this mistake.


Debra Ellis
Retired UC Administrator


Cc: Dean Saúl Jimenez-Sandoval

(559) 278-3056
Chancellor Timothy White
(562) 951-4000
Associate Vice President, Rudy Sanchez     

(559) 278-0237
Provost, Lynnette Zelezny
(559) 278-2636