TCU Senate passes resolution calling for due process in Professor Abowd’s contract renewal

The TCU Senate convenes in the Sophia Gordon Multi-Purpose room on Sept. 30, 2018. (Julia McDowell / The Tufts Daily)

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate convened in a packed Sophia Gordon Multipurpose Room on Sunday night, passing a resolution calling for “an open and just renewal process” for American Studies Professor Thomas Abowd’s contract as well as academic freedom and an intimidation-free workplace.

The TCU Senate also discussed the social networking app Raftr with founder Sue Decker and heard several supplementary funding requests.

Abowd’s contract has been a subject of controversy since his fall 2018 course “Colonizing Palestine” (CST-0094) drew criticism for alleged anti-Israel bias, according to the text of the resolution. The resolution further states that “Professor Abowd is at risk of his contract not being renewed beyond the current school year.”

The resolution, titled “S. 19-4 A Resolution Calling for an Intimidation-Free Workplace, Academic Freedom, and Support for Due Process in Professor Thomas Abowd’s Contract Renewal,” passed with 22 senators in favor, three opposed and six abstaining.

TCU Senate Historian Rebeca Becdach, a sophomore, read the text of the resolution to the full meeting room, after which Amira Al-Subaey began a prepared statement in support of the resolution. The resolution was authored by seniors Al-Subaey, Katelyn Mullikin, Parker Breza and Elise Sommers; juniors Molly Tunis and Emily Burke; sophomore Nina Chukwura; and first-years Ava Dimond, Rabiya Ismail and Melia Harlan.

“We wrote this resolution because we are concerned with Professor Abowd’s contact status, specifically in light of the malicious and hateful attacks he has received,” Al-Subaey said.

Al-Subaey added that the diverse authorship of the resolution testified to its weight.

“We brought in Tufts Labor Coalition because of their experience working for a fair and harassment free workplace,” Al-Subaey said. “And we brought in Students for Justice in Palestine because they have received similar attacks because of their advocacy work.”

TCU Senator Grant Gebetsberger, a sophomore, explained why he believed that no TCU Senator should vote in favor of the resolution.

“I think that everybody on this body should abstain with me tonight,” Gebetsberger said. “I think that without access to rightfully confidential material … We cannot make a fully informed or fair decision on the contract renewal of one specific faculty member.”

TCU Senator Charlie Brogdon-Tent noted the ramifications of passing the resolution.

“This makes a definitive statement about how negotiations should end,” Brogdon-Tent, a junior, said. “And we simply don’t have enough information as a body to make that type of call.”

TCU Senate then entered an open question-and-answer period, in which several community members added to the questions of the senators.

In response to a question on the inclusion of Abowd in the resolution given the focus on academic freedom, Al-Subaey said Abowd’s situation constitutes a unique circumstance. 

“We focus this resolution on Abowd because he is the professor receiving threats on his academic freedom right now,” Al-Subaey said. “This is a very real member of our Tufts community that is now at risk of losing his job for doing his job as a professor.”

Two amendments — one that sought to remove Abowd’s name from the title of the resolution and another that sought to strike his name from the entire resolution — failed to gain a simple majority of votes to be adopted.

In response to a question on the availability of the course syllabus of “Colonizing Palestine” in order to determine alleged bias from several audience members, Ismail explained the distinct emphasis of the resolution.

“This resolution is not about ‘Colonizing Palestine’ in general, it’s really about academic freedom and allowing someone to teach that course on this campus,” Ismail said.

Non-voting TCU Parliamentarian Sharif Hamidi explained this resolution would not be subject to a roll-call vote.

“In consideration of the fact that this resolution specifically deals with a Tufts faculty member by name, and to safeguard against conflict and retaliation against voting members … There will not be a roll call vote on this resolution,” Hamidi, a sophomore, said.

After the TCU Senate passed the resolution, the authors of the resolution and audience dispersed as the TCU Senate finished the remainder of the evening’s business.

Former Yahoo! Inc President, Tufts alumna and Raftr co-founder Sue Decker (E ’84) then presented her plans for the social networking app to the TCU Senate, responding to questions and feedback on her app.

Decker explained one feature that developers look to add to Raftr in coming months.

“The most useful services [will include] a ResLife program, so that when first-years find out that they got into Tilton Hall, they can join their first floor message group, in addition to [FYAs and CDAs] having administrative access,” Decker said. 

The TCU Senate also heard a funding appeal from the Persian Students Association (PSA). According to a report from the Allocations Board (ALBO), the newly formed student organization was initially recommended $588, $310 less than the initial request for $898.

The TCU Senate then approved the amount of $875 that the PSA requested in its appeal, with 31 senators in favor and none opposed.

According to an ALBO report, Women Entrepreneurs at Tufts sought the allocation of $736 for its new member budget.

The TCU Senate voted to approve the ALBO-recommended amount of $648 with 30 senators in favor and none opposed.

Baseball Analysis at Tufts requested supplementary funding for three round-trip flight tickets to Phoenix, Ariz. for a national conference at a total of $1,680 but was recommended $792 by ALBO, according to its report.

The TCU Senate allocated the ALBO-recommended total of $792 by acclamation.

According to an ALBO report, Sino-US Relations & Group Engagement (SURGE) requested $1,186 to cover travel costs for speakers to its symposium but was only recommended $736.

The TCU Senate then approved the ALBO-recommended total of $736 by acclamation.

The Association of Latin American Students sought $1,050 to cover costs for three performance groups to its cultural show, according to an ALBO report.

The TCU Senate then approved the ALBO-recommended of $1,050 by acclamation.

According to an ALBO report, the National Society of Black Engineers sought to cover travel costs to national convention in Detroit, Mich. for a total of $9,324 but was only recommended for $7,348.

The TCU Senate then approved the ALBO-recommended total of $7,348 with 30 in favor and none opposed.

The TCU Senate adjourned at 10:10 p.m.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of no votes for the resolution. The correct number of senators who voted against it is three, not two. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.