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The Indiana Daily Student

campus administration

IU suspends professor after Palestine Solidarity Committee event. Other faculty denounce the decision

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Indiana University administration temporarily suspended tenured IU political science professor Abdulkader Sinno following IU's denial of a room reservation for an event hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Committee while Sinno was the group's advisor. The decision has prompted pushback from faculty, with 14 current and former faculty authoring a petition in defense of Sinno and free speech on campus.  

“As faculty members of Indiana University, we condemn this persecution of a colleague and the administration’s shocking expression of contempt for IU’s longstanding practices of shared governance,” the petition reads.  

The suspension prohibits Sinno from teaching and advising graduate students during the spring and summer terms and prevents him from advising student organizations for one calendar year, immediately removing him from his advising roles for the PSC, Muslim Student Association and Middle Eastern Student Association at IU. The letter also bars Sinno from engaging in “any and all student-related activities.” 

Since the Israel-Hamas war began after Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack, American universities have faced difficult questions and public pressure in their responses to alleged instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia — and IU is no exception.  

On Nov. 15, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana sent a letter to President Whitten, writing that IU could lose access to federal funding if they condone antisemitism on campus. Banks specifically mentioned the PSC in the letter and asked for any reports of harassment or illegal activity following the organization’s demonstrations.  

The PSC held demonstrations to support Palestine and honor the lives lost in the war, which now totals at least 22,835 Palestinians — one percent of Gaza’s entire pre-war population. 

IU’s reasoning behind Sinno’s suspension 

In a letter to Sinno on Dec. 15, Carrie Docherty, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, wrote that Sinno violated IU’s Academic Appointee Responsibilities and Conduct policy, the Principles of Ethical Conduct and IU’s student organizations policy when he attempted to reserve a room for the PSC’s event with Israeli-American speaker Miko Peled on Nov. 16.  

Though Sinno’s room reservation request received approval Nov. 6, he received a notice of a conduct violation ten days later, just hours before the event was scheduled to take place. Nick Cullather, the interim dean of the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, wrote the reason for the violation was that Sinno falsely or incorrectly indicated the room reservation was for an academic event when it was for a student organization and that Sinno listed Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures as his department even though the chair of the MELC department declined to sponsor the event. 

The PSC, whose last-minute attempt to reserve the room after the initial cancellation had been denied by IU, which cited a lack of availability for security on such short notice, proceeded with the event because the speaker’s flight had already been booked and paid for.  

Before the event began, IU employees had approached the room in Woodburn Hall. Event organizers said the employees were there to lock the room. According to Docherty’s letter, one of these employees was Superintendent for Public Safety Benjamin Hunter, who filed a complaint Nov. 16 that launched Docherty’s investigation the following day.  

Docherty wrote in the letter that Sinno listed the event as an “Academic talk about Middle Eastern Politics,” but told her in an interview the event was for a student organization. By attempting to reserve the room himself instead of having the PSC submit the reservation, he “omitted key processes that would have been put in motion if submitted by the student organization,” she wrote. 

She also wrote that Sinno replied “no” to a question asking if he was filling out the form on behalf of someone else, conduct which Docherty describes as “at best misrepresenting the event, and at worst circumventing the process required of a student organization in gaining all the necessary approvals for an event.” 

Other critiques listed in the letter include Sinno’s choice not to request security for the event, attending the unauthorized event and not informing Hunter and other university employees that the event was cancelled. Docherty also wrote that Sinno’s repeated use of “I do not recall” during her interview with him reduced his credibility.  

“As the result of your conduct during the interview, your credibility deficiencies, my concerns regarding your judgment in advising the student organization, your failures to follow relevant policies and procedures, and evidence obtained during the investigation, I have serious concerns about the effect your behavior may have on members of the campus community,” Docherty wrote.  

Docherty also referred to instances of “threatening” behavior toward a colleague and “a number of bias reports” filed against Sinno but does not list the individuals involved or content of the reports.  

“Further allegations related to your conduct will be investigated and may include sanctions up to and including separation of employment,” Docherty wrote. 

The letter also said IU Police Department had to divert focus from two preplanned events to provide a presence for the PSC event. IDS reporters who covered the event did not observe a police presence near the room that night.  

IU professors rally behind Sinno  

On Dec. 28, Jeffrey Isaac, another political science professor, wrote to Docherty urging her to reconsider the sanctions. Isaac also chairs the political science department’s Personnel Committee, which oversees the tenure and promotion of faculty and conducts merit reviews. 

“I consider his suspension to be an injustice and, indirectly, a violation of academic freedom,” Isaac wrote.  

Beyond his opinion, Isaac wrote that his broader concern is how the decision impacts peer review and faculty governance. 

“I would like to think that Indiana University is a place that nourishes the mind and soul but also the heart,” Isaac wrote. “And that you, as someone with real authority, will act in a way that is true to all of those things.” 

Isaac also warned the decision could have a chilling effect for those speaking about Middle Eastern politics on campus. 

In defense of Sinno, Isaac authored a petition along with 13 other current and former faculty members. The petition, which was posted Sunday and circulated Monday, has garnered 160 signatures — nearly all faculty — as of Monday night.  

The petition alleges IU violated their own policies by failing to refer the case to the Faculty Misconduct Review Committee, which considers misconduct cases that are not research misconduct, Student Code of Ethics or Affirmative Action cases.  

In an interview with the IDS, Isaac reiterated his frustration with IU’s decision, describing the sanctions as “trumped-up charges” based on technicalities. In his 37 years at the university, Isaac said he’s never seen a situation like this.  

By not referring Sinno’s case to the faculty board and using small mistakes to justify severe sanctions, IU administrators were functioning like an authoritarian regime, Isaac said.  

“These people don’t think they’re accountable to the rules,” he said.  

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