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Invitation to Leading Scholar of Politics Withdrawn Over Open Letter Statements


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On April 2, 2024, the Rectorate of the University of Cologne withdrew an earlier invitation sent to Prof. Nancy Fraser on the grounds that she has signed an open letter on an issue that is “very controversial in Europe and in Germany”.


Nancy Fraser is the Henry and Louise A. Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics at the New School for Social Research. A leading political theorist, Fraser’s work is mostly focused on social and political theory, feminist theory, and contemporary French and German thought.

 

On July 26, 2023, Fraser was invited to be the 2024 Albertus Magnus Professor in a letter written by Prof. Andreas Speer (Professor of Philosophy and director of the Thomas-Institut, University of Cologne), as a representative of the Rector and the Senate of the university. As part of the appointment as the Albertus Magnus Professor, Fraser was expected to give a series of open lectures and seminars over three days in the month of May.

 

On March 28th, Speer informed Fraser in an e-mail that the office of the rector of the university, Joybrato Mukherjee, acting as the rector since October 26, 2023, wanted her to clarify her “position” regarding an open letter Fraser had signed.

 

The open letter in question, titled “Philosophy for Palestine”, was published on November 1, 2023. In the letter, the signatories express solidarity with the people of Palestine, and contextualize the current crisis within the broader history of violence, occupation, and displacement in the region. Explicitly condemning the killing of civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, it calls for philosophers around the world to oppose the ongoing military operation of Israel in Gaza, and not be complicit in an “unfolding genocide”. The letter further acknowledges that in order for the lives of “all people currently living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean” to be protected, “conditions that produce violence must stop” (emphasis original). While the letter repeats that all civilian deaths are “unacceptable”, including those killed by Hamas on October 7, it calls on the Israeli government to take responsibility to change the conditions that produce violence. To this date, the letter has been signed by more than 400 academics from around the world.

 

In her response, Fraser assured Prof. Speer that her lectures would not be related to the ongoing Israel/Palestine crisis and that she agreed with the statement of the Rector published on October 23, 2023, in which he wishes that “political discussions to continue to be conducted openly and respectfully on [their] campus”.

 

However, on April 2, 2024, Fraser received an e-mail from the rector of the university, Prof. Mukherjee, stating that he is “forced to withdraw” his invitation to Fraser in light of the fact that she signed the “Philosophy for Palestine” open letter. Prof. Mukherjee did not disclose the reasons for the withdrawal of the invitation in the said e-mail.

 

In a public statement released on April 5, 2024, by Critical Theory in Berlin, more than 70 academics criticized the withdrawal of the invitation to Fraser, noting that the university’s decision “[runs] the risk of being perceived both domestically and abroad as an attack on what a university should be”.

 

According to Scholars At Risk, on January 7, 2024, the University of Cologne banned a student from the university campus, on grounds that the student might disrupt the talk of a guest speaker, the Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor. The ban was issued on the grounds that the student had liked a post on social media calling for a boycott of the event and that the same student had used or shared the slogan “from the river to the sea” in a social media post. The decision was later overturned by The Cologne Administration Court.

 

Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) is deeply concerned about the impact of the Israel/Palestine crisis on the academia in the West, especially in Germany. We call on the University of Cologne to uphold its commitments to ensure a free environment of political discussion within its campuses. ESW further calls on the university to reverse its decision to cancel the planned lectures to be delivered by Professor Fraser. Noting that universities should remain places where free and democratic intellectual exchange can foster, we call upon the members of the international community struggling for academic freedom and human rights around the world to join us in holding the University of Cologne accountable to its commitments to uphold “freedom, equality, democracy, diversity and tolerance”.[1]


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