PHILADELPHIA — The president of Lincoln University said Thursday that he cannot fire a tenured professor who has questioned the Holocaust and expressed virulent anti-Israel views because the teacher has kept his opinions out of the classroom.
A statement from Dr. Ivory Nelson, president of the state-supported university, says professor Kaukab Siddique’s beliefs may be “insidious” but he can express them “as long as he does not present such opinions as the views of the university.”
“Dr. Siddique has made it apparent that his opinions are his own and are not a part of his curriculum,” Nelson said.
Siddique has questioned the Holocaust and called for the destruction of Israel in forums including a September rally in Washington, D.C., and an online magazine he edits called New Trend.
After video of the rally was posted last week, Siddique told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he is against Israel, not Jews. On Tuesday, Siddique told the online news site InsideHigherEd.com that his remarks should be put in the context of academic freedom.
“That’s freedom of expression going up the smokestack here,” Siddique said. “I’m not an expert on the Holocaust. If I deny or support it, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Thursday’s statement from Lincoln’s president comes two days after Pennsylvania Board of Education Chairman Joe Torsella questioned whether Siddique is fit to teach and whether school resources have been used to spread anti-Semitism on campus.
“Academic freedom and the system of tenure designed to protect it are critical elements of higher education,” Torsella wrote to Nelson on Tuesday. “Denying the Holocaust – a tragic historical fact – is another matter entirely.”
Last week, state Sens. Daylin Leach and Anthony Williams sent Nelson a similar letter. At that time, the school simply issued a statement saying the university was unaware of any instance of Siddique’s “offensive views” being conveyed on campus.
Nelson was more vehement in his repudiation of Siddique on Thursday. Nelson called the Holocaust “a well-documented historical fact” and said the university does not condone incitement to destroy any population or state.
“(Siddique’s) latest activities, like his earlier writings and statements, are an insult to all decent people,” Nelson said.
But, he continued, “We cannot take action at this time based on the content of Dr. Siddique’s statements and opinions — no matter how insidious they may be – without undermining the principles on which Lincoln University was founded.”
Dr. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, disagreed. While even the harshest criticism of Israel could be protected under academic freedom, Nelson said that Holocaust denial raises competency issues.
“You can say anything you want off-campus so long as what you say doesn’t suggest that you would be incompetent to do your job,” he said. “Academic freedom doesn’t give you the right to be completely mistaken about your discipline.”
Siddique, who was hired in 1985, is a tenured professor in the English and mass communications department. This semester, he is teaching courses in English composition, world literature and literary criticism, according to university officials.
Nelson said the Holocaust easily could come up in literature classes “whether or not it’s part of the syllabus.”
Siddique did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail from The Associated Press.
Lincoln is a historically Black university in Oxford, about 45 miles southwest of Philadelphia. It serves about 2,000 students.