More than 30 Temple University professors sign letter of no confidence in BOT Chair O’Connor

The letter criticizes his comments on professor Marc Lamont Hill’s United Nations speech.

Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor speaks at a Board meeting on Oct. 9. | LUKE SMITH / FILE PHOTO

UPDATE at 6:15 p.m. on Dec. 6.

More than 30 Temple University professors have signed a letter of no confidence in Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor on Wednesday, in the wake of his comments they said questioned the academic freedom of professor Marc Lamont Hill.

The letter, written by sociology and psychology professor Josh Klugman, defends Hill’s pro-Palestinian speech at the United Nations last week, which called for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea,” a phrase used in extremist, anti-Israel movements.

The 35 professors who signed the document also criticized O’Connor, who told the Inquirer on Friday he was instructing Temple’s legal department to “explore its options” in relation to Hill’s employment.

“We thought his arguments were passionate, considered, and thoughtful, and that they respected the humanity of Palestinians and Israelis,” the letter read. “Regardless of whether we  agree or disagree with him, we support his freedom to espouse his views.”

The university’s Policies and Procedures manual grants academic freedom to students and faculty. Hill’s academic freedom is enhanced because he is tenured, Steven Newman, president of Temple Association of University Professionals told The Temple News on Tuesday.

In an email obtained by The Temple News to faculty from the Faculty Senate, its leaders wrote they support Hill’s right to academic freedom, free speech and tenure.

“In the university community, free speech, as well as freedom to teach, guarantees faculty the right to express their opinions—on or off campus,” the statement read. “In reacting to faculty speech, we have to be careful not to undermine the tenets of those freedoms.”

Klugman told The Temple News he hopes the university makes an explicit statement that they will not investigate Hill for his UN speech. He also said an apology from O’Connor would be appropriate.

“That’s really inappropriate for a leader in a university position to do that,” he added.

Temple President Richard Englert said the university is “fortunate” to have O’Connor as chairman in a statement to The Temple News on Wednesday.

“I have known Patrick J. O’Connor for decades and I can say without reservation that we are very fortunate to have Chairman O’Connor as our Board leader,” he said. “He is completely dedicated to Temple and has worked tirelessly on behalf of our students, faculty and alumni.”

“Above all, he has ensured that we remain accessible and diverse, and true to our public mission,” he added.

O’Connor announced in October he would step down from his position in July 2019, after leading the body for 10 years.

Under his leadership, the university experienced massive growth in their endowment and enrollment, and developed multiple construction projects like the $170 million Charles Library, which is expected to open in Fall 2019.

But his tenure has also been marked by controversy, representing former university trustee Bill Cosby in a 2005 civil suit against former Temple employee Andrea Constand.

He will be succeeded by trustee Mitchell Morgan.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include a statement from University President Richard Enlgert. The number of professors who signed the letter has also been updated.

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