Oberlin Alumni Release Letter Supporting Pro-Israel Prof Dismissed by University of Maryland

A group of Oberlin College alumni have released a letter in support of a professor who was recently fired by the University of Maryland.

The letter, which was addressed to university president Wallace Loh and Provost Mary Ann Rankin, called the termination of award-winning professor Melissa Landa, who had been an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Education, as “surprising and troubling.”

Landa had helped found and was president of the Oberlin chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), which fights the rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campus.

“Melissa is an excellent instructor, teaching a curriculum she developed, and winning awards and a strong vote of confidence from her students. She has a book soon to be published. She created and led an education abroad program in Israel and raised money to ensure the participation of first generation college students,” the letter stated. “There has been no suggestion that either her teaching or her scholarship is anything but excellent.”

The letter also noted that Landa is “a committed Jew and a supporter of Israel.”

Two incidents, however, suggest that Landa’s advocacy for Israel played a role in her dismissal. Dr. John O’Flahavan, a mentor of Landa’s, and Associate Chair of the university’s Undergraduate Elementary Education Program had discouraged Landa from displaying an Israeli flag in her office. O’Flavahan also removed Landa “from her longstanding position on the program’s literacy team in May 2016, shortly after she became active in an antiBDS faculty organization, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN).”

In addition, Shiri Moshe reported for The Algemeiner that shortly after Landa joined AEN, “O’Flahavan withdrew from a paper that he and Landa were set to jointly present on April 12, at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association in Washington, DC.” The paper incorporated research conducted by both professors, including research Landa had done in Israel. O’Flavahan said that he had family obligations and was unreachable by Landa during the conference.

The letter noted that Landa is a committed Zionist, which, as the letter explained, is consistent with “working to improve Palestinian lives as well, including statehood when peace can be assured.” However, “some supporters of the Palestinian cause” do not believe this and “this mistrust can spill over into frank and open anti-Semitism.” In addition, those who support Palestinians sometimes seek “to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state,” which is both anti-Zionist and anti- Semitic.

“In the absence of any other visible cause that would justify her dismissal,” the letter observed, “we are concerned that anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism or other frankly un-American forms of discrimination are at play in Melissa’s case.”

The letter also observed that Oberlin suffered a loss of enrollment in the wake of charges of anti-Semitism on campus and warned that “even the hint of such activity is damaging to the reputation of an educational institution.”

Landa’s firing is currently being investigated by Maryland’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct.

The letter from Landa’s fellow Oberlin alumni is embedded here.

[Photo: carmichaellibrary / Flickr]