Alumni Influenced Governance Process, Karega Says

Eliza Guinn, Copy Editor

Breaking nearly two months of silence, Professor of Composition and Rhetoric Joy Karega returned to campus for a student-organized meeting in Afrikan Heritage House Wednesday night.

Karega told those in attendance she was planning to teach this semester before the Oberlin Chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness sent a letter to the Board of Trustees in late July.

According to Karega, the faculty-led review held in June recommended neither dismissal nor suspension, and the College only suspended her after receiving the letter. She was originally put on leave last semester following the publication of Facebook posts that many found anti-Semitic.

“The review process has stalled because many within and beyond the Oberlin community will not be satisfied with anything less than disciplinary action against me that involves my dismissal,” Karega wrote in an email to the Review Thursday. “Since March, I have been subjected to things that have made it clear to me that I am not a valued and respected member of Oberlin’s faculty. And that’s unfortunate.”

Karega claims that ACF targeted her as part of its efforts to overtake legitimate concerns of Jewish students on campus to push its own agenda. According to Karega, ACF targeted her due to her involvement both with ABUSUA’s list of demands and UCLA Professor Robin Kelley’s visit to campus.

In July, ACF wrote a letter to Oberlin’s Board of Trustees demanding an update and questioning the fact that Karega was scheduled to teach this semester. A few days later, President Marvin Krislov announced that the governance process was ongoing and that Karega would remain suspended until the end of the process.

“Professor Karega’s Facebook posts speak for themselves,” Oberlin ACF President Melissa Landa wrote in an email to the Review. “Any professional outcomes that Professor Karega experiences are based on decisions made by Oberlin College.”

Krislov declined to answer questions from the Review regarding the validity of Karega’s allegations, continuing a silent streak from the administration. Instead, he noted that the strictly confidential faculty governance process remains ongoing.

“It’s a fair process, a thorough process — we’re following it to the letter,” Krislov said.

Krislov, who will depart Oberlin at the end of the academic year, wields wide-ranging discretion in this process. Along with deciding whether to continue the governance process, Krislov has the power to “remand” the process back to one of the faculty committees with “specific questions or concerns identified for reconsideration.”

Faculty Handbook bylaws do not specify who can ultimately make the decision to suspend faculty members or on what grounds that decision can be made while the process is ongoing.

Associate Professor of Theater and Africana Studies Justin Emeka participated in the discussion Wednesday and identified the treatment of Karega as an example of how Black lives are not valued in the Oberlin faculty. Emeka said that as far as he is aware, no one has ever been dismissed for being bigoted at Oberlin, and asked whether the first person would really be a Black woman.

“The fact is, certain ideas and people are dismissed and erased,” Emeka said. “Who has the right to have a voice on this campus? … The extreme antagonism Joy has faced was used as a tool to erase voices challenging power.”

Karega said that while she was initially willing to return to Oberlin, she might reconsider given how the College has treated her.

“I cannot accept being subjected to arbitrary standards and differential treatment,” Karega said. “I cannot accept the way that I have been treated as a Black woman on Oberlin’s faculty. That is another reason why the review process has stalled. I am objecting to the way that I have been treated through the avenues that I have available to me. … You can disagree with the posts and still think I’m being treated this way because I am a Black woman.”

Karega also framed the issue around the concept of academic freedom.

“College campuses should be somewhere where the most conservative and the most radical faculty can find a place,” Karega said.

For double-degree senior and Student Senate Liaison Jeremy Poe, who wrote a letter criticizing ACF last week, the revelations raise concerns about how governance works at the College.

“Public comments by members of faculty in the last year raise serious questions about how this school is governed,” Poe wrote in an email to the Review. “Of course, these are concerns that students have been raising for a long time. The letter Senate released last week — condemning the alumni who have marginalized, intimidated and harassed students — successfully drew attention to student concerns about Oberlin governance.”