Campus Restrictions & Resistance

Purnima Bose

Indiana University campus activists made their position clear: Reinstate Sinno!

FOLLOWING PAMELA WHITTEN’s installation as President of Indiana University and her appointment of Rahul Shrivastav to serve as Provost and Executive Vice President of the university, all but one of the exterior doors to Bryan Hall, which houses their offices, were permanently locked.(1)

During previous administrations, Bryan Hall had been the setting for student protests such as the “study halls” organized by the student group NO SWEAT! against the university licensing of garments produced in sweatshops, along with graduate student demonstrations against mandatory fees. But no longer.

In another part of the Bloomington campus, an imposing metal gate suddenly appeared and blocked the driveway to the presidential residence; surveillance cameras were positioned around the grounds.

Bodyguards materialized to accompany Whitten to routine university functions, in yet another sign that she fears her constituents.

The restriction of space, shrinking of access to upper administration, surveillance of members of the university community, and the attendant construction of students, staff and faculty as threats to public safety are consistent with President Whitten and Provost Shrivastav’s curtailment of debate and free exchange of ideas on campus.

They invoke the threat of public safety as a pretext to limit academic freedom and freedom of speech, particularly to quelch discussions of Israel’s war on Gaza and Palestinian statehood.

The use of lawfare against public protests, as Jeffrey C. Isaac notes, has a long tradition. During the French Revolution, the Cold War, and apartheid-era South Africa, he writes that “authorities acting in the name of the common good have all too [often] invoked ‘public safety’ to justify the violent repression and imprisonment, and more commonly the harassment and firing, of dissenters.”(2)

The alarm over public safety has been trumpeted by the IU provost and his minions to foreclose debate on Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, namely through the suspension of a tenured faculty member, Associate Professor Abdulkader Sinno, and the cancellation of an art exhibit by renown Modernist Palestinian artist Samia Halaby.

Both violations of academic freedom are contemptible. While Halaby’s cancellation has rightly received national and international coverage and condemnation, Sinno’s suspension has not.

For this reason, I focus on Sinno’s case here. (Details and documents about both are posted on the “IUB Organizing Hub” website, created by students, faculty, and community members to compile a record of the administration’s misdeeds.)(3)

Vice Provost of Faculty and Academic Affairs (VPFAA) Carrie Docherty charged Sinno with improperly making a room reservation for the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), a registered student organization.

The room reservation form asks faculty to name a department without specifying whether this information is to identify the faculty member’s academic affiliation or to signal the unit’s sponsorship of the event.

Sinno had reserved a room for an outside speaker, Miko Peled, an IDF veteran, who vocally supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. On November 14, 2023, two nights before the event, at the behest of the provost, Sinno was told to cancel the room reservation for allegedly implying that the event was sponsored by his department rather than a student group.(4)

When PSC members attempted to secure a new room reservation, their request was denied on the grounds that reservations had to be made at least 10 business days in advance of the event. PSC held its event anyway without incident in the original room.(5)

The students’ act of quiet civil disobedience resulted in the IU administration levying a disproportionate and ludicrous penalty on Sinno, suspending him from teaching in spring and summer 2024, and barring him from contact with student groups and his graduate advisees.

VPFAA Docherty impugned Sinno’s credibility and his ethics in her suspension letter, opining “This sanction reflects my grave concerns about your lack of credibility in participating in the investigation, the potential consequences of diverting police resources for an event that did not have proper approval, as well as the impact of your conduct on our students.”

She moralized: “Your past and most recent behavior constitutes an emerging pattern of unethical and unprofessional conduct.”(6)

As John K. Wilson observes in Academe Blog, “The only unethical conduct here involves the attempts by the administration to suppress an event and the harsh punishment by the administration against the professor for the ‘crime’ of reserving a room. Even if Sinno had reserved a room incorrectly, the only appropriate punishment would be to limit his ability to reserve rooms in the future, not to ban him from teaching over an extracurricular event that says nothing about his pedagogical abilities.”(7)

An honest appraisal of Sinno’s “pedagogical abilities” would include his record as the 2020 recipient of Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award.(8)

Threats and “Procedures”

In leveling a sanction disproportionate to Sinno’s supposed infraction, Docherty violated campus procedures which require her to consult with the Bloomington Faculty Council ahead of suspending a faculty member. (Note the irony of the administration violating campus procedures in order to charge a faculty member with violating campus procedures.)

The only rules and procedures that matter to the Whitten administration seem to be the ones they can impose on others and arbitrarily change. Case in point, the room reservation form cautions faculty: “Your event is subject to change or cancellation in the event that the University makes a decision to revise its meeting guidance.”

It is difficult to avoid concluding that IU’s suspension of Sinno is an attempt to reverse engineer his eventual firing. Docherty’s suspension letter ominously threatens to investigate “further allegations” against him, and to level possible “sanctions up to and including separation of employment.”(9)

Indeed, her suspension letter was preceded by a “Conduct Violation” notice, sent by Hamilton Lugar School Interim Dean Nick Cullather, which scolds Sinno for being “selfish and uncollegial” because he failed to consult with his department about sponsoring Peled’s talk prior to filling out the room reservation form. “Further, violating university procedures by falsifying a form is actionable,” Cullather warns him, “with consequences that could affect your career.”(10)

At IU, under President Whitten and Provost Shrivastav’s leadership, incorrectly filling out a room reservation form is now grounds for overriding the protections of tenure.

Among many faculty, the administration’s sanction against Sinno is widely interpreted to be motivated by the external pressure on the university exerted by Indiana Representative Jim Banks, who demanded an account of antisemitic activities on campus last November and implied that PSC was responsible for them.(11)

Banks, the founder of the “Anti-Woke Caucus” in the House, is part of a national movement of right-wing politicians, who are clamping down on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion [DEI] programs. The brutal October 7 Hamas attacks has fueled their campaign against DEI programs. In their convoluted logic, they blame DEI for antisemitic incidents on university campuses.(12)

The Right-wing Agenda

Political interference in universities represents attempts by right-wing Republicans to police and eliminate liberal and progressive perspectives from our campuses. Such interference seeks to impede the pedagogical mission of universities to nurture the curiosity of our students and to impart knowledge of the world to them.

Along with eroding tenure, Sinno’s suspension impoverishes the educational experiences of IU students by cheating them of the opportunity to take courses with him on the Middle East. Shame on President Whitten and Provost Shrivastav for caving to outside pressure and making a mockery of the university’s pedagogical mission. Students deserve much better from university leaders.

Demand Prof. Sinno’s reinstatement by signing this petition.


    1. On the circumvention of shared governance in Pamela Whitten’s presidential appointment, see Steve Sanders, “‘You Have No Idea How Strange This Process Has Been: The Long Difficult Search for IU’s 19th President.’” Medium, October 6, 2021.

    2. Jeffrey C. Isaac, “From MLK Jr. and Bull Connor to Gaza and Indiana University.” Common Dreams, January 16, 2024.

    3. “IUB Organizing Hub,”

    4. Maggie Hicks, “When a Threat Becomes an Excuse to Muzzle.” Inside Higher Education, February 6, 2024.

    5. Salome Cloteaux and Marissa Meador, “IU Denied its Room Reservation. The Palestine Solidarity Committee Hosted its Event Anyway.” IDS, November 17, 2023. Meador and other student journalists have provided exemplary coverage of the administration’s actions.

    6. John K. Wilson, “In Defense of Abdulkader Sinno.” Academe Blog,

    7. Wilson, “In Defense.”

    8. Jeffrey C. Isaac, “Indiana University Caves to Political Pressure by Suspending a Tenured Professor, The Nation, January 10, 2024.

    9. Marissa Meador, “IU Suspends Professor after Palestine Solidarity Committee Event. Other Faculty Denounce the Decision.” IDS, January 9, 2024.

    10. Cloteaux and Meador, “IU Denied.”

    11. Jim Banks, “Letter to President Whitten,” November 15, 2023.

    12. See Nicholas Confessore, “’America Is Under Attack’: Inside the Anti-D.E.I. Crusade.” New York Times, January 20, 2024,

    March-April 2024, ATC 229

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