Free Speech Watchdog Demands University Drop Investigation Into Professor Who Showed Drawing Of Muhammad

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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Free speech watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) wrote to San Francisco State University (SFSU) on Thursday urging administrators to drop its investigation into a professor who showed a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad during a history class.

SFSU launched its investigation into Professor Maziar Behrooz in March after a student complained that he showed a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad during a fall semester lecture about the history of the Islamic world between 500 and 1700, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The investigation is a violation of the professor’s academic freedom, FIRE alleged in its letter to the university. (RELATED: University Prez Set To Retire After Firestorm Over Fired Professor Who Showed Muhammad Picture In Class)

“Academic freedom necessitates that faculty members receive substantial breathing room to determine how to approach subjects and materials relevant to their courses, rather than allowing administrators, students, legislators, or outside authorities to unduly influence those decisions,” FIRE wrote. “Pedagogically relevant material may include words, concepts, subjects, or discussions that some, many, or even most students find upsetting or uncomfortable, including displaying materials that may offend those who practice a certain religion. Faculty must be free of institutional restraints in attempting to confront and examine complex issues, as was Behrooz in teaching Islamic history.”

Behrooz used the image in his class for “years” and had not received a complaint until the fall semester, the Chronicle reported. The point of the lesson was to teach students that images of the Islamic Prophet are not permitted to be shown, and Behrooz explained to his department chair that the drawing can be bought at markets near holy shrines in Tehran, the Iranian capital and where Behrooz was born.

“I was not prepared for somebody to be offended, in a secular university, talking about history rather than religion,” he told the Chronicle.

A Zoom meeting between Behrooz and the Equity Programs & Compliance office was scheduled for early April, according to the Chronicle.

A similar incident occurred at Hamline University in Minnesota. The university declined to renew a professor’s contract after a student complained that she had shown an unveiled portrait of Muhammad during a lecture about Islamic art.

“San Francisco State University administrators haven’t learned anything from Hamline’s mistakes, which makes this case especially egregious,” FIRE Program Officer Sabrina Conza said in a statement sent to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The First Amendment protects faculty’s academic freedom to determine what to teach and how to teach it free from investigation or punishment. This investigation alone, even absent any further punishment, is a blatant violation of Behrooz’s civil liberties. It will almost certainly chill the speech of Behrooz and other professors at SFSU and around the country.”

FIRE demands the university “immediately cancel its meeting with Behrooz, end its bogus investigation, and reaffirm its commitment to academic freedom,” Conza said.

SFSU and Behrooz did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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