CIIS Fires Two Professors after Student Complaints

California Institute of Integral Studies Prof. Angana Chatterji (c)

The California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, sustaining a unanimous 3-0 vote by its own Faculty Hearing Board, has fired social and cultural anthropology department professors Angana Chatterji and Richard Shapiro.

The two professors, who are married, had been suspended from their teaching posts in July after some current and former students registered complaints against them.

CIIS had said in a statement after the suspensions were announced that it was taking action against the two teachers because it received complaints about “lack of timely and thorough faculty evaluations or written work of students; lack of orderly administration or comprehensive examinations; grading activities outside of institute policies; differential treatment of students without apparent or recorded basis; and failure to respond to student complaints.”

The three faculty board members issued their report, which is now public and was made available to India-West by CIIS, in mid-November.

The Faculty Hearing Board said they found “clear and convincing evidence” of four charges levied by CIIS academic vice president Judie Wexler and Dean of Students Shirley Strong.

They included “reckless violation” of established legal rights of students to “confidentiality” and “non-harassment;” “reckless violation” of professional ethics of (CIIS) or students, faculty or administrators; “dishonesty, including misappropriation of funds;” and “persistent failure to perform position-related assignments or other neglect of academic duties.”

In one stinging comment, the report said it was “shocked at the climate of fear and intimidation within the program fostered by Dr. Chatterji.”

The CIIS faculty board also recommended that Chatterji and Shapiro be paid in full through the current academic year.

The attorney representing the two professors, Dan Siegel of the law firm of Siegel and Yee in Oakland, Calif., told India-West Dec. 13 that the firings were “unjustified” and “a political witch hunt.”

Siegel said his clients would take the next step and appeal the decision to an independent arbitrator. 

CIIS director of communications James Martin told India-West that the three faculty members who voted to fire the two professors were “full-time, core faculty with more than 25 years of experience at CIIS.” He added that CIIS trustees voted 18-0 to back the faculty report, with three trustees not returning ballots for unknown reasons.

Asked about their not being any dissenting votes, Siegel responded, “The administration wanted to get rid of (Chatterji and Shapiro) and the faculty board didn’t have courage to stand up to the bosses.”

The Kolkata-born Chatterji, a published social justice scholar and activist, is a co-convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir. She received her Ph.D. in humanities from CIIS.

According to her biography in Wikipedia, she “employs experimental methodologies including genealogy, archaeology and applied participatory research. At CIIS, she worked with her colleague and domestic partner, Richard Shapiro, to create a new academic center focused on postcolonial anthropology.”

Chatterji, Wikipedia added, is the daughter of Bhola Chatterji, who was a socialist Indian independence activist against British colonialism. She is also the great, great granddaughter of Gooroodas Banerjee, the first Indian vice chancellor of the University of Calcutta and an eminent judge.

The suspension of the two professors became a cause célèbre in the progressive student community at CIIS when more than 30 current and former master’s and Ph.D. students organized protests against the suspensions.

They alleged CIIS’ action was linked to Chatterji’s work in Kashmir (she has been a vocal critic of Hindu nationalism and abuses by India’s security forces) and a denial by India of a visa to Shapiro this year.

CIIS spokesman Martin said in rebuttal that Chatterji’s work in Kashmir “has nothing to do with it. That is not true whatsoever.” He said CIIS has supported her “academic freedom” outside work and was proud of the honors she received due to her activism.

He added that the faculty board decision was “governed by the faculty handbook” of the American Association of University Professors.

IPTK issued a statement recently saying Chatterji had planned to continue her work as co-convener of the IPTK this summer when she was suspended. The fact that she had to be available for termination proceedings made it impossible for her to travel to Kashmir to do “human rights work,” the group said.

According to a press release issued by students in support of Chatterji and Shapiro, 38 current students out of 50 total students in the department retained the law offices of Michael Sorgen to pursue its protest against CIIS over the suspensions.

Sorgen told India-West that the students he represents are “caught in the middle” in their pursuit of master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

“I still don’t know what conduct (Shapiro and Chatterji) are guilty of, but I represent the interests of these students. Frankly, we sent a letter to (CIIS) and got an unsatisfactory response.”

Martin pointed out that there were more students complaining about Shapiro and Chatterji that those in support of the two professors. He added that students in the program are also CIIS’ concern.

“We are committed to helping (Ph.D. and master’s) students finish their degrees.” He added that if students want to transfer out of the department or the school, CIIS would do its best on their behalf.

Before joining CIIS, Shapiro was director of humanities at New College of California and co-founder of the Jewish-Muslim Friendship Circle in Kashmir, where he has been actively engaged in interfaith alliance with Kashmiris.

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