Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lawsuit says student falsely accused a Palestinian Muslim teacher of making anti-Semitic remark

Columbia College sued by former teacher alleging discrimination

Lawsuit says student falsely accused teacher of making anti-Semitic remark

By Manya A. Brachear

Chicago Tribune

October 6, 2009

"A Palestinian Muslim teacher and former Chicago talk radio show producer filed a federal discrimination suit Monday against Columbia College Chicago, saying she was fired after a student falsely accused her of making an anti-Semitic remark in class.

The suit said the unidentified student complained that Suriya H. Smiley, a part-time radio instructor of Palestinian origin, told him while taking roll one day: "I should have known you were Jewish by the size of your nose." The suit said the college did not investigate the student's allegations before firing Smiley, 44, in January. She had taught at the school for 14 years after working as a producer at WLS-AM.

"The unsubstantiated allegation against, and subsequent firing of, Sue Smiley reeks of racism," said Kevin Vodak, an attorney for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed the suit on Smiley's behalf. "For the school to not investigate the veracity of one person's singular claim before terminating instructor Smiley's job is malicious and irresponsible. It is apparent that she was mistreated based on her Arab ethnicity."

Columbia spokeswoman Elizabeth Burke-Dain said the college does not comment on personnel matters.

Vodak said the student's motives for making the allegation remain unclear. He said Smiley believed she had "criticized his performance in the proper manner."

The council's Chicago chapter has filed at least five workplace-discrimination suits this year. In July, a Cook County judge awarded $200,000 to Abraham Yasin, an Arab-American corrections officer who accused the Cook County Sheriff's Department of ignoring his claims that co-workers had targeted him with slurs.

Among other things, Smiley wants all wages she would have gotten since her termination in January."


  1. Okay, um, so NOBODY looked into this? For real? Gar. Everytime I hear about something like this it makes my left eye twitch. I hate to offer the hypothetical additive inverse sitcheeation as an example, but I'm wondering how many witnesses and signed affadavits a student of Palestinian descent would have had to bring to the relevant entitities in order to make a case of anti-Arab discrimination against a professor of ANY ethnic background. Yeah, damnit, I said it. Unacceptable. Post-racial America, my Black ass.

  2. Fiqah,
    I have known academics in this same situation. Of course anti-Jewish sentiments are unacceptable and should be challenged inter-personally and institutionally. But simply the accusation is often enough to end (or at least seriously compromise) a career, even if entirely unfounded. And Arabs and Muslims are uniquely vulnerable to the charge, especially if they are open in support of Palestine. The mere existence of Palestinian academics on some campuses makes them the focus of such attention, whether they are overtly political or not.

    I have seen it happen.

  3. Damn. I...DAMN.

    I can't believe I'm about to say it.

    Okay. Black folks just absolutely haaaaaate when other oppressed groups co-opt our pain for their rhetoric. I would never use this phrase lightly.

    But Anti-Arab discrimination and Islamophobia are normalized in a way that few other forms of discrimination are...hence the deplorable lack of outrage. And that's why I feel...ho, boy.
    ::: deep breath :::

    That's why I feel that this shit would never happen with Black people! Ever ever ever! At least, not without a press conference and a march or three. I'm officially making it my mission to find my Arab and/or Muslim peeps your very own Al Sharpton. Maybe someone less self-aggrandizing. And no track suits.

  4. lol.
    Unfortunately there is plenty of oppression to go around. You are probably right, this wouldn't happen to a Black academic... but lots of other nasty shit does happen. Whoever decided that Universities were bastions of liberalism hasn't taken a look in a good long time. Some of the most out-of-bounds racism I have ever seen has been on college campuses. So just because Arab and Muslim academics are vulnerable--for the reasons we've said--doesn't necessarily make black academics more empowered, it just means they face different stuff.

    Know what I mean?