Jewish groups show support for a former UMD professor after her contract wasn’t renewed

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Amid an Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct investigation and a potential lawsuit, several Jewish organizations have opposed the nonrenewal of a University of Maryland education professor’s contract.

After Melissa Landa was notified her contract would not be renewed on June 8, the Title IX office launched an investigation to discover whether it was retaliation for filing a grievance against the college and whether it was based on religious, political or national origin discrimination.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington — which sent almost 10,000 emails to university officials — garnered nearly 800 signatures in support of Landa within a week of its campaign launch on Sept. 19, Guila Siegel, the organization’s associate director, wrote in an email Wednesday.The campaign called on university President Wallace Loh to “oversee a full and complete investigation to determine the extent to which anti-Semitism and/or anti-Israel bias played a role” in Landa’s contract nonrenewal, but it has since been suspended on the council’s website.

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East have also been circulating the petition, and the Oberlin chapter of the Alums for Campus Fairness has written a letter to Loh in support of Landa.

Landa’s lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, said Loh has indicated he is prepared to meet with the council. Loh is waiting until the investigation completes because he doesn’t want to interfere with the process, he said.

The Title IX office notified Landa on Oct. 2 that her investigation had been completed and they were writing up the report, but did not say when she could expect to receive the results, she said. “We don’t need to pressure them at this moment,” Wilkenfeld said. “We just want to have a constructive dialogue with the university.” Loh is aware of Landa’s claims and the ensuing Title IX investigation, he said.

“[Title IX is] investigating it,” Loh said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m removed from all of that. The one thing I do want to say is they will determine whether there was bias or discrimination in the termination.”

Loh noted this university is known for its large Jewish population and he has come out against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, a campaign that aims to apply economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestine.

“While the university is barred by law from commenting on specific personnel cases, we can strongly affirm our commitment to supporting our vibrant Jewish community on campus, home to one of the largest Jewish student populations in the country,” university spokeswoman Jessica Jennings wrote in an email. “We have a robust scholarly portfolio of Jewish studies and academic collaborations and exchanges with Israeli institutions, and an unwavering commitment to free speech.”

Landa is the Oberlin chapter president of Alums for Campus Fairness, a nonprofit that combats anti-Semitism as well as BDS campaigns. “I’m very dismayed if this were true, but of course I don’t know what the situation is,” Loh said.  “I can say most emphatically that this is a campus that does not discriminate against people because of their faith or because of their political allegiances. It’s always been a welcoming environment.”

Wilkenfeld said the more Landa became politically active in opposing the BDS movement, the more her professional superiors began to retaliate against her. Landa said there was a pattern of this behavior, adding she has detailed documentation of her heightened political activity and the alleged retaliatory actions against her that resulted. Wilkenfeld has said they may consider filing a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination, retaliation and discrimination on the basis of political beliefs and expression.

“What we will be alleging is that her activism, her political beliefs and possibly even her religion caused the university to take a number of adverse employment actions against her, culminating in what is tantamount to her dismissal,” Wilkenfeld said.

If Landa brings a lawsuit, she will be suing to be placed back in her position, and damages for lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses, Wilkenfeld said.

Jewish groups show support for a former UMD professor after her contract wasn’t renewed

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