The president of the University of Maryland-College Park is seeking to meet with Jewish community leaders amid a probe into whether a former professor in the School of Education was discriminated against for her pro-Israel activism when her contract wasn’t renewed in June.
Former professor Melissa Landa said that based on the questions she was asked by an investigator for the university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, she’s confident that her allegations are being taken seriously. She declined to say what those questions were, but her attorney, Ari Wilkenfeld, said that they indicated a more serious inquiry than he’s seen in previous Title IX discrimination cases.
“These investigations tend to be pretty self-serving,” Wilkenfeld said. “But by the tone of the last couple of conversations, from what [Landa’s] describing, we may be dealing with an investigator taking the Title IX responsibilities exponentially more seriously than your typical Title IX investigators.”
University spokesperson Jessica Jennings said in a statement that President Wallace D. Loh will meet with representatives from the area’s Jewish community. Neither the details of when and with whom he’ll meet are available, according to Jennings and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which represents the Jewish community to outside organizations.
“Loh will meet with several leaders of the region’s Jewish community,” the statement read. “As part of the conversation, President Loh will reiterate our firm commitment to supporting our Jewish students, faculty, and staff and our commitment to free speech and fostering a vibrant exchange of ideas.”
As a result, the JCRC has suspended a petition it launched last month calling for an investigation into the Landa matter, saying it had gotten its point across to the university.
According to JCRC Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel, 773 people sent 10,822 emails to university administrators between Sept. 19 and 29.
“We halted the petition because it had achieved its intended objective, which was to gain the serious attention of the administration at University of Maryland,” she in an email. “We’re pleased that the administration has indicated its interest in meeting with community leadership to discuss a variety of issues, including Professor Landa’s case, and we look forward to those discussions.”
In an interview last month with WJW, Landa said that she’d been well-liked and received strong evaluations since joining the School of Education’s faculty in 2007.
It wasn’t until she became more active in pro-Israel causes, Landa said, that the associate chair of her department and former doctoral thesis adviser, John O’Flahavan, began to marginalize her in the department, removing her from a course she’d taught for almost a decade.
“It ostracized me and excluded me from my colleagues,” Landa said. “It diluted my role in the department, and it really stripped me of my professional identity.”
Among other things, Landa said that O’Flahavan encouraged her not to display an Israeli flag in her office. O’Flahavan declined to comment for this article.
Landa filed a grievance with an intra-university hearing board in February. In May, she received the Exceptional Scholarship Award from the College of Education, but in June the board found against her, despite finding that Landa had “a good teaching record.”
Days later, she was notified that her contract was not being renewed. She believes it was in retaliation for the
I have never personally met Melissa Landa. I became aware of who she was when an anti-Semitic activity was reported on a Facebook page authored by an associate professor at my alma mater Oberlin College. Professor Landa organized Jewish alumni making us aware of the situation and leading us to organize ourselves in that matter. As a result of that insight over many months I can inform you that she is a person of substance who takes on responsibility, using clear and honest reporting, and conducts herself honorably. I support her now in her effort to clear her name and I support her decision to push back on a firing with no apparent reference to any personal actions. Without question I support Professor Landa and hope your investigation resolved in favor of her being returned to her position where she can continue to serve the students she champions and supports.
Similarly, I did not know Melissa Landa until she helped me confront the anti-Israel and at times anti-Semitic affronts, actions, and atmosphere at our alma mater, Oberlin. I was so grateful for her leadership, couteous persistence and calm head. Her students are lucky.