Health sciences adjunct fired over optional Gaza assignment defends academic freedom

Anne dAquino, an adjunct instructor, speaks on Belden Avenue at a press conference on June, 6, 2024. Dr. dAquino was fired last month after  “the introduction of political matters into the class” which were “unrelated to the course.”
Anne d’Aquino, an adjunct instructor, speaks on Belden Avenue at a press conference on June, 6, 2024. Dr. d’Aquino was fired last month after “the introduction of political matters into the class” which were “unrelated to the course.”
Jake Cox

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Students and faculty delivered a petition and called for the reinstatement of DePaul adjunct Anne d’Aquino at a press conference on Thursday, June 6. An instructor in Health Sciences, d’Aquino was terminated on May 8 for “the introduction of political matters into the class,” which were “unrelated to the course.” 

On May 7, d’Aquino offered an optional alternative assignment to her HLTH 194 class, “Human Pathogens and Defense,” where she asked students to explain “the impact of genocide/ethnic cleansing on the health/biology of the people it impacts” following a bombing in Rafah during week six of the course. 

The following morning, d’Aquino received an email from Health Sciences chair Sarah Connolly saying that her adjunct appointment had been terminated immediately. 

Owen Howard, co-founder of Jews for Justice and a master’s student in biological sciences, believes d’Aquino’s discussion in class was within her academic freedom. 

“Dr. d’Aquino should not have been fired on the basis of expressing academic freedom, providing an optional assignment, encouraging students to utilize their skills and health scientists to examine an ongoing health crisis,” Howard said. 

Following d’Aquino’s termination on May 8, she submitted an appeal for her termination. This recourse is laid out in the DePaul faculty handbook and is reserved for adjunct faculty. Tenure, tenure-track and term faculty are entitled to due process before termination. For adjunct faculty, due process is only required after the fact. 

 According to John Gould, chair of United DePaul, a labor activism organization formed this spring, the outlook of the appeal is hopeful. 

“I don’t know how much we can disclose right now,” Gould said. “But things are looking good.”

Kristin Claes Mathews, DePaul’s senior director of strategic communications, responded in an email to The DePaulia regarding the Faculty Appeals process. 

“The faculty member has initiated an appeal, as is her right under the Faculty Handbook. That process is currently underway and will be completed soon. The university is adhering to the appeal process outlined in our Faculty Handbook and overseen by our Faculty Council,” Mathews said. 

The fired adjunct, d’Aquino, defended her work in HLTH 194, stating that this course was created during the Covid-19 pandemic to evaluate human intervention in public health crises. 

“The assignment was, in fact, related to the course and its objectives,” d’Aquino said. “For months, scientists and physicians have been warning about the spread of infectious disease in Gaza due to starvation, malnutrition, overcrowding, destruction of critical water and sanitation infrastructure, lack of access to sanitation items, and health care collapse.” 

Following Thursday’s press conference, organizers delivered a petition calling for her reinstatement to the office of Connolly in McGowan South on the Lincoln Park Campus. 

Organizers carry the petition, printed with all the signatories listed, to McGowan South to the office of Sarah Connolly, chair of Health Sciences.  An additional copy was delivered to Provost Salma Ghanem. (Jake Cox)

Connolly was absent from her office when the organizers delivered the petition. 

United DePaul also delivered a copy of the signed petition to DePaul provost Salma Ghanem at her Loop office. 

The petition, penned by United DePaul, demands the following of DePaul. 

  • Reinstate the adjunct who was fired with back pay.
  • Unequivocally state that a contingent faculty discussing Palestine or describing the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” is not, in itself, means for sanction or grounds for dismissal. 
  • Adopt and uphold a rigorous standard of academic freedom in line with peer institutions and associations of instructors such as the American Association of University Professors.
  • Unequivocally protect contingent faculties’ right to self-expression, in particular the freedom to wear kaffiyehs.

According to Gould, the petition has amassed over 1,500 signatures. 

Another adjunct spoke at the press conference after being investigated for including course material about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

Victoria Agunod, a DePaul adjunct instructor of Women & Gender Studies, Peace & Conflict Studies and Disability Studies, was placed under investigation in the spring for alleged harassment and antisemitism. 

“The student who reported me, I have never seen them in person. They came to class over Zoom and never spoke or turned their camera on,” Agunod said in an interview with The DePaulia. 

Agunod said DePaul Human Resources informed her that she should keep information about the investigation private from the chair of her academic unit. 

“The confidentiality part of it definitely meant that students, faculty and staff wouldn’t be able to rally around it,” Agunod said.“But as I did tell people, and they told other people, people were ready to rally.” 

Agunod also believes the only reason her investigation was closed is her connections at DePaul, and d’Aquino was terminated so swiftly because she was not well-connected.

“It was easier for them to isolate and fire her,” Agunod said. “Thinking it wouldn’t be a big thing.” 

Tearing up during the press conference, d’Aquino said she is disappointed that she cannot see her students finish the quarter. 

“I’m sad to no longer be teaching my students or see their final projects,” she said. “I’m sad that I don’t get a chance to properly say goodbye to them or tell them how blown away I was by their creative and thoughtful work.”


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United DePaul organizes graduate students, student employees and adjunct faculty in unionization efforts

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