The faculty of the Department of English & Comparative Literature at UNC, Chapel Hill declare our support for our colleague, Professor Neel Ahuja. In light of recent criticisms over his first-year seminar, ENGL 72: Literature of 9/11, we offer these observations: First, the criticisms of the course originated with individuals who have no first-hand knowledge of the class. The student who wrote the first piece condemning the class for having an ostensibly slanted perspective had neither taken the course nor read any of the course texts. In actuality, ENGL 72 requires that students study and write about literature and art that memorializes the victims of 9/11. Second, we recognize that Dr. Ahuja has a strong record of teaching, mentoring, and scholarship, which makes him an excellent instructor for this particular course material. Finally, we believe absolutely in academic freedom for all our faculty. Discouraging faculty members from presenting controversial or dissenting viewpoints in class compromises the critical thinking and free speech essential to genuine education. Our department faculty share commitment to the foundational principle of open intellectual inquiry, which we promote in our classes by challenging students to engage with a variety of perspectives, controversies, and tensions. We reaffirmed commitment to such productive pedagogical inquiry in our recent self-study report:
The Department’s course offerings present a diversity of approaches to the study, production, and appreciation of literary and nonliterary texts. We pursue a four-fold mission to 1) explore the history and significance of American, British, and world literatures; 2) promote interdisciplinary connections and incorporate the study of culture, theory, and history; 3) offer training in rigorous thinking, precise analysis, and critical reading; and 4) foster practical skills in rhetoric, composition, and expression in written genres, creative pieces, and digital media. These emphases resonate well with the UNC Academic Plan through their interdisciplinary and global nature. Further, we reap the benefit of our highly recognized and engaged faculty, particularly as they provide transformative experiences for our students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
We are very proud of the articulate explanations of Professor Ahuja’s course on Literature of 9/11 recently published in a variety of forums by his former students, who from direct personal experience attest to its value as a learning experience that sharpened their critical analytical skills, enabled them to achieve nuanced command of complex issues, and increased their understanding of one of the seminal events in recent American experience.