DePaul University biology professor claims she was fired for giving students optional assignment on ‘genocide in Gaza’

An adjunct biology professor at DePaul University in Chicago said last week that she was canned for giving an optional assignment about the ‘genocide in Gaza.’

Anne d’Aquino taught at the university’s Health Sciences Department and was terminated on May 8, just two days after her students were given the chance to write a paper on the impact of the ‘genocide in Gaza on human health and biology,’ the Chicago Sun Times reported.

As d’Aquino explained her predicament to a gaggle of reporters on the DePaul campus, roughly 50 demonstrators stood behind the freshly fired instructor waving Palestinian flags and holding signs that read ‘Academic freedom includes Palestine.’

‘My termination was a breach of my academic freedom and another example of this administration’s efforts to twist any discussions of Palestine and Palestinian liberation language into false claims of antisemitism,’ d’Aquino said at the Thursday morning news conference.

D’Aquino reportedly filed an appeal on May 14, which the university has said will be ‘completed soon.’

DePaul University adjunct professor Anne d’Aquino speaks to reporters with pro-Palestinian demonstrators standing behind her outside the North Side university’s quad, Thursday, June 6, 2024

About 1,500 students have shown their support for d’Aquino by signing a petition calling for her reinstatement. 

The 24-page-long document was hand delivered to a university administrative office. 

The offending assignment was given in a class d’Aquino taught that covered topics such as infectious diseases and antibiotics.

Students who took it up were to read articles on ‘intersection of biological sciences, health and history in Palestine.’ Then, they were to write a paper on the impact of ‘genocide in biology.’

D’Aquino insisted that this assignment was related to the course, as scientists have been sounding the alarm about infectious disease spreading in Gaza for months.

Back in February, the World Health Organization said healthcare workers on the ground in the war torn city are reporting ‘outbreaks of acute respiratory infections, scabies, lice, diarrhea, skin rash, chickenpox, and hepatitis associated jaundice.’

Unsanitary conditions have become commonplace in Gaza because key infrastructure has been disrupted, according to the WHO. Overcrowding in shelters only contributes to the spread of disease in these conditions, the agency claims.

Anne d'Aquino, pictured, earned her PhD in Biological Sciences at Northwestern University

Anne d’Aquino, pictured, earned her PhD in Biological Sciences at Northwestern University

Sarah Connolly, d'Aquino's boss in the Health Sciences Department, wrote a termination letter claiming that students in the class were concerned about 'the introduction of political matters'

Sarah Connolly, d’Aquino’s boss in the Health Sciences Department, wrote a termination letter claiming that students in the class were concerned about ‘the introduction of political matters’

Sarah Connolly, the chair of of the Health Sciences Department, wrote in d’Aquino’s termination email that students expressed concern about ‘the introduction of political matters into the class,’ the Sun Times reported.

D’Aquino had a different recollection of events, saying she received ‘no negative feedback on the assignment.’

A freshman in the class, who opted not to be identified, was ‘shocked, disappointed and speechless’ over the firing. This student hasn’t attended lectures since Connolly filled into teach d’Aquino’s old class.

Sarah Van Loon, the regional manager of the American Jewish Committee Chicago, doesn’t think that d’Aquino’s intellectual freedom was violated and that there are limits to what an instructor can teach when politics is involved.

‘We’ve got a biology professor discussing politics in the Middle East or creating a comment about Gaza,’ Van Loon said. 

‘It really isn’t in line with what it is that they’re there to be teaching on and opens up the university to risk too,’ adding, ‘It doesn’t surprise me that the university felt that this was not something that upheld their standards.’ 

Sarah Van Loon, the regional manager of the American Jewish Committee Chicago

Victoria Agunod, an adjunct professor at DePaul

Sarah Van Loon, left, commented on d’Aquino’s firing, saying that a biology professor shouldn’t be talking about politics in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Victoria Agunod, another DePaul adjunct professor, claims she was investigated by the university over her alleged pro-Palestine views

Professors around the country have been under greater scrutiny regarding their political views and their activities at the widespread pro-Palestine protests that took college campuses by storm during the spring semester.

A professor at the University of Texas, Austin was fired in May after he was accused of breaking police lines, shouting expletives in cops’ faces and destroying police property at an April pro-Palestine demonstration.

And two teachers at a public charter school in a Los Angeles-area synagogue were placed on leave in November after first graders there were given a lesson on ‘the genocide in Palestine,’ the Los Angeles Times reported.

At DePaul specifically, one other teacher reportedly ran into trouble with university officials over her alleged pro-Palestine views. 

Victoria Agunod, an adjunct professor in the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies Program, told the Sun Times she was investigated over her beliefs on the Gaza war, which she described as ‘terrifying’ and ‘political suppression.’ 

D’Aquino hopes her appeal is successful, and she’s allowed to return to see her students’ final projects.