By Grace Mottley
Melissa Landa, a former professor in the College of Education at this university, believes that she was fired in retaliation for filing a grievance of religious discrimination and for advocating for Israel as a private citizen.
Landa worked at this university for over 10 years, but on June 8, she was notified that her contract would not be renewed. Landa believes her dismissal was the culmination of a long string of aggressions toward her as a result of her religious practices and political activism as a private citizen.
First, Landa was removed from the Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership (TLPL) program which trains future teachers. However, the reason behind this decision was unclear.
“I wasn’t given any real reason for being reassigned from [TLPL],” Landa said.
She believes that this was retaliation for working with the the Academic Engagement Network, a group that opposes the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as her involvement in the Oberlin Chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness, a group that opposes antisemitism and anti-Israel bias on college campuses
She also believes that the removal was retaliation for traveling to Israel during Passover and missing work, despite having received permission to go.
Landa believes that neither of these impacted her academic performance, so she filed a grievance against her removal from this program. Since her removal, TLPL became understaffed and needed to hire adjunct professors, Landa said.
TLPL is unable to comment on the matter due to the ongoing investigation.
After being removed from the program, Landa could still teach her courses within the general education program.
The decision of the Faculty Grievance Panel, which evaluates and makes decisions on grievance filings, decided against Landa’s appeal, three days before her contract ceased to be renewed.
Landa and her lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, believe that she has not received one official reason for her termination.
“Something that is very common and is a sign of discrimination is the reason why someone is terminated. The reason why they terminated her keeps shifting,” Wilkenfeld said. But there is a pattern—every time she steps up, or gets more involved in her political activism, there is an immediate response from the school.”
Landa has filed a complaint with the Title IX office. This office is restricted from commenting on specific investigations and ongoing cases.
University spokeswoman Jessica Jennings, however, commented on the investigation.
“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,” she said in a statement. “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’s goal is to return to this university to teach.
“The ultimate goal is to restore her as best we can to the position she was in before she left Maryland,” Wilkenfeld said. “She wants to have a job at Maryland and she wants to keep working there.”
Some of Landa’s former students hope that she can return to her position to continue helping the community.
“I find it incredibly disheartening that she is not teaching because her impact was so noticeable among her students,” College of Education graduate student Clara Allsup said. “She challenges her students to think outside of their own perspectives, and push themselves further.”