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SJSU Professor Who Was Suspended Over Pro-Palestinian Protests Speaks Out

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Sang Hea Kil, San Jose State University professor and co-chair of the California Faculty Association's Palestine, Arab and Muslim Caucus, cheers during a rally at SFSU in San Francisco on Jan. 25, 2024, urging a no vote on the tentative deal that ended the California State University faculty strike. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

San Jose State University has suspended a professor who acted as a liaison between pro-Palestinian student protesters and campus administration, accusing her of harassing school officials and encouraging students to set up an encampment.

Sang Hea Kil was placed on administrative leave with pay and accused of “directing and encouraging” students to violate university policies as well as “harassing and offensive conduct” toward her colleagues, according to a letter administrators sent to Kil on Friday.

Kil, a professor of 17 years who teaches in SJSU’s Justice Studies Department, cannot speak to SJSU students or engage in work activities. She denied the allegations.

“They think that these students are some kind of empty vessel, and I’m some radical leftist professor filling them with dangerous ideas,” Kil told KQED. “I’m following the students’ lead here. The students are the ones who have the moral compass. They’re the ones who are pushing back against San Jose State University’s silence on genocide.”

SJSU student protesters opposing the war in Gaza dismantled their encampment last Wednesday, according to the Bay Area News Group. However, the SJSU People’s University for Gaza said, “This is not the end” of the protests.


Kil alleges she’s being targeted for giving a May 8 speech to student protesters where she encouraged them to “follow their conscience.”

In an email to Kil shared with KQED, Mari Fuentes-Martin, the interim vice president for student affairs, accused Kil of instructing student protesters to march through a campus recreation center and establish an encampment on the lawn.

“Your role as an advisor is not to act as the group’s leader and direct specific actions,” Fuentes-Martin wrote. “Rather than encouraging violation of policies, you have the responsibility to ensure that the student organization understands university policies.”

Kil denies this allegation.

“When I gave my rally speech, there were students, there were faculty, there were community members that all heard what I said,” Kil said. “And none of the accusations they have in that email happened.”

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At least twice, Kil shared the public contact information of university administrators on Instagram, which she believes is the basis for the university’s allegation of “harassing and offensive conduct.” One she accused of turning on sprinklers to shower the protest encampment with water, and the second she said told her to “order the students to take down the encampment.”

An SJSU spokesperson declined to comment on personnel matters but said in a statement that the university warned students about the sprinklers but could not shut them off in time.

Dozens of students, faculty and organizations have reached out in support after Kil’s suspension, she said. The Cal State Fullerton chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America is “appalled” by Kil’s suspension, the group said in a statement.

“We see this as direct retaliation for Dr. Kil exposing unethical and potentially illegal actions by SJSU administrators,” the group wrote, referring to Kil’s Instagram posts.

The SJSU student encampment also demanded “the end of SJSU’s investigative proceedings and repression campaign against Professor Sang Hea Kil for exercising her free speech in speaking out for Palestine” in an email sent to administrators earlier this month.

Kil said she’s concerned for her job. Even the paid suspension hurts her economically because it stops her from teaching additional summer courses for extra pay this year, she said. But the outpouring of support – especially from her students – has helped ease the sting of her suspension.

“I really want them to know that I love and care for them very deeply,” she said. “I deeply appreciate the solidarity that they’ve given me. It means so much of the world to me.”

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