Student Groups Advocate for Reinstatement of Dismissed Ph.D. Student

Student activist groups are demanding the Department of Cinema and Media Studies restore Zain Jamshaid to its Ph.D. program and support his continued research.


William Rainey Harper Memorial Library.

By Pranathi Posa and Kate Mabus

UChicago Without Borders (UWB) and Phoenix Survivors Alliance (PSA) published a letter supporting the reinstatement of Zain Jamshaid, a former Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies (CMS). They are demanding that CMS allows Jamshaid to complete his doctorate at UChicago.

Jamshaid filed a Title IX case against a professor in his department in March 2020. CMS placed him on academic probation in May 2020, citing insufficient quality and progress on his dissertation. The department dismissed him in December 2020.

In an interview conducted by The Maroon and the Hyde Park Herald in February of this year, Jamshaid characterized his dismissal as a retaliatory action in response to the complaint he filed. In response to being withdrawn from his program, Jamshaid filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education’s (E.D.) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in late December 2020. The investigation began earlier this year and has since concluded.

According to statement from a University spokesperson, the “[Department of Education] notified the University and the complainant that it had found no violation of Title IX.” The statement also said the “[E.D.'s] findings supported the University’s conclusion that the allegations in the complaint are without merit.” The Maroon has so far been unable to obtain a copy of the report containing the results of the E.D. investigation.

However, according to a statement Jamshaid gave to The Maroon, “The [E.D.] did not find "no violation" of Title IX. [The E.D.] simply said that they did not have sufficient evidence to rule in my favor, and yielded to the "subjective" assessment of faculty.”

In another statement, Jamshaid reported that the [E.D.] decision “said there was "insufficient evidence" to rule that disclosures of sexual trauma were the impetus behind my dismissal.”

Last year, while the E.D. was conducting the Title IX investigation into Jamshaid’s allegations, he raised $29,125 through a GoFundMe page that many activist groups on campus amplified. According to UWB and Jamshaid, part of these funds went toward covering his legal expenses for applying for asylum. In an interview with UWB and Jamshaid, the organization said it reached out to him after learning that his dismissal from his Ph.D. program resulted in him losing his student visa.

On September 18, UWB and PSA released a letter of support that demands the CMS Department reinstates Jamshaid as a Ph.D. candidate in either fall or winter quarter and provides him a new committee chair, since his original chair stepped down from mentoring Jamshaid after Jamshaid was dismissed from the program. Additionally, the letter preemptively requests the University should not charge him for any tuition costs from the period that he was terminated.

If no CMS faculty member offers to chair Jamshaid’s committee, UWB and PSA are also asking the department to allow Jamshaid’s former mentor Richard Peña, a professor at Columbia University where Jamshaid received his master’s degree, to chair the committee instead. According to the Division of Humanities’s website, under which the Department of Cinema and Media Studies is housed, a “dissertation chair must be a faculty member in the student’s home department.”

“If [no faculty member of CMS agrees to chair Jamshaid’s committee], [UWB and PSA] think that’s not a reason for why Zain should not be able to complete a Ph.D. he’s been working on for so many years.” Valentina Villarroel, a member of UWB, said. “And this is a break in divisional policy, but divisional policy is just a little cruel.”

In a statement to The Maroon, Peña said he is “still perfectly willing to serve on Zain Jamshaid’s dissertation committee in whatever capacity that might be most useful, as I am eager to see his valuable work on Turkish cinema be completed for his Ph.D..”

If a chair is found for Jamshaid’s committee, the letter further requests that CMS vote immediately to reinstate Jamshaid in either fall or winter quarter. While the deadline for reinstatement this fall has passed, Jamshaid said he is willing to wait until winter quarter. “I just really want a chair to sign on…[to] advise my dissertation through the last stages and let me defend it. This is not something that should require more than two to three quarters.”

The letter finally requests that the University not charge Jamshaid tuition for the quarters that he missed.

“The tuition waiver was a very big point for Zain,” Villaroel said, and later explained in a statement to The Maroon that Jamshaid was concerned that the University would try to discourage him from re-entering his program by back-charging him. “It’s a roadblock where it’s like, [Jamshaid] can still [continue with his research], but it’s not feasible.”

UWB and PSA are prepared to organize further actions to push the University and CMS administration to reinstate Jamshaid if these efforts are unsuccessful.

According to a statement from a University spokesperson regarding the campaign’s push for Jamshaid’s reinstatment, “Academic decisions are based on academic judgments by departmental faculty about the timeliness and quality of the work relative to the program’s requirements and expectations.”

In his statement, Jamshaid said, “A quick glance at the department's graduation record will reveal that numerous students, some very recent graduates, have taken much, much longer to work on their dissertations than I did. The delays in my work, for medically documented reasons, were simply exploited and used as a 'cover' to later expel me.” Jamshaid joined CMS in 2013. The department website shows that there are currently two students that entered the program before Jamshaid, one in 2007 and another in 2009. The website does not have information on students who have already graduated.

Thus far, the letter has garnered 393 signatures in support, including 43 graduate students and 14 faculty members. 224 undergraduate students and 57 alumni have also signed on.