Posted on: February 6, 2013 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 3

The absurd events at Brooklyn College continue to roll along. The thought police, led by the great promoter of anti-Semitism (through his ceaseless efforts to dehumanize

Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, the speakers whose appearance at Brooklyn College has sparked controversy
Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, the speakers whose appearance at Brooklyn College has sparked controversy

Palestinians), Alan Dershowitz insist that any and all programs involving the Israel-Palestine conflict must present Israel’s point of view. One cannot miss the fact that they show no such concern when only the Israeli view is represented, as happens often on campuses and community centers across the country. And, to be sure, there is nothing wrong with that view being presented. But neither is the view of those who are working in support of the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel due to its 45-year old occupation.

That this issue even arises shows the absurdity of the debate on this issue in the United States. The fact that some New York City politicians are actually threatening to cut Brooklyn College’s funding should send a chill up anyone’s spine who believes in free speech and democracy, whatever their views of Israel, Palestine and BDS. But the university president is holding fast to the view that an institution of higher learning, whether privately or publicly funded, has a first duty to present a diversity of views and not every such presentation needs to be in a debate format. And she is being defended by her staff, in the form of their union.

Pasted below is the letter the union sent to a long list of cowardly, clueless or bigoted politicians who are trying to shut down a legitimate, non-violent Palestinian view from being heard. It doesn’t matter what you think of BDS, or which side, if any, your heart lies on with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This is about free speech and academic freedom. And for that, a hearty BRAVO to Brooklyn College’s president, Karen Gould, and the union, as represented by Dr. Barbara Bowen. 


February 5, 2013

Congressman Jerrold Nadler
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
NY City Comptroller John Liu
NY City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz
NY State Senator Kevin Parker
NY State Senator Daniel Squadron
NY State Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs
NY State Assemblyman Karim Camara
NY State Assemblyman James Brennan
NY State Assemblywoman Joan Millman
NY State Assemblyman Walter Mosley
NY City Councilman Brad Lander
NY City Councilman Stephen Levin
Mr. William Thompson

Dear Elected Officials:

I write as president of the union that represents the faculty and professional staff at the City University of New York—a union whose collective bargaining agreement begins with a commitment to academic freedom.  On behalf of the 25,000 professors and staff in the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY,  I call on you to retract your call for the Brooklyn College Political Science Department to withdraw its co-sponsorship (which you mis-label “endorsement”) of the forum on Israel scheduled at the College for February 7.

Your letter attempts to veil a direct challenge to academic freedom as a defense of academic freedom.  Academic freedom, as defined in the most influential statement of the principle, is “the indispensable quality of institutions of higher education. . . . [It is] the free search for truth and its free exposition.” Academic freedom is not “balance”; it is not the requirement that departments support only forums that advocate equally strongly for two “sides,” as you misleadingly put it, of an issue; it is not a requirement that departments insist that student organizers accept “legitimate offers from prominent individuals willing to simultaneously present an alternative view.”  Would you demand that a forum on evolution accept an offer from “a prominent individual” to argue for creationism?   Would you write a letter insisting that a forum organized by the NRA include an advocate for gun control?

Academic freedom is precisely the freedom to express a position even when that position is deeply unpopular.  By voting to co-sponsor a forum that is expected to advocate for policies that have engendered intense opposition (such as the proposal that Israeli universities be boycotted—a position the PSC is on record as opposing), the Political Science Department is exercising academic freedom and supporting free speech.  Neither the College nor the Department has done anything to prevent the organizing of forums expressing opposing points of view.  Most dangerous of your distortions is the demand that Brooklyn College “must stand firmly” against the decision of its Political Science Department.  It is not clear what is meant by that demand, but any action against the faculty for their exercise of academic freedom would be an assault on the University as a whole and a violation of the contract with the union.  The demand should be immediately retracted.

The strategy of your letter is to conflate the views of individual speakers with the views of the Department or the College.  You worry that by co-sponsoring the forum the Department sends “the message . . . to the world that the divisive perspective offered by the organizing groups is Brooklyn College’s official view.”  You suggest, outrageously, that by allowing the forum to be held the College has decided to “take sides and [refused] to permit all voices to be heard.”  The College has done nothing of the kind.  In her letter to the Brooklyn College community on January 28, 2013, President Karen L. Gould explicitly refutes the conflation you make:

Unfortunately, some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views.

A college president who stands up for academic freedom at CUNY—where academic freedom has come under repeated assault in recent years—should be applauded by “progressive” politicians, not bullied.  We appreciate that many of you have spoken up in the past for resources for CUNY, but the progressive position would be to defend academic freedom at the City University, and defend it fiercely.  Progressive elected officials would insist, as the PSC does, that  CUNY students, no less than students at elite private universities, are entitled to a university where “the indispensable quality of  institutions of higher education”—academic freedom—is maintained.  We invite you to join us in that position; we call on you immediately to withdraw the demands of your letter and to communicate to the Brooklyn College community your support for President Gould’s position.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Barbara Bowen
President, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

Dr. Karen L. Gould, President, Brooklyn College
Dr. Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor, City University of New York
Dr. Paisley Currah, Chairperson, Political Science Department, Brooklyn College
Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum, President, American Association of University Professors
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

3 People reacted on this

  1. How about Political Science Department co-sponsorship of Neo-Nazi group forum in Brooklyn College that would call for killing all blacks, Jews, Asians and Hispanics? Why not? Academic freedom!

    It is a silly argument. Any student group can invite speakers of any kind, but CUNY College and its Departments should think twice about sponsoring Israel hate-fest or any other hate forums.

  2. Without free speech , you are no longer democratic. This is an honest debate to show the other side of the coin. Israel’s Apartheid is slowly creeping into the worlds political forum and boycotting Palestines side will only increase the suspicions. Be smart and pray at your Temple, you will see that its the right thing to do. Hate will only give you ulcers.

  3. I also support free speech. Monday, Barghouti spoke at UC Irvine on behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine, and I attended the event. He had the right to speak. Yet, before the event began the moderator said we could not videotape the event. I pointed out to him that the law was very clear: public event, public space, public university. We had the right, and we proceeded to videotape. Barghouti spoke without interruption. In the Q and A, I tried to ask him where he was born, where he grew up, and to confirm that he was studying at Tel Aviv University and had also studied at Columbia. He knew where I was going and refused to answer saying it was irrelevant. The SJP guy and he tried to cut off my question, so I just made the comment that he was a hypocrite, which is self-evident and that he had no real understanding of the US Civil Rights movement, which he tried to invoke while calling the US a racist country.

    My point is that he has the right to speak, but the audience has the right to ask him pointed questions and be critical without being cut off and shut down. Barghouti avoids the question of why he is biting the hand that feeds him with his education. That is what happened at UCI Monday.

    Gary Fouse
    Adj teacher
    UC Irvine Ext

Comments are closed.