Where Does Mayor Bloomberg Stand on Academic Freedom?

4 Feb

This morning, Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, issued an extraordinarily powerful statement in defense of academic freedom and the right of the political science department to co-sponsor the BDS event. I don’t have a link yet (will post when I do) but this is the critical part of her statement:

First, however, let me be clear: Our commitment to the principles of academic freedom remains steadfast.  Students and faculty, including academic departments, programs, and centers, have the right to invite speakers, engage in discussion, and present ideas to further educational discussion and debate.   The mere invitation to speak does not indicate an endorsement of any particular point of view, and there is no obligation, as some have suggested, to present multiple perspectives at any one event.  In this case, the department’s co-sponsorship of the event is an invitation to participate; it does not indicate an endorsement of the speakers’ positions.  Providing an open forum to discuss important topics, even those many find highly objectionable, is a centuries-old practice on university campuses around the country.  Indeed, this spirit of inquiry and critical debate is a hallmark of the American education system.

At the same time, it is essential that Brooklyn College remain an engaged and civil learning environment where all views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal.  As I stated last week, we encourage debate, discussion, and more debate.  Students and faculty should explore these and other issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the only basis for consideration.  Contrary to some reports, the Department of Political Science fully agrees and has reaffirmed its longstanding policy to give equal consideration to co-sponsoring speakers who represent any and all points of view.

In my more than twenty years as a graduate student and professor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a leader of an educational institution take a more principled and courageous stand than this. Under, as we know, the most extraordinary coercion and pressure.

So that’s good. But the fight is not over.  The New York City Council, as you know, has laid down a gauntlet: if this event goes forward, with my department’s co-sponsorship, the Council will withdraw funds from CUNY and Brooklyn College. As Glenn Greenwald points out this morning, this is about as raw an exercise of coercive political power —and simple a violation of academic freedom—as it gets; it is almost exactly comparable to what Rudy Guiliani did when he was mayor and pulled the funding from the Brooklyn Museum merely because some people did not like what it was exhibiting.

So now the battle lines are clear: it’s the City Council (and perhaps the State Legislature and Congress too) against academic freedom, freedom of speech, and CUNY.

Throughout this controversy, there has been one voice that has been conspicuously silent: Mayor Bloomberg. To everyone who is a journalist out there, I ask you to call the Mayor’s office and ask the question: Will he stand with the City Council (and follow the model of his predecessor), threatening the withholding of funds merely because government officials do not like words that are being spoken at Brooklyn College? Or will he stand up to the forces of orthodoxy and insist: an educational institution, particularly one as precious to this city as CUNY, needs to remain a haven for the full exploration of views and opinions, even about—especially about—topics as fraught as the conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, there is a petition being circulated in support of my department and academic freedom. You should sign it and share it with people.

And if you yourself want to contact the mayor, here’s a link.

21 Responses to “Where Does Mayor Bloomberg Stand on Academic Freedom?”

  1. neffer February 4, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Is the statement that there is no endorsement really true? That makes a difference in my thinking. While I do not understand why a political science department would invite a hate group to present its views for discussion, making it clear to the public and those who attend that there is no endorsement would go a long way towards resolving the dispute.

    It would also be helpful if the department would make clear to its Jewish students that, in inviting a hate group to speak, it respects the views of Jewish students who, most likely (and whether they admit so openly or not), would tend to be find the presence of a Jew hating group offensive. Do their concerns – which, I can assure you, are genuinely heart felt – you?

    While it does not raise the issue of the right of the department to provide a forum for a hate group to spout its hatred, how could the department do something so cruel? Have they no decency at all? Do they not understand what BDS is about?

    Another point, one raised on another forum… BDS advocates that Israelis, without regard to their views, be boycotted. Your position would appear to be that those who object to the presence of BDS are infringing on free speech yet BDS itself is advocating the very thing you claim to oppose. How does that make any sense?

    One final word. Boycotts directed at Jews has a long and ugly history. Why would an academic department want students exposed to a viewpoint with such an ugly history? I do not get it. I think those academics that see this as ok have lost their minds.

    • neffer February 4, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

      Please correct the above as follows: Strike – “Do their concerns – which, I can assure you, are genuinely heart felt – you?” Substitute “Do their concerns – which, I can assure you, are genuinely heart felt – not bother you?”

      Strike – “Boycotts directed at Jews has a long and ugly history.” Substitute: “The directing of boycotts against Jews has a long and ugly history.”

    • neffer February 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

      One further point. While I think the noted statement goes a long way towards resolving the dispute, I do not think it goes far enough to end it. To the extent my comment suggests otherwise – and I thank a student for pointing this out to me -, I want it clear that the statement is simply not enough.

      • gkapla February 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

        Debate will be possible only when people realize that the words “Israel” and “Jews” are not (and shouldn’t be) interchangeable.

      • s6 February 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

        But 20% of Israel is Arab. Indeed, when one looks at Alice Walker’s explanation of her support of BDS, Judaism is hardly mentioned at all. Israel is a country, just like the rest of them – so it acts in its best interest, not as a proxy for an entire religion, no more than India’s actions are a proxy for all Hindus ever born (or reborn). While one can question the wisdom of the BDS recommendations – that there is an injustice is hardly a wildly slanderous claim.

    • Eli B February 4, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

      “Is the statement that there is no endorsement really true? That makes a difference in my thinking. While I do not understand why a political science department would invite a hate group to present its views for discussion, making it clear to the public and those who attend that there is no endorsement would go a long way towards resolving the dispute.”

      What, exactly, is supposed to be the standard here, pray tell? The statements made by Brooklyn College regarding BDS, before and after the controversy arose, have been categorical. Requiring seemingly endless genuflections of this sort inevitably coarsen the discourse. And in any case, the principle here, that a co-sponsorship is equal to endorsement, doesn’t actually exist; it was invented by those who would seek to shut these speakers out completely. There’s a clear double-standard here, between what certain groups find laudable – who doubts they would then praise a university’s endorsement? especially when institutions of higher learning are constantly demonized – and what they find objectionable.

      The rest of your post is a typical conflation of any and all actions against Israel to be anti-Semitic. Thus your righteous indignation (in that context understandable). You would do better to actually make a case than seek to prevent others from making theirs and coming off as a reactionary buffoon spouting programmed talking points.

      Seriously. I wonder if the following was written by an anti-Semite?

      http://mondoweiss.net/2012/08/judith-butler-responds-to-attack-i-affirm-a-judaism-that-is-not-associated-with-state-violence.html

      And I dare you to dismiss the article outright simply because it is hosted by mondoweiss.

      As for the alleged hypocrisy of airing BDS because BDS is allegedly about infringing on free speech…I’m afraid you don’t understand the objection to state meddling at universities, or what free speech is, in the slightest.

      And as hasbarists are so fond of pointing out, 20% of the population of Israel is Arab, and I do not see how they would escape the effects of a concerted BDS campaign unscathed. Indeed, I don’t see how they are not among the population most affected by it. Now, I do not support a BDS campaign – it is too blunt a tool, and I’m sure actually *is* supported by anti-Semites – but insinuating that those who support it are *ipso facto* anti-Semitic have a serious talking points issue (which is nothing new, but also never ceases to amaze).

      • neffer February 4, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

        Say what you will. The reality its that BDS is Antisemitic. Eliminating the one state intended to protect Jewish people in a world that on multiple occasions – enough times to fill many volumes of books – has turned against Jews is profoundly Antisemitic.

        How can you possibly not understand that? Were This not so, the opposition to Israel would not be so intense. No one is that dumb so you have to be consciously denying what you know to be true. Or you do not want to face harsh facts.

        How many times in the last have deeply Anti-Semitic

  2. neffer February 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    ‘Debate will be possible only when people realize that the words “Israel” and “Jews” are not (and shouldn’t be) interchangeable.’

    Indeed. Israel’s alleged wrongdoings would no longer be frontpage news. Israel coverage would no longer be there to keep the horror of the Arab regions from receiving the coverage it deserves. Etc.

    • s6 February 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

      I hate to break it to you, but as one of the leading nuclear powers on Earth, Israel’s actions would be plenty scrutinized no matter what. We can talk about all the other countries – and God knows that we do – but the country with far and away the largest guns in the region would be high profile.

      • neffer February 5, 2013 at 10:17 am #

        s6 writes:

        I hate to break it to you, but as one of the leading nuclear powers on Earth, Israel’s actions would be plenty scrutinized no matter what. We can talk about all the other countries – and God knows that we do – but the country with far and away the largest guns in the region would be high profile.

        But the issue would not have the obsessiveness, would not be the subject of campus political – actually hate – activity, would not involve a demonization campaign and would note the obvious, that the Arab side has been its own worst enemy in the dispute such that this is not merely Israelis being bad but both sides taking positions and doing things that are, at times, counterproductive. China has a much larger nuclear program than Israel. Pakistan, which is a very unstable country, has nuclear weapons. Are there campus efforts to deligitimize Pakistan or China? Of course not.

        Not to put too hard a foot onto what you write but, in 2002, Pakistan and India almost went to war and were threatening to use nuclear weapons on each other. No one on any campus is screaming at Pakistan to vanish from the pages of history. And, Pakistan, along with India, displaced millions of people upon its founding – millions, as in 14 million people and 1 million of those people died. And, neither side permits the return of the original refugees or their offspring. Why is there no outrage? Could it be that Jews are not involved?

    • neffer February 4, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

      How many times in the last have deeply Antisemitic movements formed in the last hundred years? Yet you think because the state built by Jews is a state that opposition does not arise primarily because Jews are involved? That would beat the historical odds, don’t you think?

      More than likely the leaders of the movement hate Jews. The odds certainly make it really likely. I think its a very safe bet.

  3. Patrick Sullivan February 4, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    Corey,

    I’ve served on the city-wide school board (Panel for Educational Policy) for five years as an appointee of the Manhattan borough president and in that time we’ve had four CUNY school presidents serve as appointees of Mayor Bloomberg. They were Edison Jackson (Medgar Evers), David Chang (Brooklyn Polytechnic), Tomas Morales (College of Staten Island), and Eduardo Marti (Queensborough Community College).

    All four served under the condition that they would support Bloomberg administration policies without question. In Bloomberg’s words, “They’re my appointees and they are going to vote for things I believe in”. These men did not engage in exploration of the issues before the Panel, in fact, they rarely spoke at all. So Bloomberg has a clear record of expecting CUNY presidents to do what he wants them to do.

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