Tag Archives: Brooklyn College

A Palestinian Exception to the First Amendment

9 Sep

Steven Salaita spoke today at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to the YMCA, where the event was held, some 400 students, faculty, staff, and supporters turned up.

Salaita opened with a statement. Here are some excerpts:

My name is Steven Salaita. I am a professor with an accomplished scholarly record; I have been a fair and devoted teacher to hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students; I have been a valued and open-minded colleague to numerous faculty across disciplines and universities. My ideas and my identity are far more substantive and complex than the recent characterizations based on a selected handful of my Twitter posts.

Two weeks before my start date, and without any warning, I received a summary letter from University Chancellor Phyllis Wise informing me that my position was terminated, but with no explanation or opportunity to challenge her unilateral decision. As a result, my family has no income, no health insurance, and no home of our own. Our young son has been left without a preschool. I have lost the great achievement of a scholarly career – lifetime tenure, with its promised protections of academic freedom.

Even more troubling are the documented revelations that the decision to terminate me is a result of pressure from wealthy donors – individuals who expressly dislike my political views. As the Center for Constitutional Rights and other groups have been tracking, this is part of a nationwide, concerted effort by wealthy and well-organized groups to attack pro-Palestinian students and faculty and silence their speech. This risks creating a Palestinian exception to the First Amendment and to academic freedom.

I am here to reaffirm my commitment to teaching and to a position with the American Indian Studies program at UIUC. I reiterate the demand that the University recognize the importance of respecting the faculty’s hiring decision and reinstate me. It is my sincere hope that I can – as a member of this academic institution – engage with the entire University community in a constructive conversation about the substance of my viewpoints on Palestinian human rights and about the values of academic freedom.

For me, the best part of his press conference was the Q and A with the media, which begins at 40:50 in the video below. I would encourage everyone to watch it because it gives you the best sense of Salaita the man, the thinker, and the teacher. As I’ve said, I don’t know Salaita personally, except through our interactions on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve never met him or heard him speak. I haven’t read his academic writings. But listening to and watching him field questions, it became clear to me why the American Indian Studies department was so eager to hire him.

My favorite exchange occurs at 43:30. Someone in the media asks him why he would want to still come and teach at UIUC. Looking around the room, which is filled with students, Salaita says:

The question is—and if I’m summarizing it incorrectly let me know—some people are wondering why I would want to work here after all of this has happened and whether it might be uncomfortable. The answer is…the answer is in this room.

Perfect.

 

 

One other point to note. At 55:00, one of Salaita’s attorneys is asked about what the litigation process would look like. The attorney replies:

There’s no question that if there is litigation there will be an intensive document retrieval process that will involve trying to get at the heart of exactly what the motivation was for this decision. We think, based on what is already known, the university is going to have some very hard arguments. But we will learn a lot. We will also be able to take depositions. And that is an opportunity to sit people down and ask them about their role in this process, their decision-making and other things. Again, Professor Salaita’s goal is not to have to go down that road. But he is prepared to do so if necessary.

I’ve long felt that one of the things that has to make the university nervous is the prospect of litigation. Yes, the university has tons of money and lawyers. But it also has interests. And one of those interests is protecting the privacy of its donors. I can’t for the life of me believe that the university really wants to risk the rage and rancor of donors having their names dragged into the harsh glare of the public spotlight. Once this case gets into court—and most experts, regardless of which side they fall, believe that Salaita has a good chance of getting into court—there will be discovery motions that will turn up all sorts of paper. What we’ve seen already is damning and embarrassing. But think about what could be coming down the pike: not only emails to and fro, but also records of phone calls, transcripts of meetings, and more. Even if the university were to win the case, they’d have to lose a lot in order to do so.

In other news, Chancellor Wise was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune.

On Monday, Wise acknowledged in an interview that she wished she had “been more consultative” before rescinding Salaita’s job offer, and said it could have led her to a different decision. She said the situation has been “challenging.”

She also said there was “no possibility” that he would work at the U. of I.

“I wish I had not consulted with just a few people and then written the letter to Professor Salaita,” Wise said. “I don’t know what the consultation would have led me to do.”

This is now the third time that Wise has said that she regrets not consulting with other voices on the campus. But this is the first time that she’s positively stated that not only did her firing of Salaita not reflect her own position, but also that she might have reached a different decision than the one she reached had she consulted other voices. Which is precisely the argument that so many of us have been making about whose voices Wise did and did not heed in this process. It almost seems as if she’s trying to give Salaita evidence for his case.

Last, Katherine Franke, who’s been leading the legal academic community on this issue, and Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a PhD candidate in political science at the CUNY Graduate Center, appeared today on Democracy Now.

I urge you to listen to the interview, in particular the part that begins at 47:00. There Kris, whom I know personally, speaks about his experience as an adjunct at Brooklyn College, where he was hired by my department to teach a course on Middle East politics for the spring of 2011 and then fired before the course began. Sound familiar? The reason he was fired? Pro-Israel forces objected to something he had written. Sound familiar? Here’s what one of the leaders of those forces, NYS Assemblyman Dov Hikind, said at the time about an academic paper Kris had written on suicide bombers:

Hikind, a staunch ally of Israel, sent a letter on Monday to Karen Gould, the college’s president, with a copy to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, in which he questioned the adjunct’s appointment. Calling Petersen-Overton “an overt supporter of terrorism,” Hikind said he was “better suited for a teaching position at the Islamic University of Gaza.”

Hikind, who said he earned his master’s degree in political science from Brooklyn College, told Inside Higher Ed that he reached these conclusions after spending “countless hours” reading the newly hired adjunct’s work. This included, chiefly, his unpublished paper, “Inventing the Martyr: Struggle, Sacrifice and the Signification of Palestinian National Identity,” in which he examines martyrdom as it “embodies ideals of struggle and sacrifice” in the context of national identity. Hikind said such works reflect an effort to “understand” suicide bombers. “There’s nothing to understand about someone who murders women and children,” he said. “You condemn.”

Kris didn’t say anything about anti-Semitism becoming honorable, he didn’t say anything about settlers going missing, he didn’t say anything about necklaces of teeth. His crime was trying “to understand about someone who murders women and children.” As Dostoevsky did in Crime and Punishment. That was enough to get him fired.

This is why I come to this whole Salaita affair with a bit of skepticism about the tweets. It’s skepticism born of my own personal experience with four controversial fights over Israel/Palestine. If it’s not the tweets, it’s the grad student paper trying to understand suicide bombers. If it’s not the grad student paper trying to understand suicide bombers, it’s the Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright who cannot receive an honorary degree because he’s voiced criticism of Israel. If it’s not the Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright who cannot receive an honorary degree because he’s voiced criticism of Israel, it’s the New York City Council threatening CUNY’s funding because the political science department at Brooklyn College is co-sponsoring—not endorsing, not organizing, not funding, but co-sponsoring—a panel on BDS. If it’s not the New York City Council threatening CUNY’s funding because the political science department at Brooklyn College is co-sponsoring a panel on BDS, it’s the NYS Legislature threatening a college’s funding if it financially supports individual faculty membership in the American Studies Association, which supports the academic boycott of Israel.

Every time it’s the same goddam story: supporters of Israel, increasingly anxious over the way the conversation about Israel is going in this country, flexing their muscles to muzzle a voice, to stop a debate. (Just today Buzzfeed is reporting that AIPAC is looking for ways to pass federal legislation to stop BDS in its tracks.) A Palestinian exception to the First Amendment?

Thankfully, in Kris’s case, we were able to rally a national campaign of prominent academics, particularly in political science, to support his reinstatement. We made his case a national story. Sound familiar?

And here’s the best part, dear reader: We won.

Since I came onto the interwebs, I’ve been involved in five fights over the place of Israel/Palestine in academe: the Petersen-Overton fight, which we won; the Tony Kushner fight, which we won; the BDS at Brooklyn College fight, which we won, the NYS Assembly fight, which we won, and now the Salaita affair.

There is a Palestinian exception to the First Amendment. And we’re fighting to end it. Because that’s the way the First Amendment has always advanced in this country: not simply through reasoned argument, but through struggle. Vorwärts!

 

I’ve Looked at BDS from Both Sides Now. Oh, wait…(Updated)

17 Jan

Last year, Eric Alterman criticized my department for co-sponsoring a panel on BDS “at which its [BDS's] arguments would be presented without opposition or clarification from its opponents.”

This year, Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College decided to give Alterman an opportunity to make good on his complaint. They invited him to debate Max Blumenthal on the question: “What would a just settlement of the Israel/Palestine issue be, and how can it be brought about?”

Alterman’s response to their invitation? “No thanks.” That was it. To students at his very own college, some of whom might even be in his classes.

Perhaps if the students agreed to pony up $10,000 to pay Alterman, he’d consider.

It’s hard to organize a balanced panel if the people criticizing you for lack of balance refuse to participate.

Next time you want to know why the discussion on BDS is one-sided, ask Eric Alterman.

In the meantime….

Update (5 pm)

It just occurred to me: Eric Alterman is free to refuse to debate Max Blumenthal, that is, not to engage in a conversation on his campus organized by students on his campus—and for the record I believe that he is—but American academics are obligated to engage in an exchange with Israeli academic institutions. Okay…

More Information on Brooklyn College Worker Ed Center

30 Jul

David Laibman, a professor emeritus of economics at Brooklyn College, has been circulating a critical response to my post about the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education. I’d prefer not to get into the weeds of his various allegations; as he admits several times, he has no knowledge of most of the facts and events that led the Brooklyn College administration and the New York State Attorney General’s office to take the actions they have taken.

But Professor Laibman does make two claims that merit a response:

I have personal knowledge about the vicious and irresponsible behavior of the Department, in summarily firing the former Director of the CWE, and his secretary, and depriving the faculty and students, in Spring 2012, of all continuity, information, support and guidance.  The place was literally abandoned.

It is not possible for Professor Laibman to have personal knowledge of the political science department’s firing of the former director for the simple reason that the political science department did not fire the former director. As anyone with personal knowledge of this case knows, it was the Brooklyn College president who removed this individual from his position as director (he has not been fired as a professor, though disciplinary charges are currently being pursued). Two other full-time employees, neither of whom was the director’s secretary (both were administrators at the Center), were also removed from their positions by the administration.

Though Professor Laibman does not raise this issue, I should add that in addition to two full-time administrators, the Center had on its payroll approximately 25 part-time employees. By way of comparison, the political science department, which serves twice as many students on campus, employs only one full-time administrator and one part-time employee.

As for the Center being “literally abandoned,” I can understand why Professor Laibman might have had that impression. Much of the daily activity at the Center that he had been witness to prior to my tenure was the coming and going of the students, faculty, and staff of a French management school to which the Center’s leadership had been quietly renting space. (Indeed, when I became director I found written instructions to the Center staff telling them to remove the management school’s signs from its offices at 5 pm, when the worker education students and faculty began to arrive for their classes.) Those hundreds of people that Professor Laibman saw in the center’s classrooms, its computer lab, its conference room, and offices—Monday through Friday, 9 to 5—were not Brooklyn College or CUNY folks but management students, faculty, and staff from abroad.

One of the first actions the Brooklyn College administration took after I became interim director was to remove this management school from the premises so that our Brooklyn College students and staff could use the computer lab, conference room, and classrooms that previously had been occupied by management school students and staff. The administration simply did not believe that renting out space to a management school was consistent with the mission of a worker education center.

In addition to this French management school, the Center’s former leadership had also been quietly renting space to a French film school. In order to house this film school, the former leadership took away a spacious office from Working USA, which is a prominent labor journal edited by Professor Manny Ness, and relocated Ness and his journal in an office that was about the size of a large broom closet.

Once the French film school was removed by the Brooklyn College administration (for the same reason it removed the management school), I promptly returned that larger office to Working USA and to Professor Ness so that he could meet with students and union activists, conduct his research, and edit his labor journal in a proper space. (Professor Ness is currently spearheading this petition drive on behalf of the old center; I have not spoken with him, so I have no idea why he wishes to return to a regime that put the needs of a French film school above those of his labor journal, his labor research, his students, and his work with the labor movement.)

On a different note, one response I’ve heard from defenders of the old regime at the Center is that it serves working students, students of color, immigrant students, and union members. As any faculty member throughout the CUNY system will testify, most if not all of our students work, and many are immigrants and/or of color. Many of our students are union members; that has certainly been my experience on the Brooklyn College campus. To the extent that defenders of the old regime trumpet these demographic characteristics of the Center, they are merely stating that the Center is no different from CUNY as a whole.

Fair-minded defenders of the Center also argue that older students who work need a space in lower Manhattan where they can pursue an MA. That is a fair and legitimate point. If that’s the goal, however, proponents should simply demand that of the administration and not conflate that demand with either a return to the old regime or with the call for a worker education center (there is a higher proportion, after all, of MA students in political science on the Brooklyn College campus who fit this profile of older students who work than there is at the Center).

Nor should proponents of this vision conflate that demand with the political science department running an extensive MA program in lower Manhattan. If what people want is the opportunity to get an MA in lower Manhattan, there is no reason it should be restricted to political science. Why not petition the administration to provide opportunities to seek an MA in multiple disciplines like history, English, and sociology? In other words, what people seem to really want is for Brooklyn College to set up a satellite campus in lower Manhattan, much as City College has done with its liberal studies program at 25 Broadway. They should simply ask for that—and understand that a satellite campus, with all its facilities and requirements, must be managed by an administration, not a department or member of the faculty.

There is no going back to the old regime; we need a clean break with the past. The best thing people who do care about a labor center can do is to formulate a new vision for labor-related programs and worker education at Brooklyn College, to organize and agitate for that vision, and to press the administration to carry it out. Thus far, very few of the full-time faculty (five, at last count) and very few students at Brooklyn College or members of our faculty and staff union have signed onto this petition. But I know there are many more faculty and students on campus who care about the ideals and mission of worker education and labor. I strongly encourage all of you who do care to start a fresh discussion and campaign, one not tied to this old regime, and to create something that lives up to the ideals that so many of us share.

Because I will be stepping down as interim director in a matter of weeks, and because I do not believe it is productive to continue a public back and forth with defenders of the old regime, this will be my last post on this matter. I’ll leave it to the members of Brooklyn College and the wider CUNY community to debate and discuss where we go from here.

Please do not sign Brooklyn College Worker Ed Petition

26 Jul

A petition titled “Save Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education” is currently being circulated on the internet. As the interim director of that center, a former union organizer, a vocal advocate of labor rights, and a firm believer in worker education, I am asking people NOT to sign this petition.

By way of background, the Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE) was historically run by a small group of faculty in my department (political science). In 2011, the department elected a new chair and a new executive committee, including myself. We discovered that the GCWE was suffering from severely compromised academic standards. We also found evidence of financial wrongdoing.

The Brooklyn College administration took immediate action and removed the director of the GCWE. I was appointed interim director in 2012 by Kimberley Phillips, then dean of the humanities and social sciences and a prominent labor historian in her own right (Phillips is also a past president of the Labor and Working-Class History Association). As per my agreement with the administration, I will be stepping down from this position at the end of August so that I can finish my sabbatical, which I had to interrupt in order to take on these responsibilities.

CUNY has since conducted an investigation of the GCWE and pursued disciplinary charges. The Attorney General’s office of the State of New York has also launched an investigation, and I have been questioned by members of that office. I am not privy to the details of these investigations and charges, so I won’t speak about them here.

But here is what I can say about the GCWE prior to my tenure.

The centerpiece of the GCWE is a masters’ program in urban policy and administration (UPA), which is housed in the political science department. Prior to the election of our current chair and executive committee, that program was run with no oversight by the chair or the executive committee. There was no formal admissions committee constituted by the chair and comprised of department faculty. Admissions rates ran from roughly 85 to 95%. The UPA program had no exit requirements such as a masters’ thesis or comprehensive exam, as is the case with other masters programs at Brooklyn College and elsewhere. The program’s curricular offerings and adjunct faculty were not vetted or evaluated by the chair or the executive committee.

Since the election of our new department leadership and my taking over the Center, we have taken the necessary steps to address these problems, including tightening our admissions standards.

Though the GCWE is described by the creators of this petition as possessing an “incredible legacy” of worker education, the fact is that it has not been a worker education center for some time, if ever. In 2000, an external evaluation report, which was co-authored by one of the leading labor scholars in the country, declared that “the program itself has little labor emphasis or worker education components….There is no clear focus around the implicit labor and worker orientation of the program.”

Despite that report and its recommendations, little at the GCWE changed in subsequent years, as I discovered when I became interim director. A report in 2012 that I co-authored with nationally recognized labor scholars Dorian Warren, Stephanie Luce, Josh Freeman, and Carolina Bank-Muñoz found that:

None of the six course requirements of the program has anything to do with labor or workers. The GCWE does offer two labor-oriented courses, but only infrequently. Any student could get through the MA program without having read, written, or spoken about a labor-related topic.

Unlike other labor-oriented programs—for example, the Murphy Institute [at CUNY]—the GCWE does not have an agreement with labor unions to recruit and help fund potential MA students from unions or government agencies. And unlike Murphy, the GCWE does not have a labor advisory board that would help inform and guide curricular decisions to benefit workers.

Though nearly 90% of GCWE students are over 25 and thus probably work (almost 100 percent are part-time students), Brooklyn College’s political science masters’ program as a whole has an even higher ratio of over-25 students, and more than 80% of all Brooklyn College masters students are part-time students. There is little in the demographics of the UPA masters program that could be characterized as worker-oriented and that distinguishes it, in that regard, from any other masters program run by Brooklyn College.

Whether the issue is curriculum, demographics, recruitment, or governance, there is no distinctive labor dimension to the MA program.

Our report went onto make several recommendations as to how the GCWE could be reconstituted with a stronger labor focus; those recommendations were given to the Brooklyn College administration.

In the past year, the political science faculty has had to make some difficult decisions about our involvement with the GCWE. It is our belief that, given the interests and strengths of our department, the UPA program, for which we are responsible, ought to focus on urban politics (indeed, we have just hired a specialist in urban politics). Although academic disciplines like history and sociology have flourishing sub-fields in labor studies, political science does not, which makes recruitment of full-time faculty in that field difficult. Given the troubled history of the center itself, we also believe faculty and students would be better served if our UPA program were housed on the Brooklyn College campus rather than at 25 Broadway in lower Manhattan, where it is currently housed.

These decisions, it should be stressed, are the decisions of the political science faculty. They are not, nor should they be, the decisions of the Brooklyn College administration.

By calling on the Brooklyn College administration to “fully restore the Urban & Policy Administration…programs at the Downtown Manhattan campus of the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education,” this petition and its signers are asking the administration to overturn the faculty’s deliberations and decisions, to force upon us curricular and admissions policies we have foresworn, and to tell us who we must hire.

That such a petition is being circulated by union activists and faculty who in any other circumstance would decry—and rightly so—such administrative interference as a violation of academic freedom is troubling. For that is what this petition is: a call to compromise the academic freedom and educational integrity of my department.

The petition also claims that the “dismantling of this long-standing program ranks with other attacks on working people across the country.” As someone who has watched that attack and reported on it here, who has close friends and colleagues in other worker education centers across the country—which are being attacked by anti-labor politicians—I find this language cynical in the extreme. It uses people’s legitimate concerns about the status of workers and worker education as a cover under which to smuggle a call for the restoration of a worker education program that has long since ceased to be a worker education program (in fact, the petition explicitly and repeatedly uses the language of restoration).

If people wish to have a discussion about the creation of a legitimate worker education program at Brooklyn College—rather than the restoration of a program that never was—I would welcome that. I’m sure that many of the individuals who signed this petition sincerely believed they were contributing to that end, which I share. Indeed, throughout this past year I have tried to have such a discussion.

But that discussion will not be advanced by this petition, which is far more concerned with restoring the lost privileges and prerogatives of a few individuals (“Reinstate the quality faculty members who previously taught at the center”; “Restore a full-time academic advisor”; “full restoration of the educational and support services”) who benefited from the old regime than it is with the creation of a genuine labor studies program or worker education center.

I urge you not to sign this petition, to ask MoveOn.org to remove your name if you have, to declare publicly that you wish to remove your name if MoveOn.org can’t or won’t, and to circulate this statement widely.

I’m told that if you email petitions@moveon.org and ask that your name be removed, they will do so promptly.

Update (August 3, 8 pm)

I wrote a second post on this issue, which provides more details and background. For folks who didn’t see it, I’m reproducing it here in its entirety.

David Laibman, a professor emeritus of economics at Brooklyn College, has been circulating a critical response to my post about the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education. I’d prefer not to get into the weeds of his various allegations; as he admits several times, he has no knowledge of most of the facts and events that led the Brooklyn College administration and the New York State Attorney General’s office to take the actions they have taken.

But Professor Laibman does make two claims that merit a response:

I have personal knowledge about the vicious and irresponsible behavior of the Department, in summarily firing the former Director of the CWE, and his secretary, and depriving the faculty and students, in Spring 2012, of all continuity, information, support and guidance.  The place was literally abandoned.

It is not possible for Professor Laibman to have personal knowledge of the political science department’s firing of the former director for the simple reason that the political science department did not fire the former director. As anyone with personal knowledge of this case knows, it was the Brooklyn College president who removed this individual from his position as director (he has not been fired as a professor, though disciplinary charges are currently being pursued). Two other full-time employees, neither of whom was the director’s secretary (both were administrators at the Center), were also removed from their positions by the administration.

Though Professor Laibman does not raise this issue, I should add that in addition to two full-time administrators, the Center had on its payroll approximately 25 part-time employees. By way of comparison, the political science department, which serves twice as many students on campus, employs only one full-time administrator and one part-time employee.

As for the Center being “literally abandoned,” I can understand why Professor Laibman might have had that impression. Much of the daily activity at the Center that he had been witness to prior to my tenure was the coming and going of the students, faculty, and staff of a French management school to which the Center’s leadership had been quietly renting space. (Indeed, when I became director I found written instructions to the Center staff telling them to remove the management school’s signs from its offices at 5 pm, when the worker education students and faculty began to arrive for their classes.) Those hundreds of people that Professor Laibman saw in the center’s classrooms, its computer lab, its conference room, and offices—Monday through Friday, 9 to 5—were not Brooklyn College or CUNY folks but management students, faculty, and staff from abroad.

One of the first actions the Brooklyn College administration took after I became interim director was to remove this management school from the premises so that our Brooklyn College students and staff could use the computer lab, conference room, and classrooms that previously had been occupied by management school students and staff. The administration simply did not believe that renting out space to a management school was consistent with the mission of a worker education center.

In addition to this French management school, the Center’s former leadership had also been quietly renting space to a French film school. In order to house this film school, the former leadership took away a spacious office from Working USA, which is a prominent labor journal edited by Professor Manny Ness, and relocated Ness and his journal in an office that was about the size of a large broom closet.

Once the French film school was removed by the Brooklyn College administration (for the same reason it removed the management school), I promptly returned that larger office to Working USA and to Professor Ness so that he could meet with students and union activists, conduct his research, and edit his labor journal in a proper space. (Professor Ness is currently spearheading this petition drive on behalf of the old center; I have not spoken with him, so I have no idea why he wishes to return to a regime that put the needs of a French film school above those of his labor journal, his labor research, his students, and his work with the labor movement.)

On a different note, one response I’ve heard from defenders of the old regime at the Center is that it serves working students, students of color, immigrant students, and union members. As any faculty member throughout the CUNY system will testify, most if not all of our students work, and many are immigrants and/or of color. Many of our students are union members; that has certainly been my experience on the Brooklyn College campus. To the extent that defenders of the old regime trumpet these demographic characteristics of the Center, they are merely stating that the Center is no different from CUNY as a whole.

Fair-minded defenders of the Center also argue that older students who work need a space in lower Manhattan where they can pursue an MA. That is a fair and legitimate point. If that’s the goal, however, proponents should simply demand that of the administration and not conflate that demand with either a return to the old regime or with the call for a worker education center (there is a higher proportion, after all, of MA students in political science on the Brooklyn College campus who fit this profile of older students who work than there is at the Center).

Nor should proponents of this vision conflate that demand with the political science department running an extensive MA program in lower Manhattan. If what people want is the opportunity to get an MA in lower Manhattan, there is no reason it should be restricted to political science. Why not petition the administration to provide opportunities to seek an MA in multiple disciplines like history, English, and sociology? In other words, what people seem to really want is for Brooklyn College to set up a satellite campus in lower Manhattan, much as City College has done with its liberal studies program at 25 Broadway. They should simply ask for that—and understand that a satellite campus, with all its facilities and requirements, must be managed by an administration, not a department or member of the faculty.

There is no going back to the old regime; we need a clean break with the past. The best thing people who do care about a labor center can do is to formulate a new vision for labor-related programs and worker education at Brooklyn College, to organize and agitate for that vision, and to press the administration to carry it out. Thus far, very few of the full-time faculty (five, at last count) and very few students at Brooklyn College or members of our faculty and staff union have signed onto this petition. But I know there are many more faculty and students on campus who care about the ideals and mission of worker education and labor. I strongly encourage all of you who do care to start a fresh discussion and campaign, one not tied to this old regime, and to create something that lives up to the ideals that so many of us share.

Because I will be stepping down as interim director in a matter of weeks, and because I do not believe it is productive to continue a public back and forth with defenders of the old regime, this will be my last post on this matter. I’ll leave it to the members of Brooklyn College and the wider CUNY community to debate and discuss where we go from here.

What do Glenn Greenwald, Alan Dershowitz, and the Israeli UN Ambassador have in common?

27 Feb

Glenn Greenwald will be delivering the Brooklyn College political science department’s 39th annual Samuel J. Konefsky Memorial Lecture this year.  The topic of the lecture: “Civil Liberties and Endless War in the Age of Obama.” The lecture will be held on Monday, March 4, at 1 pm.  In the Gold Room (6th Floor) of SUBO, which is the student center building, located at Campus Road and 27th Street. The lecture is open to the public.

Like Alan Dershowitz, a previous Konefsky Lecturer, Greenwald will be speaking alone. Like the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Greenwald will balance himself.

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.

The Question of Palestine at Brooklyn College, Then and Now

3 Feb

In 1942, Brooklyn College hired a young instructor to teach a summer course on Modern European history. Though academically trained, the instructor was primarily known as the author of a series of incendiary articles in the Jewish press on Jewish politics and Zionism.

An active though ambivalent Zionist, the instructor did not shy from scorching criticism of the movement for Jewish settlement in Palestine. She had already come to some unsettling conclusions in private. In an unpublished essay, she compared the Zionists to the Nazis, arguing that both movements assumed that the Jews were “totally foreign” to other peoples based on their “inalterable substance.” She wrote in a letter that she found “this territorial experiment” of the Jews in Palestine “increasingly problematic.” By the spring of 1942, she was more public in her criticisms. In March, she wrote that the Irgun—the Jewish paramilitary group whose most prominent commander was Menachem Begin—was a “fascist organization” that “employed terrorist methods in their fight against Arabs in Palestine.”

In the coming years, despite her continuing involvement in Zionist politics, she would grow even more critical of the movement. The very idea of the State of Israel, she would write in 1943, was “based on the idea that tomorrow’s majority [the Jews] will concede minority rights to today’s majority [the Palestinians], which indeed would be something brand-new in the history of nation-states.” In 1944, she accused a circle of Jewish fighters of believing “not only that ends justify means but also that only an end that can be achieved by terror is worth their effort.” By the end of that year, she had come to the conclusion that the extreme position within Zionism, which she consistently associated with fascism, was now the mainstream position of David Ben Gurion, and that that fascist tendency had been latent within Theodor Herzl’s original vision all along. By 1948, the year the State of Israel was founded, she would write: “The general mood of the country, moreover, has been such that terrorism and the growth of totalitarian methods are silently tolerated and secretly applauded.”

The name of that instructor was Hannah Arendt.

If Brooklyn College could tolerate the instructor who wrote those words in 1942—and would go onto write those words of 1944 and 1948—surely it, and the City of New York, can tolerate the co-sponsorship by the political science department of a panel on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2013.

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