Tag Archives: Karen Gould

Brooklyn BDS Saga Continues: NYC Councilman Lewis Fidler Demands Poli Sci Hire Pro-Israel Faculty

7 May

New York City Councilman Lewis Fidler, the assistant majority leader who led the charge against my department’s co-sponsorship of a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) forum in February, is back in the saddle.

This time, according to The Jewish Week, he—and four other members of City Council—are demanding that the CUNY administration

develop a plan to “level the playing field” at Brooklyn’s political science department by endowing “a chair in the department for a visiting professor from Israel who reflects a more sympathetic view” about the country’s future.

Hardcore supporters of the State of Israel, off and on campus, have been gunning for my department for some time. Last month, The Jewish Week reported that the campus Hillel group and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York had teamed up to issue a statement claiming that

…the [BDS] forum also raised other issues that need to be addressed by the college’s administration, including the “eagerness of the Political Science Department to take positions that are politically-oriented,” the department’s hiring practices and a perception on the part of Jewish students that the faculty is “woefully biased” against Israel.

So now we have Fidler and four other officials of the state trying to make good on that promise by having the government impose a state-approved litmus test about who can and cannot get hired at CUNY.

Fidler, you’ll recall, is not shy about using state power to impose his views on what gets said on college campuses. Not only did he oppose the department’s co-sponsorship of the BDS forum, but he threatened to withhold government money from CUNY if it didn’t comply with his ideological demands. As he wrote to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould in late January:

A significant portion of the funding for CUNY schools comes directly from the tax dollars of the people of the State and City of New York. Every year, we legislators are asked for additional funding to support programs and initiatives at these schools and we fight hard to secure those funds. Every one of those dollars given to CUNY, and Brooklyn College, means one less dollar going to some other worthy purpose. We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City—many of who would feel targeted and demonized by this program—want their tax money to be spent on.

We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong. So, should this event occur, we must strongly oppose it and ask you to reconsider any official support or sponsorship.

Fidler lost that round soundly. Given that he’s entering this one with even fewer allies, I assume he’ll lose this one too.  But who knows?

Update (May 7, 8:30 am)

Commenter Patrick Sullivan just brought this article to my attention. At a community forum over the weekend, mayoral candidates were grilled about their positions on the Brooklyn College BDS panel controversy:

Debate over the much-talked about Brooklyn College panel on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel broke out in response to an audience question. Save for Liu, the top candidates doubled-down on their positions. “If you look at Brooklyn College, that wasn’t a question of freedom of speech, it was a question of should the college Political Science department be sponsoring a forum that, in that case, that pushed hate,” said Thompson, who said that both sides should have been represented at the panel that featured Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler, two proponents of BDS. Thompson spoke out against the BDS panel before it occurred alongside Dov Hikind, a right-wing (though a Democrat) pusher of Islamophobia linked to Jewish extremist groups. Thompson was booed at the forum for the answer, and it prompted a rejoinder from Albanese.

“What you don’t want is telling academics what should be taught, be said on a campus. I believe in more speech,” said Albanese. After De Blasio agreed with Thompson–and said that public colleges in particular should provide all viewpoints–Albanese said, “let me say this…Bill was just pandering.” After Albanese’s remarks, Thompson added, “if the Political Science Department is sponsoring the Klan, I want to have both sides put forward. That’s all I said.”

Thompson, De Blasio, Quinn and Liu signed a letter organized by Congressman Jerry Nadler that spoke out against BDS and said that they were “concerned that an academic department has decided to formally endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side of a highly-charged issue…By excluding alternative positions from an event they are sponsoring, the Political Science Department has actually stifled free speech by preventing honest, open debate.” A second letter from the same group backtracked slightly.

At the forum, Liu backtracked further on his actions in the lead-up to the BDS panel and noted that the Political Science Department routinely sponsors a variety of events, which garnered applause. “It was a very quick letter, we were given very short time to do it, something that in hindsight I shouldn’t have signed, and that’s why we had the second letter to clarify our position.”

When Quinn doubled-down on her position and said that it was important to have “both sides” of the debate on BDS at the event, the crowd booed once again.

One politician doubles down, one politician backs down, and one student stands up

5 Feb

So much has happened today it’s hard to keep up.  So a quick round-up of the news (and some items from yesterday).

1. The major development of the day is that City Councilwoman Letitia James has publicly retracted her signature to that Fidler letter, which threatens to cut off funding to Brooklyn College and CUNY, a point Fidler doubled down on in an interview tonight.

2. This morning, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould delivered a powerful defense of our department and of academic freedom.

3. That defense has now been endorsed by the New York Times. In a strong editorial, the Times writes:

We do, however, strongly defend the decision by Brooklyn College President Karen Gould to proceed with the event, despite withering criticism by opponents and threats by at least 10 City Council members to cut city funding for the college. Such intimidation chills debate and makes a mockery of the ideals of academic freedom.

The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests.

4.  This morning, Glenn Greenwald made the strongest argument for why this has become a classic showdown between the state and the freedom to propound heterodox and alternative views. We are now, as Glenn reminds us, reprising the battle between Guiliani and the Brooklyn Museum. Only it’s the City Council and Brooklyn College. And as I asked earlier in the day: Where does Mike Bloomberg stand on this? This article in the Forward also focuses us on the question of what will the state do.

5. My colleague Louis Fishman in the history department, who’s a specialist in the history of the Middle East, wrote a terrific post today. You should read it.

6. The story has made its way into the Los Angeles Times, SalonDaily Beast (again), and Huffington Post, among other places.

7. One small point that has gotten very little attention in all this brouhaha. Our department wrote a letter to our students over the weekend (which we also issued as a public statement). We reiterated our long-standing policy of entertaining requests for co-sponsorship from any and all student groups, departments, and programs, but we also made a point of noting that “since this controversy broke, no group has contacted the political science chair requesting the department’s co-sponsorship of a specific event or actual speaker representing alternative or opposing views.” To date, we still not have received any such request.

8. There is a petition out there, which has garnered more than 1500 signatures in less than 24 hours. Please sign and circulate it; there is a plan, I’m told, to present it at some point later this week.

9. I don’t have phone numbers or contacts, but I urge you to find them and call/email the city councilors on this letter, sans Letitia James, who are standing by their threat to de-fund CUNY if Brooklyn College does not meet their demands that we speak only the words they want spoken. I also urge you to contact any of the progressive officials who signed off on this letter, particularly the members of Congress—sans Nadler; he’s hopeless—and Bill de Blasio and Brad Lander.

10. If you haven’t had a chance yet to watch Chris Hayes’s magnificent summation of everything that’s at stake in this controversy, well, watch it. Here.

11. And now my favorite moment in this whole controversy. Zujaja Tauqeer, a former student in my modern political thought class and now a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, wrote a terrific letter to President Gould, laying out her position on this controversy. No matter how difficult things can get at Brooklyn College and at CUNY, it is students like Zujaja who remind me of what I’m doing and why I am doing it. She gets the last word.

Dear President Gould,

I hope this letter finds you well. As a Brooklyn College alumnus, a Rhodes Scholar, and the commencement speaker and class representative for the 2011 graduating class, I urge you to continue upholding the principles of academic freedom and to allow the Political Science Department to co-sponsor, as originally planned, the panel discussion on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has been scheduled to take place at BC.

As you and Provost Tramontano are aware, I know all too well how fragile freedom of speech can be. As a beneficiary of political asylum by the US, I am horrified to see the kinds of perverse tactics used to marginalize minority communities and viewpoints in less developed countries being introduced in an American public educational institution for the express purpose of stifling the freedom of speech, and therefore the freedom of conscience, of students and faculty. Elected officials and trustees who hold the public trust are now trying to force you to join them in betraying that very trust. They are seeking to deprive the Political Science Department of its right—and responsibility—to sponsor discussions that may conflict with the convictions of those in a position of power.

As a Rhodes Scholar selected from Brooklyn College, I have tried my utmost to represent my alma mater as a progressive institution whose commitment to freedom and toleration vindicate the sacrifices students and alumni like myself have made to pursue a liberal arts education here. Though in the past BC has stumbled in its effort to preserve civil liberties on campus, I am confident that as president you will capably show that academic freedom, so crucial to critical scholarship and democratic citizenship, is non-negotiable.

I recall at this time the motto of our school—nil sine magno labore. We cannot ensure for future students and faculty the freedoms promised to them as citizens of this country if we as an institution back down from the effort needed to uphold those very freedoms now when they are threatened by vested interests. If I can support you in any way in helping to make this case to my fellow alumni, our elected officials, and our donors, please do not hesitate to call upon me.

Sincerely,

Zujaja Tauqeer ‘11

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.

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