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

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.


Zujaja Tauqeer ‘11


  1. Dave Cunningham February 5, 2013 at 3:48 am | #

    Thank you so much for raising hell about this. I would most likely not have heard of this (I live on the west coast) if it weren’t for your posts.

    Thanks again.

    Dave Cunningham

  2. Avi Bueno (@JasperAvi) February 5, 2013 at 11:49 am | #

    The problem here is hardly one of simple academic freedom. The issue at hand is not whether or not the panel discussion/presentation should be stampeded entirely (which was never an issue of contention to begin with).The concern here is that an organization whose foundation and structure are hinged on lies and hyperbole, indicating an immense academic bias, are being given a pulpit while being sponsored by the department, which receives funding to retain some vestige of academic honesty.

    When David Horowitz spoke at the college (in 2011) there were a plethora of protests and people were up in arms about his disturbing vitriol (and rightly so). However, there was no talk of having funding pulled because it wasn’t an event sponsored, cosponsored, or otherwise stamped with a seal of approval by an actual department in the college that, once again, receives its funding from the government dole, thus subjecting it to the wrath of the citizen masses when it appears they have endorsed such a stance and overstepped their bounds.

    • David Kaib February 5, 2013 at 3:44 pm | #

      Shorter Avi – this isn’t an issue of academic freedom, because I said so. But these academics shouldn’t have freedom.

    • Eli B February 5, 2013 at 8:16 pm | #

      Yeah, except that’s nonsense. And the issues of academic freedom and free speech here are even more acute, not less, because this is a public institution, and pols cutting funding to it because of its decision of who to invite or not invite to speak is a direct and obvious violation of the First Amendment. The same would be true if Brooklyn College were private but received some federal or state funding that were then put in jeopardy. Note that the government is a special entity – if it were an alumni or some other institution threatening to cut funding, that would simply be an exercise of their own right to free speech. The government, however, is different!

      Besides this, you and the rest of the comment writers I’ve read here and at lawyersgunsmoney that defend this overreach by attacking the speakers have thus far not even tried to substantiate their accusations. You and they thus want to restrict speech based on your word, and your word alone. You would do better to follow the recommendation of this writer, and expose their purported lies openly rather than simply make accusations and stifle speech:

      But it’s worse than that. The idea that the issue here is university ‘sponsorship’, as if this constitutes some kind of endorsement – the College has repeatedly stated otherwise, in no uncertain terms – is simply dishonest. Controversial speakers, including those supportive of Israel, have been sponsored by college departments as a routine matter for quite a while. The only difference here, as you pointed out, is the unpopularity of what is being expressed with a certain populace, which regards Brooklyn College especially as its own backyard. Not much of a criteria, if you ask me.

      • neffer February 5, 2013 at 11:10 pm | #

        I think the issue is the wisdom, not the legality, of inviting a hate group to speak under the sponsorship of an academic department of the school. This is contrary to the mandate of educating young men and women. Rather than learning something about the Arab Israeli dispute, students will be exposed to propaganda. The founder of the BDS movement compares Israel to Nazi Germany.

        This is not something that speaks well of either Brooklyn College or its Political Science department. To people who live outside the bubble of the academy, the school looks like it has lost its moral compass.

        The last refuge of a scoundrel is to wax patriot. This appeal to silencing of academic freedom by people objecting to a group which itself advocates silencing people is beyond hypocritical. It reveals how stupid the school and Political Science department look.

        Frankly, while the school and political science department are likely within their technical legal right, their judgment has been shown to be deficient, as educators and as human beings. They reveal themselves as no different than the wall street hucksters who stand behind legal technicality to rob people. Which is to say, this is a shameful incident.

  3. Brahmski February 7, 2013 at 8:54 pm | #

    What’s your alibi (for celebrating the New Racism)?,

Comments are closed.