Academic Freedom at CUNY–Day 3

Wel­come to the Aca­d­e­mic Free­dom at CUNY blog. We’ve been cov­er­ing the recent sit­u­a­tion of polit­i­cal purg­ing at Brook­lyn Col­lege and related news since Fri­day, Jan­u­ary 28. Most recent updates will appear at the top with a EST stamp.

We are now officially into Day4. View Monday’s updates here.

Day 3

11:45pm    Distinguished faculty and public intellectuals aren’t the only voices expressing their concern over recent events at Brooklyn College.  The administrative offices at the school have also been flooded with letters and emails from brave graduate and undergraduate students protesting the violation of academic freedom within their university. 

From the always eloquent Mike Lubing, graduate of the law school at the University of Wisconsin and currently a student in the Comparative Literature program at the CUNY Graduate Center, Graduate Teaching Fellow at Hunter College and a member of boh the Graduate Council of the Doctoral Student Council and the Comparative Literature Executive Committee:

Dear Provost Tramontano,

As a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center and a contingent faculty member at Hunter College, I am deeply concerned about your recent firing of Kristofer Peterton-Overton. You have questioned Mr. Peterton-Overton’s qualifications, but his qualifications are as strong as many of the other contingent faculty members teaching in the Political Science MA program at your school. The fact that Don Hikind sent you a letter so soon before you fired Mr. Peterton-Overton makes your actions seem more than suspicious; it seems highly likely that this firing is politically motivated, pure and simple. Furthermore, Mr. Hikind’s claim that Mr. Peterton-Overton support suicide bombers does not seem to be rooted in fact and sounds, at best, to be hyperbolic, and is denied by Mr. Peterton-Overton. We should all give Mr. Peterton-Overton the benefit of the doubt, take him at his word, and judge him based on his work, not on the gloss given to his work by Don Hikind.
I ask that you reconsider your decision and reinstate Mr. Peterton-Overton. He seems to be as qualified as many of the other teachers in the department, and was intentionally given this course by the department because it was within his area of expertise. Situations like this show why adjunct faculty members, including graduate students, need additional protection from a wide range of abuses. If Mr. Peterton-Overton had been a tenure-track faculty member, your office would have made its decision based on his work and teaching ability, not on something a politician believes him to believe.

 

Faculty teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have come under attack throughout of the academic world (even tenured faculty at Columbia, for example) and your office should proceed more carefully
and judiciously in the future.
Sincerely,

 

Michael Lubing

11:10pm    The Advocate is looking for Twitter-savvy volunteers who plan to be on the campus of Brooklyn College any or every day this week, and might be interested in being on-the-ground reporters for the Advocate.  Interested social-networkers are encouraged to email us at [email protected] for more details.   

11:00pm    For all the tweeting songbirds out there, a new hash tag has been created to collect together relevant tweets in the twitterverse, beginning tomorrow.  Please search #CUNYcrisis for the latest updates on Twitter.  The Advocate has encouraged Democracy Now! to employ this hashtag as it reports on the situation at Brooklyn College, and we will be doing the same. 

10:45pm    A Facebook page has been created to aggregate and publicize information related to this week’s rally in defense of academic freedom outside the Brooklyn College Provost’s office.  It can be accessed and joined here.

10:00pm    A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Christopher Stone, Associate Professor of Arabic and Head of the Arabic Division in the Department of Classical and Oriental Studies at Hunter College, CUNY:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramontano:
 
 
 
I read with great dismay about the firing of the adjunct instructor Kristofer Petersen-Overton from his position at Brooklyn College.  I read in the New York Times the college’s claims that the decision was made because Mr. Petersen-Overton was deemed unqualified to teach the course.  I find this justification unsatisfying, and fear that he was dismissed because of his views on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  As a proud CUNY faculty member I would hate to see CUNY become an institution perceived as suppressing academic freedoms based on political points of view.
 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Christopher Stone 

 

9:45pm   Kristofer Petersen-Overton will be on Democracy Now! tomorrow morning, in all likelihood shortly after the show begins broadcast at 8:00am.  The Advocate will link to the podcast tomorrow afternoon when it becomes available.

8:00pm   The Advo­cate has drafted the fifth in a series of let­ters that can be directed to the var­i­ous chair­per­sons of aca­d­e­mic depart­ments at Brook­lyn Col­lege. Please take a moment to send along this note, or one of your own craft­ing, to Ellen Tremper, chair of English. Her email is included in the link above.

6:30pm    A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramantano:
 
I write to protest your decision to fire Kristofer Petersen-Overton, who had previously been appointed to teach a course on Middle East politics at Brooklyn College, and to urge you to reinstate him immediately.  I have read a number of published accounts about the case and it is clear to me that your decision violated the core principle of academic freedom that is essential to a healthy scholarly community.  It is therefore not surprising that this case is attracting growing attention and causing a public outcry among concerned scholars.
 
There is no question that Mr. Petersen-Overton was qualified to teach the course for which he was hired, and the proposed syllabus for the course consists of a substantial number of standard works in the subject area.  It is also clear that he had committed no offense or infraction that would justify your decision to rescind his hiring, and there was no sign that he was about to act in a manner that would bring any discredit on Brooklyn College.  There is also no evidence that he intended to indoctrinate his students, or to impose his own political views upon them.
 
The sole reason he was terminated, in fact, is because a politician with no academic standing didn’t like some of Mr. Petersen-Overton’s views on the subject of Israel.  Those views, it is worth emphasizing, are hardly outside the mainstream within the academic community. Nor would they be regarded as beyond-the-pale in Israel itself.  In short, nothing in Mr. Petersen-Overton’s background or behavior justified his termination.
 
The principle of academic freedom is not an ideal that we invoke only to defend views with which we agree.  On the contrary, it is there to protect those who say things that may be controversial or outside today’s reigning orthodoxy.  Because none of us can know which ideas and arguments will one day be vindicated, it is essential that we encourage faculty and students to express ideas openly and freely, to debate them vigorously, and to make up their own minds.  That principle makes imaginative scholarship possible, and protects us from even well-intentioned attempts to impose a particular view on students or faculty.  That freedom of inquiry and expression is one of the great strengths of the American system of higher education, and one of the main reasons why it has outperformed countries where governments routinely dictate how scholars should think, write, and teach.
 
Having served as Associate Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago (1996-99) and as Academic Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (2002-2006), I have some experience with the pressures that university administrators can face.  Nonetheless, it is our responsibility as academic leaders to defend our institutions against such pressure, and to insure that faculty and students can think, write, teach and learn in an atmosphere that it insulated from political pressure.   By bowing to such pressure in this case, you have undermined that principle and tarnished the reputation and standing of Brooklyn College. 
 
I therefore urge you to reconsider your decision.  As you reflect on it, you may wish to ponder an analogous case from a few years ago.  Back in 2007, external pressure similar to that which you experienced led the president of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota to rescind a speaking invitation to Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu.  There was an immediate public outcry, and the same president wisely chose to rethink his initial decision and reissue the invitation.  This decision was widely praised at the time, as you can read from this account of the case (
http://www.startribune.com/local/11606811.html).  

By reinstating Mr. Petersen-Overton, you have the opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to the principle of academic freedom and to earn similar kudos.
 
Sincerely,

Stephen M. Walt
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

5:45pm   Democracy Now!  will be running a segment on tomorrow’s show about the situation at Brooklyn College.  Details will follow as soon as they become available!

5:15pm A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Ashley Dawson, Associate Professor of English at The Graduate Center, CUNY:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramontano,

I’m writing to express my concern about the decision taken by Brooklyn College to fire an adjunct professor who is a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center.  From what I’ve heard about the case, the instructor in question has been fired — less than a week before the semester has begun — for his political views rather than for any evidence of misconduct in the classroom.

As the editor of a book on academic freedom, an activist with the AAUP, and a frequent writer on the history of threats to independent thinking both within the U.S. academy and elsewhere, I know that there’s a very slippery slope once you begin firing professors for their purported beliefs rather than for concrete behavior in the classroom.  Particularly in today’s polarized intellectual climate, in which a Distinguished Professor at the Grad Center has been the subject of death threats after being targeted by a Fox Channel commentator, I believe we must stand firm behind the core principles of academic freedom.

While I’m sure that you’re aware of these issues as well, I do not think that your decision to fire the instructor in question bodes well for Brooklyn College or for CUNY as a whole.  I would urge you to reconsider this decision.

Best,

Ashley

4:50pm Students at the Graduate Center and Brooklyn College and faculty from across the university have announced plans for a rally and protest in defense of academic freedom in front of the Provost’s offices at Brooklyn College, Thursday afternoon at 12:00pm. Organizers are asking readers to share the following announcement widely within the BC and CUNY student communities:

Stop Attacks on Academic Freedom! Reinstate Kristofer Petersen-Overton!

Just a week before the start of spring semester classes, Kristofer Petersen-Overton was fired from his position as an adjunct lecturer of political science at Brooklyn College. A scholar highly regarded by many distinguished faculty at CUNY, Petersen-Overton was scheduled to teach a Middle East Politics course. His firing by Provost William Tramontano came hours after college President Karen Lee Gould was contacted by a New York State assemblyman who complained about the instructor’s academic writings on Israel and the Palestinians. It is clear that Petersen-Overton’s dismissal was the product of political pressure.

The college’s actions are a clear violation of academic freedom, including the university’s own official policy. We demand that Petersen-Overton be fully reinstated in his position, and that his course on Middle East Politics be allowed to proceed as originally designed. The university must respect the academic freedom of all its employees and students. This is especially crucial with contingent faculty like Petersen-Overton, who receive none of the protections of tenure despite the fact that they teach the majority of courses at the City University of New York.

Stopping attacks on academic freedom is crucial to the rights of all of us who work and study at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York!

Rally details
When: Thursday, February 3, 12:00pm-2pm
Where: Brooklyn College
Outside Boylan Hall in the campus Quad, near Bedford Ave.
Trains: Q Local to the Avenue H station, at Avenue H & East 16th Street. Walk 4 blocks east to the Ocean Avenue entrance. #2 (7th Avenue Local) or #5 (Lexington Avenue Express) to the Flatbush Avenue/Nostrand Avenue station.

Event endorsed by: CUNY Adjunct Project, CUNY Contingents Unite, CUNY Mobilization Network, Brooklyn College Student Union, Doctoral Students’ Council, Brooklyn College Palestine Club, and others TBA.

4:45pm A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Stanley N. Katz, Director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Lecturer with the rank of Professor there, one of the leading legal historians in the United States and former head of the ACLS:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramantano,

I am writing to add my voice to those of the other scholars who have written to you in concern over the treatment of Kristofer Petersen-Overton in connection with his apparent dismissal from his part-time adjunct teaching position in your political science department.  I do not know either Petersen-Overton or his work, but I am persuaded by the testimony of colleagues who are familiar with both that he was a perfectly plausible choice to teach a low level graduate course on Middle Eastern politics, which is a research interest of mine – I collaborated on a book recently that examined the peace movements in Palestine and Israel.  The College has made the case that the decision to rescind his appointment was on the basis of insufficient professional qualification, since he is himself just a graduate student.  In principle, that might be a good reason, but members of your own faculty testify that it is not a policy that has been followed in the College, in which other graduate students are offering master’s level courses.  If that is the case, it makes me wonder whether the reasons for overturning the judgment of the department were not political rather than educational, and I would then regard the decision as a serious infringement of academic freedom.  Brooklyn College has a great history as a landmark public institution, and I would urge you to protect its long-standing reputation by reconsidering the Petersen-Overton decision.

Yours sincerely,

Stanley N. Katz

4:15pm An excellent story ran today at Mondoweiss by Brooklyn College undergrad Zoe Zenowich on the controversy surrounding Kristofer Petersen-Overton’s firing from the school.  Of particular note, Zenowich writes that

The administration’s and Hikind’s narrative contradict both each other, Petersen-Overton’s own account, other faculty members, and that of Janet Elise Johnson, an Associate Professor in the Political Science department and a member of the Appointments Committee. Johnston says she was not present during the meetings on Petersen-Overton’s position, but claims that “the argument that it’s about qualifications doesn’t stand up to the evidence; we have other adjunct professors who teach for the Masters Program, but don’t have PhDs … he was not officially appointed by he had been asked to teach. He is qualified.” While Johnston cannot comment on the accusations that political motives propelled the decision to dismiss Petersen-Overton from his position, she maintains that “in reality CUNY and Brooklyn College are under funded, and under resourced, and have been so for decades,” which further explains the frequent appointments of doctoral students from CUNY programs.

4:01pm The Doctoral Students’ Council at the Graduate Center, CUNY, has issued the following statement to its department representatives in support of Kristofer:

We are writing to inform you and the student body of the Graduate Center about the unfortunate and unacceptable situation that Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a fellow doctoral student in Political Science, now faces.  We ask that you forward this email to fellow students and colleagues throughout the New York metropolitan area and beyond that you know will share our grave concern for this attack on intellectual and academic freedom, the political autonomy of  colleges and universities, and the rights of adjunct faculty.  Included below is an official statement issued by the President of the Profession Staff Congress for CUNY and links to news coverage of the this event.  For those of you willing to join the fight to protect academic freedom and reappoint Kristofer Petersen-Overton, we have also attached advocacy materials to facilitate contacting the CUNY Chancellor, the President of Brooklyn College, and the Provost of Brooklyn College.

3:30pm A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramontano,

I have been following the case of Kristofer Petersen-Overton, who was hired to teach a course on Middle East politics at Brooklyn College, and was then fired before he set foot in the classroom. It is clear to me and virtually everyone else I know who has followed this case that he was dismissed because he has written critically about Israel and his proposed syllabus contained readings that were also critical of Israel. That led some of Israel’s powerful supporters to contact you and pressure you to rescind his appointment, which you did. Of course, this is not the first case of this sort, although it has attracted more attention than most of the previous cases.

Your decision to fire Mr. Petersen-Overton (who I have never met) is deeply disturbing because it violates academia’s most important norm: the right to speak freely on any topic and not be punished for making unpopular or controversial arguments. I have been in the academic world for 35 years and everyone I have encountered at colleges and universities across our country cherishes the idea that we do not penalize students or scholars because of their political views, even if we intensely dislike what some others have to say. As you surely know, there is no way academia can work well if we do not tolerate rival views. Indeed, anyone committed to building a great department has to be willing to hire people who think about the world in fundamentally different ways. After all, we make progress by disagreeing with each other and improving our own work by listening to the ideas of those we disagree with.  Moreover, we try to expose students to a wide variety of views, and then let them figure out for themselves whether a particular scholar’s arguments are right or wrong. Our commitment to academic freedom is what makes American colleges and universities great, and we should all be intensely committed to protecting that indispensable norm. And for sure, academic administrators like you should be especially vigilant about protecting scholars from political pressure.

The sad truth is that you have done serious damage to the core principle of academic freedom by firing Mr. Petersen-Overton because of his political views. You have also damaged Brooklyn College’s reputation and sent exactly the wrong message to the wider world. You should have stood up to the political pressure and not caved in. I am confident that your names and your school’s name will be featured in future articles and books about threats to academic freedom, and you will be described as administrators who failed to protect a young scholar who was being singled out because he held controversial views.

Sincerely yours,

John J. Mearsheimer

3:00pm A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From John McCormick, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

 

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramontano,

As a proud CUNY alum (Queens College AB 1988, Graduate Center 1989), and committed member of the American academic community, I write to protest stridently Brooklyn College’s actions in the Petersen-Overton case, and to urge you to reverse your decision by reinstating Mr. Petersen-Overton immediately.

This case cuts to the heart of intellectual freedom in the American academy and dramatically diminishes CUNY in the eyes of its peers at other institutions of higher education.

Thank You for your time and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

John McCormick

2:30pm A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Bonnie S. Anderson, Professor Emerita of History at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center:

 

Dear Pres. Gould and Provost Tramontano,

Pres. Gould, I met you at Ethyle Wolfe’s Memorial and I wrote you and Dean Wilson complimenting you on supporting the Bayoumi reading for college freshmen.  As much as I applauded that decision, I deplore the college’s recent truckling to extreme political interests over the case of Kristofer Petersen-Overton.  In the process, you have thrown out the most elemental principle of academic freedom.  A host of distinguished academics have already asserted that Petersen-Overton is an excellent scholar.  I join them in urging you to undo the disastrous decision to rescind his appointment, which has already brought the college too much negative publicity.

As a member of the Brooklyn College faculty for over thirty years (and a Broeklundian Professor for the last four of them), I know that last-minute decisions can be changed, particularly concerning adjuncts.  You can redeem the college’s honor by reversing this mistaken act.

Sincerely,

Bonnie S. Anderson

2:19pm Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents faculty and staff at CUNY, spoke out against Kristofer’s firing this morning on WBAI’s Beyond the Pale. Transcripts and audio of the interview are available on the site.

1:00pm A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Sandi Cooper, Professor of History at the College of Staten Island, CUNY and The Graduate Center, and Chair of the University Faculty Senate–CUNY:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramonanto

I have been apprised of a possible serious violation of academic freedom at Brooklyn College with the termination of the graduate student, Kristoffer Petersen-Overton prior to the start of the semester, based on student allegations to a political figure who is reported to have requested his dismissal.

If this summary is accurate, I remind you that the Board of Trustees policy regarding student complaints against faculty, which covers adjuncts, exists to provide fair, due process. I cite

Board of Trustees Policy 5.20:

The University respects the academic freedom of the faculty and will not interfere with it as it relates to the content or style of teaching activities. Indeed, academic freedom is and should be of paramount importance.

This policy was developed in 2007 following an unfortunate problem at Columbia University also involving vague allusions of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli ideas on the part of a professor by a student, not even registered there. The CUNY Board made slight modifications in its implementation last year, based on experience at a few colleges.

To my knowledge, perhaps incomplete, it has NOT been applied to issues of academic freedom.

The policy clearly states that academic freedom covering the right of an instructor to design a syllabus is not debatable. Were the young man found guilty of coming to class drunk, or making nasty remarks to a student or excessive absences from class, then the student complaint policy is appropriate. It is NOT for an unproven expectation of a class which may or may not be “unbalanced” in the views of an enrolled student, particularly when the semester has not begun.

If the College is now claiming that he is not qualified to teach the course, then it is incumbent on the College to prove that others with his level of qualifications have also either not been hired or have been dismissed. Otherwise, a decision by the administration overruling a departmental decision is a very dangerous, undesirable precedent. Even if this graduate student is the first on his level to be appointed to teach the class, it is very possible that other considerations make him entirely qualified. CUNY administrators and at the Graduate Center repeatedly comment that many of the newer, younger people are far more up to date in the field than some of those, like me, who have been around over half a century.

On a personal note, as one who was a student at CCNY in the early 1950s when the McCarthyite investigators pulled faculty from our classrooms based on allegations of Communist affiliations, I am extremely anxious to prevent any kind of re-run of those sad and destructive times. Students need to hear all sides of an issue, as you well know and not only the side that a political group deems appropriate.

I hope that justice can be done to this young man and that this action does not undermine a promising career in a field that is crucial to modern education and politics.

With good wishes,

Sandi

11:15am A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Professor of ANthropology and Middle Easter, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tranontano,

I have just read an article in the New York Times [1/28/11] about the firing of an adjunct instructor at Brooklyn College for his political views.  I am in Kampala, Uganda, directing the Institute of Social Research 8 months of the year, an experience that brings home to me on a daily basis the critical importance of academic freedom in the pursuit of academic excellence.  I write to register my grave concern over this development and urge you to reconsider your action.

Yours sincerely,

Mahmood Mamdani

12:05am A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have sent let­ters to Brook­lyn Col­lege Pres­i­dent Karen Lee Gould and Provost William Tra­mon­tano express­ing their dis­plea­sure with the recent turn of events.

From Liza Featherstone, Adjunct Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, and long- time contributor to the Nation:

To: Karen Gould, President of Brooklyn College
Sally Bermanzohn, Chair of Political Science Department

What kind of institution is Brooklyn College? As a longtime citizen of Brooklyn I’ve always held it in the highest regard. Brooklyn College attracts many of the best scholars in New York, which is to say, some of the best in the world. It also draws some of the sharpest, hardest-working students anywhere. It has been a beacon of excellence in a crumbling public education system. But in recent days it seems as if your administration is enacting one of the sorrier episodes of “The O’Reilly Factor.”

I’m sure you know the script even if you haven’t seen the show. A professor voices an opinion – usually a view that some of us find horrifying, and that others of us think perfectly reasonable. But that is not the point.

The point is the following scenario: the right-wing yahoos — who in any case hate education and intellectuals — get excited. They blog. They call. They fax. They even threaten violence sometimes. They won’t be placated till the professor loses his job. And in the end, the universities, more often than not, find a reason to fire the offending professor.

Isn’t that pathetic? And here you are, venerated Brooklyn College, enacting the same tired pattern.
I’m referring, of course, to your decision not to reappoint Kristofer Petersen-Overton. Such a decision, made so obviously in response to political pressure, clearly violates the principles of academic freedom. Without that principle a great university quickly becomes a certification mill, whose scholarship is worth little.

Just look at who’s setting your academic policy. Not scholars, not administrators, but politicians. And not just any politicians, but Dov Hikind, a wingnut whose own opinions – though he’s surely entitled to them – would be reviled by civilized folk all over the world. Just to note a couple of his extraordinary views: he’s an apologist for racial hate crimes and thinks gay marriage will lead to incest.

What kind of university allows such a person to make personnel decisions? What kind of college takes its cues from uninformed brutes when deciding who will teach our children? I hope you’ll ask yourself these questions, and realize that the answers matter. The reputation of a great institution is on the line.

Liza Featherstone

12:01am Welcome to Day 3 of the Academic Freedom at CUNY blog!  Entries from Day 2 can be accessed here.

I read with great dismay about the firing of the adjunct instructor Kristofer Petersen-Overton from his position at Brooklyn College.  I read in the New York Times the college’s claims that the decision was made because Mr. Petersen-Overton was deemed unqualified to teach the course.  I find this justification unsatisfying, and fear that he was dismissed because of his views on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  As a proud CUNY faculty member I would hate to see CUNY become an institution perceived as suppressing academic freedoms based on political points of view.
Sincerely,
Christopher Stone

4 Responses to “Academic Freedom at CUNY–Day 3”

  1. Jett Rucker says:

    I know the meddling hate-monger would be proud to have this institution renamed the Dov Hikind Yeshiva.

    Or Israeli Propaganda Ministry, Brooklyn Branch. Maybe he could be provost!

  2. Another Brooklyn Jew says:

    Dov Hikund is a fanatic and a dedicated racist. Why this Israeli settler type gets to dictate policy at a public university is beyond me. It’s well known that the Brooklyn College Hillel has long been an incubator of extremist, racist positions of the Kahane type which are completely despised by the VAST majority of Jewish people in New York and around the world.

    If Brooklyn College can’t maintain academic freedom, or even the pretense of a university that treats the actually existing range of intellectual ideas as worthy of discussion — by what means can it pretend to provide an education?

    If the Israeli extremists want to run schools — they have their country. And if Hikund and the JDL despise Arabs, Muslims and the basic principles of democracy, they should move to Israel. This is America. We are here for a secular democracy, which has been a salvation to Jewish people. The ethnic racialism and extrmemism of Hikund have no place in Brooklyn. Let the rabbis run their yeshivas — and piss off when it comes to our public schools!

  3. Bill says:

    I’m surprised to read so much hate coming from so called intellects it makes guys like Hikind sound lame..I guess the “right wing settler type” should learn from the academics how to hate and from the poor and oppressed Palestinians how to blow up busses with women and children.

    Yes, I am being sarcastic. Before you tag people as racists and you aim your hate at Rabbis and Yeshivas, maybe you should do the right thing (i’m talking to “Another Brooklyn Jew says”) and speak to some of the families of terror victims

  4. [...] Day 2: http://advocate.mellifluously.info/2011/01/academic-freedom-at-cuny-day-2/ Day 3: http://advocate.mellifluously.info/2011/01/academic-freedom-at-cuny-day-3/ Check out THIS FLYER and THIS MAP Uncategorized    Building alliances with [...]

  5. An appauled student and adjunct professor says:

    I join Bill in his last comment for speaking up bravely against this hyperbole and hate demonstrated here by my colleges. I am ashamed to hear such hate and radicalism coming from CUNY Graduate Center. This whole demonstration has gotten entirely out of hand and misses the facts and reason for Peterson Overton’s dismissal. I encourage any readers to read his papers. Petersen Overton writes to support Palestinian Martyrdom and yet hides and denies these facts when finally confronted directly. (Not very brave). Let me quote a last summarizing paragraph from Kristofer Peterson Overton’s unpublished paper, which is posted on his website:

    http://petersen-overton.com/_/home.html

    The name of the paper: ‘Inventing Martyrdom: Struggle, Sacrifice, and the Significance of Palestinian National Identity’:

    ‘Struggle and sacrifice are themes which particularly resonate among young Palestinians, in part, because of their nation’s uncertain and precarious place under Israeli occupation. Accordingly, the struggle/sacrifice dynamic saturates a range of Palestinian national signifiers, including the palestinian peasant (fellah), Palestinian fighters ( fedayin) and the “children of the stones” (atfal al_hijara) as well as the generalized idea of self sacrifice and martyrdom (istishad) represents. While each of these signifiers derives power from national ideals, as I have shown, the sacrifice of ones own life is by far the most powerful assertion of commitment to the national cause and accordingly demands the greatest social esteem. The will to sacrifice is perhaps, paradoxically, both a requirement for claiming Palestinian national identity and a constitutive element of that identity. For this reason, the loose definition of martyrdom, which includes anyone who dies for the nation, to be a martyr is simply the most explicit expression of national identity – a notion that seemingly extends ‘Palestinianness’ to anyone who sacrifices for Palestine. Thus, to be Palestinian is to sacrifice for the nation and vice versa.”

    I have trouble seeing these views as pro Palestinian. I am myself a Palestinian and find these views hateful, inaccurate, and filled with bigotry. I take deep offense to Peterson-Overton’s claim that my national and biological identity is defined by martyrdom and see his writings as directly encouraging Palestinian youngsters to go out and act on such reductioninst and radical ideas through terrorist activities. His writings and teachings would not be half as bad if he actually went out and publicly took responsibility for what he wrote. Instead he claims he does not support Palestinian martyrdom. Shame on him!!

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