Academic Freedom at CUNY–Day 4

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

Day 4

11:30pm     The letters continue to flood the administrative inboxes at Brooklyn College, and the GC Advocate in support of academic freedom at CUNY.  The quality and focus of all the letters, from students, alumni, academics and concerned citizens has been truly stunning, inspirational, powerful, and as evidenced by Brooklyn College’s decision to reverse its earlier actions, effective. 

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 events that preceded tonight’s victory.  We’ll be running all of the ones we have received that have not yet been made available as a public record and testament to the organized efforts on the part of those who stand up in the face of political bullying to defend the bedrock of academic freedom upon which higher education in the United States is built.

From Leila Fawaz, Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies and Founding Director, Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University:

Dear President Gould and Dean Tramontano,

I am writing to you as a faculty who has great regard for your university, and as a friend and colleague in Middle East studies of Selma Botman, former administrator at CUNY.

I was distressed to hear about the way Kristofer Peterson-Overton was treated, following the charge of New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind. I hope that you will reinstate Kristofer Petersen-Overton.  A num­ber of promi­nent aca­d­e­mics and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als from around the world have noted that this brand of discrimination has no place at Brook­lyn Col­lege. The foundations of the principles of academic freedom are essential to our educational system, and good leadership is to insure that they be respected. I  hope to hear about your efforts in sup­port of Kristofer Petersen-Overton and the rights of all fac­ulty in the CUNY system.

Sincerely,

Leila Fawaz

11:15pm     For those that didn’t catch it earlier, Salon has coverage of today’s events, including the official statement from Brooklyn College on their surprise decision to reverse their earlier action of firing Kristofer Petersen-Overton. You can access it here.

11:00pm     Dov Hikind, the State Assemblyman who initially pressured Brooklyn College to fire Kristofer Petersen-Overton issued a response to the reversal of that decision this evening.  It can be accessed here.  Predictably, Hikind continues to base his public position on the twin pillars of innuendo and an utter disregard for facts. 

10:45pm     The letters continue to flood the administrative inboxes at Brooklyn College, and the GC Advocate, in support of academic freedom at CUNY.  The quality and focus of all the letters, from students, alumni, academics and concerned citizens has been truly stunning, inspirational, powerful, and as evidenced by Brooklyn College’s decision to reverse its earlier actions, effective. 

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 events that preceded tonight’s victory.  We’ll be running all of the ones we have received that have not yet been made available as a public record and testament to the organized efforts on the part of those who stand up in the face of political bullying to defend the bedrock of academic freedom upon which higher education in the United States is built.

From Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and staff writer for the New Yorker:

Dear President Gould and Dean Tramontano,

I was greatly troubled to read about the role played by a state assemblyman in a decision to stop a scholar from teaching a course at the City University of New York.  I study early American history, and especially the freedom of speech.  ”No nation ancient or modern ever lost the liberty of freely speaking, writing, or publishing their sentiments but forthwith lost their liberty in general,” James Alexander warned in the pages of the New-York Weekly Journal in 1733, during a political crisis that led to the landmark trial and acquittal of the printer John Peter Zenger.  Academic freedom, like the freedom of the press, is the bedrock of an open society.  How distressing, then, to read in the New York Times, nearly three centuries after Alexander expressed his views in another New York City newspaper, that a scholar has been dismissed because a politician demanded it.

Sincerely,

Jill Lepore

10:30pm    The letters continue to flood the administrative inboxes at Brooklyn College, and the GC Advocate in support of academic freedom at CUNY.  The quality and focus of all the letters, from students, alumni, academics and concerned citizens has been truly stunning, inspirational, powerful, and as evidenced by Brooklyn College’s decision to reverse its earlier actions, effective. 

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 events that preceded tonight’s victory.  We’ll be running all of the ones we have received that have not yet been made available as a public record and testament to the organized efforts on the part of those who stand up in the face of political bullying to defend the bedrock of academic freedom upon which higher education in the United States is built.

From Thomas Dumm, William H. Hastie ’25 Professor of Political Ethics in the department of Political Science at Amherst College:

Dear President Gould:

It has come to my attention that an adjunct professor of political science at CUNY has been fired under what can only be called suspicious circumstances. The cover reason for the firing is that he is not qualified to teach a graduate seminar, given that he is not yet a Ph.D. But the department of political science had hired the man, and surely was aware of his qualifications. Even were there ongoing concerns, to fire him a week before his seminar was to begin is simply unfair.

The suspicion arises, given the contact of a politician protesting the course in question, of a direct political interference in a matter that ought to protected by the clear tenets of academic freedom. It is disturbing to see such a development occur at one of our great public universities. Especially given the current political climate in the United States, it seems craven to buckle to political pressure such as this. Please, I ask you to reconsider this decision.

Sincerely yours, 

Thomas Dumm 

5:15pm    BREAKING:  Early reports indicate that Brooklyn College has decided to reverse its initial decision to fire Kristofer Petersen-Overton and reinstate him to his Middle East Politics class immediately and unconditionally.  The college will make an announcement at 6:00pm EST.  More to come as the story develops!!!

2:45pm    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 Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Professor of History at Rutgers University:

Dear President Gould,

I am writing to express my deep concern about Brooklyn College’s decision to fire Kristofer Petersen-Overton, in response to pressure from a New York State Assemblyman.  This was clearly a departmental matter. Allowing politicians to shape what goes on in the classroom poses a direct threat to faculty governance and academic freedom.  I urge you to reconsider your decision.

Sincerely,

Jackson Lears

1:05pm    BREAKING: The Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College voted unanimously today to recommend that Kristofer Petersen-Overton be hired to teach Politics of the Middle East (Political Science 7713) during the spring semester of 2011.  The Political Science Appointments Committee then voted unanimously to officially hire Mr. Petersen-Overton.  As in all cases, the department will continue to provide excellent instruction to our students and full support to our entire teaching staff.

12:45pm    Kristofer Petersen-Overton’s appearance this morning on Democracy Now! can be heard online here.  Jump to 9:38 for the start of the segment.

10:45am    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 Joan Wallach Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramontano,

I write to express my dismay at your decision to fire Kristofer Peterson-Overton from his teaching position at Brooklyn College.  When I served on the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee of the American Association of University Professors, we had a distressing number of cases of outside pressure from what can only be called lobbyists for the current Israeli regime, who demanded the firing of instructors they deemed unsuitable.  Their reasons were often cloaked in arguments similar to Dov Hikind’s–that they were not “objective”; that they were not qualified; that they were anti-Semitic (the confusion of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel is widespread among these political activists).  These were all faculty who had been vetted already for their qualifications and found suitable.  I assume that Mr. Peterson-Overton was not hired blindly, without consideration for his abilities to teach the material he was teaching.  And I am sure that it was his views and not his credentials that Mr. Hikind didn’t like. 

The academy has traditionally been a place where critical views are protected by academic freedom.  In the humanities and social sciences “objectivity” is not a relevant standard.  It is interpretation that is presented, debated, and discussed in classes and in published scholarship.  Academic freedom means the protection of critical views, the right of a qualified teacher to teach what he deems appropriate educational material.  The preemptive firing of Mr. Peterson-Overton is a capitulation to outsiders who use political pressure and threats of bad publicity to deny academic freedom to university teachers with whose views they disagree.  There is a long history of such intervention in the academy, always to the detriment of the values we ought to be upholding and to the practices that have long distinguished higher education in America.  In the name of academic freedom and of the survival of universities as centers of unfettered learning, I urge you to reverse your decision and put Mr. Peterson-Overton back in the classroom where he belongs.

Sincerely,

Joan W. Scott

8:00am    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 L. Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramontano:

As an academic raised in New York with family and friends who have attended CUNY and a former colleague, Selma Botman, who was an administrator at your greta university, I wa ssurprised and saddened to learn of othe university’s decision to prevent Kristofer Peterson-Overton from teaching his course and the charge of New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Academic freedom is the foundation of our educational system and critical to the integrity of what we do. I very much hope that you will reconsider the university’s decision.

John L. Esposito

12:25am    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 Laura Tanenbaum, Assistant Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College:

Dear President Gould and Provost Tramontano:

I am writing to express my deep concern over the firing of Professor Kristofer Peterson-Overton following complaints by a member of New York’s State Assembly. As a faculty member at LaGuardia Community College and a proud member of the CUNY community, I find this threat to academic freedom particularly troubling. In order to preserve an environment of free intellectual inquiry, it is essential that hiring decisions be made by scholars and teachers, not by the whims of politicians.

Given that graduate students without PhDs have frequently taught masters courses at CUNY, and given the timing of your decision, the claim that Professor Peterson-Overton was let go due to a lack of qualifications lacks credibility. In addition, this case sense a chilling message to the many adjunct faculty who depend on semester by semester appointments to make their living. It is essential that these faculty members, no less than those with full-time appointments and tenure, be able to use their professional judgment while pursuing scholarship and designing courses, without concern for the interference of politicians more concerned with misleading soundbites than meaningful discussion and debate.

I urge to reconsider this decision and reinstate Professor Peterson-Overton. Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Laura Tanenbaum

12:05am     Good morning!  Wel­come to Day 4 of the Advo­cate’s Aca­d­e­mic Free­dom at CUNY Blog. You can view Sunday’’s updates here.

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

  1. http://www.r8ny.com/blog/vincent_nunes/i_guess_it_is_who_you_know_after_all.html

    I thank everyone who correctly sees this as troubling behaviour as it is occurring at an institution of learning.

  2. jason zenith says:

    I find it ironic that Dov Hikind has veto power over academic appointments based on ideological unacceptability to him. DIdn’t realize a mere assemblyman has the power of a cultural commissar.
    Why doesn’t anyone mention Hikind’s past as a terrorist- namely as a follower of Meir Kahane? One of Kahane’s bombs murdered a secretary in 1972 when a bomb exploded in impresario Sol Hurok’s Manhattan office on Jan. 26. The explosion killed his receptionist, Iris Kones, 27, while Hurok and 12 others were injured. The JDL objected to Hurok bringing performers from the Soviet Union to the U.S.

    Kahane’s Jewish Defense [sic] League was characterized as “a right-wing terrorist group” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation[3] in 2001, and as a hate group involved in “anti-Arab terrorism” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[4] According to the FBI, the JDL has been involved in plotting terrorist attacks within the United States.[3] The group took to bombing Arab and Soviet properties in the United States,[7] and targeting various alleged “enemies of the Jewish people”, ranging from Arab-American political activists to neo-Nazis, for assassination.[8] A number of JDL members have been linked to violent, and sometimes deadly, attacks in the United States, including the killing of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee regional director Alex Odeh in 1985, and a plot to kill U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa in 2001.[9]

    The 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre, in which dozens of Palestinians at prayer were massacred by a gunman in the West Bank city of Hebron, was perpetrated by a one-time JDL member who had emigrated from the United States, Baruch Goldstein.[10] The JDL maintained, on its website, “we are not ashamed to say that Goldstein was a charter member of the Jewish Defense League”, and described his action as “a preventative measure against yet another Arab attack on Jews”.[11]

    (Citations at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JDL)

  3. jason zenith says:

    this email is published. why?

  4. [...] of complaint to CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein, and that the latter was unconnected to the strong support provided to Peterser-Overton by Brooklyn College faculty, the Association of American University [...]

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