Petition to Defend Academic Freedom at Brooklyn College

To add your name to the position please click here

We

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern for the precarious state of academic freedom at Brooklyn College, CUNY and the City University of New York system more broadly.

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. The move came following a complaint from a prospective student in Peterson-Overton’s scheduled Middle East Politics course that the instructor’s “pro-Palestinian” bias would preclude him from objectively teaching the subject.  After complaining to the school administration the student then contacted New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who in turn wrote to the president of Brooklyn College expressing his concerns about the course reading list.  In that letter, Hikind labeled Peterson-Overton as “pro-suicide bomber.”  Hours later, the provost of Brooklyn College dismissed Petersen-Overton on grounds that, as a doctoral student, he was insufficiently qualified to teach graduate courses at the college. This move came despite the fact that many graduate students in several departments currently teach and have taught master’s level courses at Brooklyn College over the years. Given these circumstances, it is clear that Peterson-Overton’s dismissal had nothing to do with his qualifications, but was the product of political pressure from forces outside the university.

The college’s actions are a clear violation of academic freedom, including the university’s own official policy, which states that the “office of a chancellor, president, or other administrator cannot be used to compromise the academic freedom of other members of the university community.”  Therefore, we demand that Peterson-Overton be fully re-instated in his position, and that his course on Middle East Politics be allowed to proceed as originally designed.  Moreover, we insist that Peterson-Overton not face any future sanctions, and that he be judged henceforth solely on the basis of his teaching abilities and the quality of his academic work.

Furthermore, we demand a formal, public apology from the Brooklyn College administration, including President Karen Lee Gould and Provost William A. Tramontano for their illegitimate actions and borderline incompetence in dealing with this matter.

We also call for a formal pledge from the university to protect the academic freedom of all of its employees irrespective of status, stature, and rank, especially 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.

We ask that all these demands be met immediately and without compromise.

James Hoff, EIC The GC Advocate

Michael Busch, Managing Editor The GC Advocate

Mark Wilson, Layout Editor The GC Advocate

39 Responses to “Petition to Defend Academic Freedom at Brooklyn College”

  1. Michael Miller says:

    Is it now the policy of Brooklyn College to hire only PhDs to teach in the Master’s program? If so, although I don’t necessarily object to this policy, it must be pointed out that other doctoral students, at similarly early stages in their studies have taught at Brooklyn College in the recent past. Thus, the removal of Mr. Petersen-Overton on these grounds seems arbitrary at best. But let us assume that, in the interest of academic excellence, Brooklyn College has decided only to appoint those students who have received, or are candidates to receive their PhDs. What then does this say of the vetting process at Brooklyn College? How did Mr. Petersen-Overton slip into a Master’s-level teaching position without anyone knowing what his credentials were? And what now are we to think of the rest of the staff teaching at Brooklyn College? I feel you ought to have considered this a bit longer before having hastily dismissed Mr. Petersen-Overton.

    It seems to me highly suspect that the realization of Mr. Petersen-Overton’s bona fides surfaced only a day after Assemblyman Dov Hikind wrote a letter disapproving of his appointment, and accusing him of supporting Palestinian suicide-bombers. In an interview with WPIX 11, Mr. Hikind suggested that any academic who attempts to “understand” such heinous political acts is unfit to teach in Brooklyn, NY. Remarks like these indicate clearly that Mr. Hikind has not the first clue about what it means to be an academic, nor about what belongs in an institution of “higher learning.” Indeed, our entire enterprise is predicated on the notion that somehow, some way, we can “understand” even the most perplexing aspects of our lived experience—from suicide bombings, to pacifism in the face of violence.

    If it is the case that appointments to teaching positions at Brooklyn College have become so political that professors need to be concerned for their livelihoods whenever they broach taboo subjects, then I fear for the integrity of the school. The citizens of New York City deserve to feel confident that the academy is still a place where students go to better “understand” all aspects of life­. I would like to be reassured that you are committed to this end.

    • Michael Miller says:

      Sorry, I thought that was going out to the Provost at BC!

      • admin says:

        Michael,

        We will be glad to pass along your thoughts as well as those of anyone else who wants to comment here, to the Provost when we send the petition.

  2. Renate Bridenthal says:

    Several early signers chose not to have their names listed on the petition. We must fight this neo-McCarthyism, not be cowed by it.

  3. Tom Cartenhouse says:

    The question remains however, despite being an excellent instructor, to those of us who aren’t in attendance at Brooklyn College it doesn’t change the fact that a Mr. Overton did not keep his personal views away from his students. The political pressure notwithstanding, the guy may deserve to get his job back but still have been reprimanded in some way for his behavior. Being pro-palestinian or pro-israeli isn’t a privilege of the instructor, that much should be clear. If it was proven that the Mr. Overton was in fact supporting Fatah and Hamas, known and recognized terrorist organizations by many countries worldwide(despite them being essential to the palestinian authority) then he should certainly be removed from teaching duties.

    • Michael Busch says:

      But the whole point is that none of the accusations levelled against him were in any way supported by actual evidence. Nor did Mr. Pertersen-Overton not “keep his personal views away from his students”–the class never even took place. Please, be mindful of the facts.

    • Classes hadn’t started when the decision was made

      Also:

      A) There’s nothing in his work that is “pro-terrorist.” B) His published work, which does make his perspective clear, does not preclude him from being able to teach a course and be open to the opinions of his students. The class hadn’t yet begun. He had not “pushed” any views on his students.

      I have political opinions, and I do not hide them from my students. That doesn’t mean I am pushing anything on them. Critical thinking and engaged debate are only possible if students AND instructors are able to engage openly and honestly with important issues.

      This could easily have been an instructor with published pro-Zionist views. It’s not about whether you agree with his opinion. It’s about the principle of academic freedom.

    • Maddalena Romano says:

      A Professor’s job is to give equal voice to all opinions expressed in the class, including his own, so that meaningful discussion can occur. A Professor is prohibited from using a student’s political viewpoint (among other things) to discriminate against the students academic performance. Why should a student not be mindful of the same?

      Furthermore, do not post an opinion without looking up the facts. There is enough conservative vitriol out there that is based on inaccurate information already. We do not need to be mindful of everyone’s feelings at every moment, nor do we need to be fearful to say that some opinions are wrong. If I were to say that I believe 2+2 is 5, would I be right because that was my opinion, regardless of fact? If I were to say that I believe Ohio is not a state, would I be right because that was my opinion?

      Well thought-out debate entertains all sides of an issue. We can disagree on the appropriate ways to reduce the National Debt. We can disagree on what should be the top national priority for this nation for the next two years. To wit, we can then debate the ethics behind our foreign interests–particularly when we consider what they do to the citizens of those countries. This does not make someone pro-terrorist. This makes someone capable of rational thought.

  4. Bob McBoob says:

    Go Nascar!

  5. David Gespass says:

    I speak here for myself, but I am the president of the National Lawyers Guild, Jewish and attended Midwood High School across the street from Brooklyn College. My sister graduated from there and other relatives have attended other branches of CUNY. CUNY generally, and Brooklyn College in particular, have long been examples of the best in public institutions of higher learning, which makes this action all the more upsetting and deplorable. If graduate-level students cannot attend a class in which a professor has a point of view, we are indeed doomed. Competing views in natural sciences like physics and biology are always expressed and explored by university professors who are leading proponents of one or another view. That is the way in which research is carried out and learning enhanced. It is no less true for social science.

    It is especially disturbing that a particular viewpoint is virtually banned by the college and is under attack wherever it is expressed in colleges and universities. The college’s decision is not only an attack on academic freedom, it is an attack on the very concept of learning and consigns us never to learn from history.

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Roy Christopher, Frank Episale, Michael Busch, Michael Busch, SSA and others. SSA said: Petition by @cunydsc in support of @neonmeatte (K. Petersen-Overton): http://bit.ly/icGStp #academicfreedom #CUNY [...]

  7. Mike Friedman says:

    Faculty is in no way required to “keep their personal views out of the classroom.” That, my man, is called academic freedom. The professor, in fact, is SUPPOSED to bring his/her particular area of expertise and passions into the classroom, which, of course is not the same as requiring that students share the professor’s point of view. I’m a biology professor. I teach evolution. Do my students have to agree with me? No. Do I bring in my “personal views”? Absolutely. In fact, this is, as the preceding writer noted, absolutely noncontroversial EXCEPT when the faculty member even remotely questions the Israeli lobby sock-puppets’ version of events.

  8. Chico says:

    Gosh, yeah! It’s not like discovered he was a conservative or something! Then firing him would be not only fine, but demanded. Until I learn more on the case, I won’t sign, but the bleeding for “academic freedom” reads awfully hollow when out colleges are so intolerant of any but hard-left views. Columbia will invite Ahmedinajad to speak but ban an African-American Secretary of state because she spear conform and is too uppity for them.

  9. We totaly support the freedome of expression .No one can prevent any body to speak ,to write or to rais his voice and talk what ever he wants.
    The world is controlled now by the right of information.

  10. [...] meanwhile, have begun circulating a petition “to defend academic [...]

  11. [...] meanwhile, have begun circulating a petition “to defend academic [...]

  12. Maddalena Romano says:

    There is an error on the page that is preventing me from signing the petition.

    As for my comment to be passed on to the decision makers at Brooklyn College, let me say that I have taught at CUNY, and my understanding is that you need to have a degree one level above the students to be qualified to teach the course. Thus a doctoral student can teach master’s students even without being ABD. If the class was a mixed group of MA and PhD students, then the instructor would need to be ABD at least.

    This however was not the case for this instructor. There is ample evidence that he was qualified to teach the course, and ample evidence that someone with HIGHLY CONSERVATIVE VIEWS and very good connections used their political pull to attempt to destroy someone’s life merely because they did not share the same views. We are playing a very dangerous game these days, and it needs to end. We are arrogant enough to read the US constitution as if it were the Bible, and not an imperfect document (hence the Amendments), and EDIT it to make sure that the 3/5 compromise would not offend. We are issuing censored versions of Huckleberry Finn . This dismissal is one more example of someone right to free speech being hindered by a very conservative majority.

    It’s simple–we cannot cannonize the Constitution and not uphold the first amendment rights of US citizens. We cannot allow ourselves to buy into this ever-increasing fascism that has begun to envelop the US. We can take a lesson from 1930s-1940s Germany–for we are following in the same dangerous footsteps. This is a path that needs to be reversed, and immediately.

    • MDW says:

      Very well stated. I agree wholeheartedly.

    • snapcase says:

      Lets stop comparing America to Germany. It’s tedious and a huge cliche. You sound like a member of the Tea Party. Please, try to think of other, more relevant historical similes.

  13. [...] unemployed, the grad student says charitably, because of the school's "fear of controversy." Here's a petition to sign on Petersen-Overton's behalf, blasting the "ille­git­i­mate actions and bor­der­line [...]

  14. Artemy Kalinovsky says:

    If Brooklyn College really did fire him for lack of credentials, they should make a public statement to the effect and make it clear that they WOULD welcome a qualified professor even if that person held similar views to those of Petersen. As for the representative involved, his behavior is disgusting and a complete misuse of his office – he should be ashamed of himself. Same goes for the student, who apparently only took the course to have pre-existing views confirmed.

  15. [...] meanwhile, have begun circulating a petition “to defend academic [...]

  16. There is no RIGHT to be employed by Brooklyn College or anywhere else. K P-O is certainly entitled to hold his views and spew his venom, but he is not entitled to a teaching position. He may have a breach of contract claim, I am not familiar with the contract he allegedly signed, but he has not suffered a Constitutional violation. I have read what he suggests may be the basis for his PhD dissertation and it is both lightweight and lacking in citations for many factual assertions at least some of which I know to be false.

    • Marcus Lowenthal says:

      The best of reactionary politics. Will your contract with CAMERA and other such “fair and balanced” organizations be disclosed?

      And what of the “factual assertions” propounded by the leading pro-Israel intellects, and indeed the State? Must they not be challenged as stridently? Shall we not condemn Jane Harman, Alan Dershowitz, and others for lifelong fraud?

    • admin says:

      Care to elaborate on what “lacking in citations for many factual assertions” means (once your straightened out the poor grammar here. SHould we assume that since you are able to judge others’ doctoral work that you are yourself a PhD holder? Or are we entering into the arena of double standards?

    • NS says:

      How can you accuse someone of “lacking in citations for many factual assertions” without providing citations for your assertions? Why should we trust your reading without your providing justification for it?

  17. JohnMcAlpin says:

    When it is impermissible to speak the truth in an educational institution, that institution no longer deserves to exist. Education does not mean indoctrination into the accepted bigotry of any elite.

  18. Sue Harris says:

    Peterson-Overton should be re-instated immediately. Academic freedom at CUNY must be protected. There are precious few opportunities for students to learn the truth about the Palestinian people and the role that Zionism plays. However, the dam has already burst and more and more people are beginning to understand what is going on so this petition should be part of a growing tide of resistance to the lies.

  19. Samuel Johnstone says:

    Zionism is in free fall now, and the defenders of its racist credo are flailing. Administrations that succumb to this sort of pressure need to get their heads out of their asses and remember what the academic institution is about – education, and liberation through education. Free the college, Free Palestine!!! Down with Zionism!!!

  20. Tim Jacobson says:

    Before jumping to hasty conclusions, it is best to find out whether this is really about “academic freedom” and not, instead, about academic quality.
    Having read Mr Petersen-Overton’s syllabus, I can say that is very biased and does not present a balanced or comprehensive picture of the topic it pertains to be teaching. Anyone familiar with with the literature on Israel and the Palestinians would agree that it represents only one viewpoint (the Palestinian one) and entirely silences the Israeli viewpoint. This is not acceptable academic practice. Such bias would not be tolerated on any subject.
    Imagine the opposite, a syllabus on the middle east that includes only readings that denounce Arab racism, Muslim imperialism, the subjugation of women, the persecution of Christians and Jews by the Muslims, the Armenian genocide, etc., without any text that presents Arabs and Muslims objectively let alone positively. It would be ridiculous if someone were to prepare such a biased syllabus and then, when denied the possibility to spread such propaganda, start screaming about academic freedom.
    In the final count, let us remember that the main purpose of college education is to provide students with knowledge and with tools for critical thinking, not to indoctrinate them with any particular views. And let’s also ourselves avoid judging things hastily and reacting automatically without knowing the facts. It’s not really about academic freedom – it’s about academic quality, balance and fairness.

  21. Tim Jacobson says:

    Before jumping to hasty conclusions, it is best to find out whether this is really about “academic freedom” and not, instead, about academic quality.
    Having read Mr Petersen-Overton’s syllabus, I can say that is very biased and does not present a balanced or comprehensive picture of the topic it pertains to be teaching. Anyone familiar with with the literature on Israel and the Palestinians would agree that it represents only one viewpoint (the Palestinian one) and entirely silences the Israeli viewpoint. This is not acceptable academic practice. Such bias would not be tolerated on any subject.
    Imagine the opposite, a syllabus on the middle east that includes only readings that denounce Arab racism, Muslim imperialism, the subjugation of women, the persecution of Christians and Jews by the Muslims, the Armenian genocide, etc., without any text that presents Arabs and Muslims objectively let alone positively. It would be ridiculous if someone were to prepare such a biased syllabus and then, when denied the possibility to spread such propaganda, start screaming about academic freedom.
    In the final count, let us remember that the main purpose of college education is to provide students with knowledge and with tools for critical thinking, not to indoctrinate them with any particular views. And let’s also ourselves avoid judging things hastily and reacting automatically without knowing the facts. It’s not really about academic freedom – it’s about academic quality, balance and fairness. If he’s not a good enough teacher, he has no innate “right” to teach at Brooklyn College.

  22. Stephen says:

    Tim Jacobsen says: “Any­one famil­iar with with the lit­er­a­ture on Israel and the Pales­tini­ans would agree that it rep­re­sents only one view­point (the Pales­tin­ian one)…” I didn’t know that there was only one Palestinian viewpoint. Thanks for your informed appraisal. Meanwhile, let’s look at other Middle Eastern scholars’ classes. Here’s one at Stanford by Joel Beinin: http://www.stanford.edu/class/history18n/. From the perspective of CNN or the US Congress or the Israeli Embassy, it doesn’t look “balanced” – does it? In fact, there is no way a fact-based, rational, and morally humane course on the Palestine-Israel conflict or the Middle East in general could be taught without seeming “extremist” and “biased” by Wall Street, the Pentagon, the CIA, Congress – and particularly its NY delegation, Barack Obama and 95% of the Democratic Party, NYC City Council and our illustrious mayor, virtually all the talking heads on TV, the New York Times, and US power and money in general. Any intellectually and morally serious study of the Middle East is one that values Arab or Iranian life and is thus considered pro-terrorist and anti-American.

  23. Pieter Spealman says:

    If it is a political hot potato and both sides may be biased in the decision of the matter a third, unbiased, party should be brought in to mediate the issue. I believe that the teachers in public school systems often use this form of mediation. Would it be beyond reason to have the case reviewed by just such a moderator?

    Anyway around it, additional vetting processes need to be put in place to rectify the underlying cause. If the candidate was lacking academic rigor he should not have been hired. Conversely, if he has the criteria to be hired the school should abide by the policy of academic freedom, already in place, which all professors are entitled to.

  24. [...] meanwhile, have begun circulating a petition “to defend academic [...]

  25. Christopher says:

    Brooklyn College and the CUNY system needs to adopt and enforce a policy of anti-repression and academic freedom of speech.
    Now, I don’t possess all the materials in question, so cannot in the best of conscience comment in depth on this specific matter, but differing viewpoints, however unpopular with the obvious majority, should at least be weighed and considered for their academic value. The University community must open minds, hearts and possibilities, not close them.

  26. I’m a Masters candidate in Sociology at Brooklyn College, and I second what people here have said about academic freedom.

    What’s particularly galling here is that the Brooklyn College administration is in effect bestowing citywide ideological veto power over educational hiring on Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who stated, “if he’s going to go into a graduate course in my neighborhood, *I* just want a guy who’s going to be fair” (emphasis mine).

    Hikind was also a leading voice in the 2007 ouster of principal Debbie Almontaser of the Brooklyn charter school Khalil Gibran International Academy, for not expressing the proper condemnation of the word “intifada.”

  27. [...] was the product of political pressure from forces out side the university.” (From petitions: http://advocate.mellifluously.info/2011/01/defend-academic-freedom-at-brooklyn-college/) This situation raises important concerns and demands from our institutions both related to [...]

  28. Jan says:

    This is truly disgusting. I am certain that Mr. Dov Hikind would have voiced no objections had Peterson-Overton been 1000% pro-Israel and used only tomes by the discredited Joan Peters and Alan Dershowitz. But show any bit of bias towards Palestinians or show an even-handed approach and the loathsome Mr. Hikind wants someone fired. Maybe it is Hikind who should be fired.

    If this is American “education” when someone can lose their job because they tell truths that people such as Hikind don’t want to hear, our educational system is in a sorry state.

  29. [...] and without qualification.” The CUNY Graduate Center student newspaper, The Advocate, is also circulating a petition that has already received over 1,300 signatures, in addition to hosting a live blog which follows [...]

  30. Mike says:

    I see that there are a lot of fools on this page defending the professor’s “academic freedom.” Where were all these fools when Juan Williams was fired by NPR for expressing HIS views?

    We have reached a very sad day when terrorist sympathizing can be protected in the name of “academic freedom.” Alexander Hamilton warned that liberty may be destroyed not just by the abuse of power, but also by the abuse of liberty.” In my opinion, allowing this professor to remain on the BC faculty would have been not a manifestation, but a perversion, of the First Amendment.

    There comes a point when political correctness has to end and common sense has to set in. What’s next: defending Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis in the name of “academic freedom”?

    It seems to me that anti-Zionism is the new, socially acceptable form of anti-Semitism. Throwing Jews into gas chambers just isn’t in style anymore. Attacking the only country in the world that will prevent another Holocaust … that is perfectly acceptable.

    In the 1930s, Adolph Hitler believed that Jews were “occupying” and “contaminating” Germany. Eleven million slain and sixty-five years later, professors across the country are telling students that Jews are “occupying” the Land of Israel and disguising this absolute buffonery under the auspices of “academic freedom.”

    To be against Israel is to be for the destruction of the Jewish people and of world civilization. I only wish that those who take such a perverse pleasure in bashing the Jewish State would hold its neighbors – and its enemies – to the same standards. Sadly, they don’t.

    Making baseless accusations against the State of Israel isn’t academic freedom; it’s anti-Semitism. When will the political correctness end?

    I thank and commend Dr. Gould with all my heart for firing this idiotic professor, thereby preventing yet another group of students from being indoctrinated and brainwashed with his anti-Semitic views. It was the right thing to do.

    I support reasonable discussions and disagreement. I do not support one-sided propaganda and intimidation on the part of any professor.

    ‘You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.’ And the fact of the matter is, the State of Israel is the United States’ sole, reliable ally in the Middle East.

    Would we have allowed a Nazi-sympathizer to teach on an American campus during WWII? No.

    How dare this man suggest that a country the size of New Jersey is the world’s greatest enemy? No, political correctness is the our greatest enemy – and it will be our downfall. Thank G-d that Dr. Gould is not a victim of political correctness, and was able to see this professor for who he really is – a terrorist sympathizer and a moron.

    • Charles says:

      Or, alternatively, you could make some sort of point…

    • Katharine says:

      As far as this Gentile is aware, Zionism is not inherent in being a Jew. Perhaps it’s inherent in being a right-wing dominionist Jew, but it’s not inherent in being a Jew.

  31. AbuCleo says:

    Since when is making accusations against Israel anti-Semitism? I guess I know a lot of Israeli anti-Semites then.

  32. Edwin Krales says:

    It is not a requirement here in the U.S. to defend, support or like Israel. If everyone in New York City was fired from their jobs for not supporting Israel, the city would come to a standstill for lack of workers. Israel is a foreign country that is trying to destroy Palestine. Unfortunately Israel has many supporters in the U.S. who are willing to take part in Palestine’s destruction. Undoubtedly there are many such people at Brooklyn College, but as far as I know they have not been fired for their murderous views. Why do we allow Israel’s supporters the power to fire our fellow citizens who don’t support Israel? We must answer this question in order to find out how we can eliminate their influence.

  33. Katharine says:

    Gee, since when was it a requirement to fawn over Israel?

    I don’t like either Israel or Palestine much at all since neither of them know how to share.

    How about, actually, we hate on Britain and Germany? The whole thing was their fault.

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