Academic Freedom Breached at Brooklyn College
Universities and colleges, public and private, across the country push policies every year that limit academic freedom and free speech.
Some seem more extreme like the case of Cedarville University in Ohio where the private university announced the closing of its philosophy department earlier this year after some of its professors opened conversations that the university deemed contrary to its doctrinal statement. Others seem less extreme but still limiting of free speech like the case of the University of Florida earlier this school year where the public university attempted to stifle student publications by placing licensing and monetary restrictions on who may distribute written materials on campus.
In many of these cases, including those at Cedarville and UF, students and professors joined to fight breaches of academic and speech freedom. Now, enter Brooklyn College (City University of New York), the most recent example of this type of union.
The Brooklyn College branch of Students for Justice in Palestine hosted Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and philosopher Judith Butler last Friday where they spoke to students about the global movement that promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights according to the organization's views. But strong backlash almost silenced the event.
Assistant Majority Leader of the New York City Council Lew Fidler sent a letter to Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, that pressured the school and SJP student organizers not to hold the event.
"We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong," Fidler wrote. "So, should this event occur, we must strongly oppose it and ask you to reconsider any official support or sponsorship."
The New York City Council provides substantial funding to New York public universities each year, as Fidler pointed out in his letter.
Brooklyn College's political science department joined students, and together they protested this threat, arguing the preservation of academic freedom.
“To be clear, we do not necessarily agree with the BDS movement nor with the personal opinions of Professor Butler or Mr. Barghouti," the department wrote in a petition created to support the panel. "But our agreement with the views of the panelists or those of its organizers is not the issue.” The issue is academic freedom.
In the end, the public university decided to uphold academic freedom and free speech.
While SJP spent the last week responding to threats and complaints from various sources, press coordinator Carlos Guzman firmly stands by the club and its dedication to host the panel.
“We have the right to voice our opinion,” Guzman told Campus Progress. “There are going to be people who don’t agree with our point of view, but that’s why we’re at school, in college. University is a place to discuss different ideas that are sensitive, to find some common ground and learn the facts on the ground so you can make up your mind afterwards.”
Aditi Pai is a reporter for Campus Progress.