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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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Academic Freedom Is Not A One-Way Street

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Now that the forum co-sponsored by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the Brooklyn College political science department has come and gone, it is incumbent on Brooklyn College and Mayor Bloomberg to vindicate their claim that the event had to be allowed to take place in the interests of academic freedom.

While most of us who criticized Brooklyn College over the scheduling of the event focused on the imprimaturconferred by the sponsorship of the political science department, City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and Brooklyn College President Karen Gould defended it in general terms of academic freedom.

And so did Mayor Bloomberg, who in skirting the real issue delivered one of his signature bon mots: “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

In any event, a Jewish Brooklyn College graduate student, Ari Ziegler, wrote in a New York Daily News opinion column that he was one of four Jewish students expelled from the forum. He said he attended the event because, though he opposes the BDS movement, he wanted to understand the ideas of those who differ from him and also to ask some questions.

He says he settled in with three members of the campus Hillel. But about halfway through the prepared remarks of one of the speakers, he realized “an organizing member was questioning the friends at my right. He was asking for the sheets in our laps, which contained facts that challenged the ideas being preached from the pulpit.”

Mr. Ziegler reports that he and his colleagues were told to give up the papers “or you’ll be removed.” When they refused, they were, in fact, summarily ejected from the building. He added that Brooklyn College officials initially maintained that “based upon official reports, they [Ziegler and his friends] were being quite disruptive.” Mr. Ziegler calls that “a complete fabrication.”

We were encouraged to learn on Tuesday that CUNY is investigating the removal of the Jewish students from what was, after all, an officially sponsored campus event. Officials are also investigating why members of the media were excluded from the forum.

In the meantime, it would be refreshing to hear from Mayor Bloomberg that all stops will be pulled out to ensure that all sides of an issue – not just those with a leftist seal of approval – are covered by the protections of academic freedom.

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