The Brooklyn College students who were expelled from a Brooklyn College public event, and publicly chastised by a Brooklyn College official find are deeply disappointed in the response of the school’s report concerning the event, based on the investigation it conducted and the recommendations on which it is based, issued by the General Counsel for City University of New York and an outside law firm and (2) the inadequate “apology” issued by the BC president.
The lawyers representing several of those students informed the school that the inadequate response is unacceptable. The students, through their legal representatives, insisted that in order to begin to right the very serious wrongs in which the school played a major role, administrators, professors, employees and student groups must be subject to disciplinary proceedings. The school has not yet responded.
On February 7, Brooklyn College was the site of a BDS (Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel) event at which two speakers virulently opposed to the state of Israel shared with the audience why they should promote the economic and political warfare method of BDS.
The Brooklyn College Political Science Department endorsed and co-sponsored the event which was run by the pro-Arab Palestinian group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Many pro-Israel Brooklyn College students, as well as members of the wider community, opposed the event or at least opposed the sponsorship by the BC academic department.
The event went forward, with the official endorsement of the college president, Karen Gould, who emphasized her support of the event was based not on any agreement with the concept of BDS, but on the need to honor and promote academic freedom. She also encouraged all those who disagreed with the premise of BDS to attend the event and engage in the debate. She wrote:
As an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose, even those with which members of our campus and broader community may vehemently disagree. As your president, I consistently have demonstrated my commitment to these principles so that our college community may consider complex issues and points of view across the political and cultural spectrum.
The Event did go forward. Points of view across the political and cultural spectrum? Not so much.
As has been reported here and elsewhere, four Jewish pro-Israel students (the Brooklyn College Four) were ejected from the event, allegedly for creating a disturbance and being disrespectful.
The students were ejected from the public event despite the agreement of virtually everyone at the event – at least once they knew that the veracity of their statements were being examined, that there was no disturbance. There was one lone, unnamed, non-student woman who allegedly told SJP students working at the sign-in desk (outside of the event room) that the students later expelled were “creating a disturbance” and that she “thought they were handing out flyers.” This person has not been identified and was not interviewed by the investigators.
Evidence gathered through the investigation confirmed that Brooklyn College and CUNY officials and faculty placed complete, discretionary control over public safety and constitutional liberties of everyone at the event in the hands of someone who was not only not a CUNY administrator, faculty member, or public safety personnel – even though there were multiple members of every one of those categories on site that night. Even worse, the person who was given complete control over the rights of all attendees is someone who had absolutely no connection to BC or CUNY at all. This person, Carlos Guzman, was the creator and strongest possible advocate of the BDS event; he had incentive, and no professional responsibility, to respect, support or protect the views of those who opposed the BC BDS event. A thorough critique of the Report is available here.
Although the Investigators, through the Report, unequivocally stated “there was no justification for the removal of the four students,” because “nothing the four students had done gave rise to a reasonable fear that a disturbance was about to erupt,” the rebuke offered by these three lawyers was to state that the “Brooklyn College administrators did not handle this event well.” Quite.
These high-powered investigators made suggestions – tentatively offered !! to: institute clerical changes to future registration processes; encourage reasonable press access to future public events; designate a public safety officer or high ranking college administrator to determine, in the future, when and if someone needs to be removed from an event; and give public safety personnel training on how to determine if there is an immediate threat to public safety.
No suggestions were made about how or whether to discipline all the CUNY officials and employees who were on site at the Brooklyn College BDS Event. These BC/CUNY representatives stood by and said and did nothing while a biased, non CUNY-affialiated person violated the constitutional rights of four Brooklyn College students. Actually, to say they did nothing is too charitable. Several, including the Vice President for Student Affairs Milga Morales and Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Joseph Giovanelli, actively participated in the ejection of the Brooklyn College Four.
Some press reports have focused on the lack of a direct and public apology for the wrongs endured by the expelled students. “If you Google my name, it still looks like I did something wrong,” Melanie Goldberg, one of the four expelled students told a Brooklyn College newspaper reporter after the Report was released. And indeed, the need to repair the reputations of the expelled students is an obvious first step for CUNY to take.
But the school has thus fair failed to address this fundamental issue: Brooklyn College not only allowed, but participated in the violation of their students’ constitutional rights at an event at their school, and at which nearly a dozen school officials and employees were present. That is a gaping flaw in their erstwhile efforts to move past the fiasco.
Legal counsel to the expelled students who sought representation in order to safeguard their rights are Jay P. Lefkowitz and Jakob Sebrow, who are lawyers in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis.
In a letter sent recently to Frederick P. Schaffer, CUNY’s General Counsel, a co-investigator and co-author of the BC BDS Report, the students’ lawyers make several points quite clearly:
The constitutional rights of the expelled Brooklyn College students were violated because of the acts or omissions of BC/CUNY representatives;
The reputations of the expelled Brooklyn College students were harmed because of the overt actions taken by Brooklyn College representatives;
Those responsible for the harms inflicted on the students who were expelled – both the BC/CUNY officials and employees and the Students for Justice in Palestine, and, in particular, the individual representing the SJP whom NC/CUNY officials designated as an agent of the institution, must bear responsibility for those wrongs and endure the consequences of their actions.
A clear and public apology to the wronged students is a necessary first step. Disciplinary hearings against all those who did the students a terrible disservice, and worse, must be instituted as quickly as possible. The sad truth that Brooklyn College’s president, Karen Gould, and CUNY’s Legal Counsel and Senior Vice President, Frederick Schaffer, have failed to recognize the necessity of these simple ameliorative actions even now, nearly three months after the incident occurred, is not a good sign. Let’s hope better ones are coming.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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