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Does Brooklyn College Pass the ‘Shoe on the Other Foot’ Test?

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

The decision by the Brooklyn College political science department to endorse the BDS movement—which includes the boycotting of Jewish-Israeli academics—has been “justified” on freedom of speech and academic freedom grounds by the chairman of the department. Brooklyn College’s President has said that departments have the right to sponsor one-sided partisan events. Let’s see if these “justifications” pass the “shoe on the other foot test.”

What would these administrators say if the department of philosophy were to officially endorse the right to life and oppose a woman’s right to choose abortion? What if the economics department had officially endorsed Mitt Romney during last year’s election? What if the Spanish department had voted to endorse an academic boycott against Cuban or Venezuelan professors? What if the department of religion were to officially condemn homosexuality?

I can assure you that both the lyrics and the music would be very different. The chairman of the political science department, a radical leftist, would be complaining that his academic freedom is being denied by these departments officially endorsing positions with which he disagrees. The president of the college, known for her feminist views, would not likely remain silent in the face of an official departmental endorsement of the right to life. Nor would many faculty members justify a departmental condemnation of homosexuality on the ground of academic freedom or freedom of speech.

So these invocations of free speech and academic freedoms are merely a smokescreen to cover the hypocrisy of those who claim that they are committed to open dialogue and the expression of all points of view. That is so much hooey. Of course, the event should go forward, but it should be sponsored by students and outside groups, not by a department of the college. The same should be true of pro-Israel events.

The very same professors who demand the right to advocate BDS against Israel would demand the right to suppress the free speech and academic freedom of those who support Israeli settlements and the denial of statehood to the Palestinians. “Free speech for me but not for thee” has always been the hallmark of extremists on both the left and right. These extremists believe they know the truth and that there is no reason for supporting, endorsing or even tolerating opposing viewpoints. They cannot be trusted to grade students neutrally and without bias. I know that if I were a student at Brooklyn College today, I would not major in political science for fear that my support for Israel and my opposition to BDS might make me a target in the eyes of professors whose department has officially endorsed BDS, thus discriminating against my point of view in the marketplace of ideas. How could I be sure they wouldn’t discriminate against my point of view in grading or recommending students? This is the real issue in the hullabaloo over the decision by the Brooklyn College political science department to co-sponsor and endorse the BDS campaign at Brooklyn College.

Nor is this only a hypothetical or abstract fear. One political science student at Brooklyn College said she was afraid to criticize her department because “that’s going to put a target on my back.” Other students talked about a “chilling effect” that the department’s decision would have on them. And yet another student said that she had “an uncomfortable feeling” about raising her hand and arguing “with a professor who voted for it” and who tried to justify his vote in the classroom.

The president of Brooklyn College says she believes that departments have the right to take controversial positions and to sponsor and endorse controversial events. Where is the line to be drawn? Would the Brooklyn College political science department have the right offer a course entitled, “Why BDS against Israel is a good thing?” Would the faculty have the right to grade students based on whether their exams agree or disagree with the department’s official party line on BDS? Would the department have the right to deny the request of a faculty member to teach a course on why BDS against Israel is a bad thing? Surely the answer to these questions is no and even the chairman of the political science department at Brooklyn College would probably agree. But his department has endorsed BDS against Israel, and it would not co-sponsor or endorse an equivalent speech on the other side of the issue: namely, by a radical, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian statehood, zealot. I doubt his department would co-sponsor and endorse a speech by a moderate pro-Israel advocate who favored the two state solution and opposed settlement building That issue is being tested because Brooklyn College Hillel is asking the political science department to “co-sponsor” and “endorse” an anti-BDS talk by me. The shoe is now on the other foot! And it is causing painful blisters.

Brooklyn College Students Explain Academic Freedom to BC Profs, Admin.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Yesterday The Jewish Press ran a story about an upcoming anti-Israel event that will take place on the Brooklyn College Campus next week.  The article explained that while the university administration has not endorsed the event, it supports its political science department which has both endorsed and is co-sponsoring the event, the goal of which is to encourage everyone to embrace the movement to Boycott, Divest from and employ Sanctions against the State of Israel. It is a means of “economic warfare” employed by the enemies of the Jewish State to punish Israel.

In particular, the article noted, BDS seeks to bar Israeli academics from participation in journals, research, public lectures and teaching, yet the Brooklyn College political science department is not only a co-sponsor but has officially endorsed the event, all in the name of “academic freedom.”

Today the president of Brooklyn College’s Assembly (the undergraduate government), Abraham Esses, released the following statement:

“Dear students, faculty members, and administrators,

Over the past few days, there has been much confusion as to exactly why students are upset about the upcoming BDS event on campus. Although the controversy first became public last week, each of Brooklyn College’s student governments have not been directly involved until the past few days. The reason for CLAS’s involvement, accordingly, has nothing to do with the event itself, but instead the recklessness in which faculty members and administrators have approached the event.

The department’s approach to the issue is far from constructive; knowing well in advance that such sponsorship would insult and isolate a large portion of its students, it chose to express its own opinions through a venue that inhibits open dialogue and honest debate. Far from being receptive to students’ concerns, I regret to inform you that they have repeatedly turned down students’ requests to meet and discuss the issue further. Student leaders with questions about the intent of the sponsorship were repeatedly denied meetings, which does worry me as to their original intent. The consequences of these decisions are clear; a growing number of students on campus feel isolated from the very professors whom they once looked to for guidance, and unnecessarily divided against a large portion of the student body. What’s worse, the cause of this rift stems from administrative and faculty bodies who have, throughout the years, frequently stressed the importance of cultivating campus unity.

Along with their right to promote certain opinions comes the responsibility to convey these opinions in a proper manner. This is not an opinion of mine, but rather that of the AAUP, a body responsible for defining what exactly academic freedom rights entail. Professors, according to the AAUP, “should exercise appropriate restraint” when speaking about controversial matters, and “should show respect for the opinions of others”. In endorsing a divisive, controversial event while failing to do so in a way that allows our students and faculty to engage in constructive dialogue, the Political Science Department has failed its students miserably. Like the right to free speech, academic freedom rights are not unbounded; the department has basically yelled “fire” on campus, and locked the doors to their department after doing so. By doing so, it has failed to accomplish one of the main benefits of academic freedom rights, that is, the approach of all ideas and issues with an open mind. Such a failure constitutes as a gross abuse of such rights.

Moreover, I find the administration’s slow, halfhearted response to the issue to be appalling. Without any support or sympathy for students’ complaints, the administration seems complacent in a department’s clear abuse of its rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, the administration has failed to consult any student group before issuing its statement in support of the Political Science’s sponsorship decision. I believe this approach to be indicative of the respect, or lack thereof, which they have for students on campus. Whereas I understand its hesitation, the administration has clearly failed to represent and act for its own constituents.

While fully cognizant of the academic freedom rights enumerated to Brooklyn College faculty members, I truly regret the divisive attitude with which both the Political Science Department and the Administration have approached the department’s recent decision to sponsor a BDS event. I sincerely hope that, should a similar scenario occur in the future, the administration act in a more responsible, sensible manner. Regardless of those involved, more respect is due to the students of Brooklyn College.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/brooklyn-college-students-explain-academic-freedom-to-bc-profs-admin/2013/01/30/

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