Monday, February 4, 2013

Getting Academic Freedom Not Quite Right

I sent Brooklyn College's President Karen Gould a response to her letter today concerning the appearance at Brooklyn College of Omar Barghouti, the advocate of sanctions against Israeli academics: 

President Gould, as a practical matter I support your decision to allow Barghouti's appearance, but some of the faculty here at Brooklyn have substituted political advocacy for academics and so have a biased, unfair, and inaccurate definition of academic freedom. I urge you to address the comparison between Evan Goldwyn in 2005 and Omar Barghouti in 2013 in a public statement.  In 2005 the now-defunct New York Sun ran an article on Goldwyn.  The same academics now claiming that Barghouti, a master's degree student, deserves academic freedom then said that Goldwyn, also a student, was not entitled to academic freedom because he was a student.  See:  .

In the Goldwyn case Professor Parmar attempted to throw Goldwyn out of school because he disagreed with her claim that English is the language of white oppressors.  Several professors now arguing for Barghouti's academic freedom then argued that students are not entitled to academic freedom. Would you please comment publicly on the different response to the two cases?  Goldwyn was saved only by the publicity KC Johnson brought, not because, since the 1990s or earlier, the school has had a history of supporting academic freedom--except for left-wingers. Barghouti has an international reputation as a political propagandist or activist, not as an academic. Section 501 (c) (3) explicitly rejects political propaganda as part of an educational institution's mission, and in taking a tax exemption Brooklyn College committed to that position. Are you reversing that position now, or are you claiming that Barghouti is an academic?

Also, the claim that there is academic freedom in a political science department with 100% left-wingers and 0% conservatives, libertarians, or other alternative viewpoints, with any alternative views being suppressed or excluded, is a joke. The same is true of the economics department, which has excluded, for example, the Austrian economics viewpoint.    

As well, political propaganda is not academic or educational, as Section 501 (c) (3) clearly states.  If the college, as apparently the political science department does, sees its role as propaganda rather than education (a position which former provost Roberta Matthews advocated--but not for tax purposes, concerning which she was willing to lie--when she said that all teaching is political),  I would appreciate your explicit clarification of why a talk that advocates sanctions against Israeli academics is in any sense "academic" or "educational" as required by section 501(c)(3) for tax exemption purposes.

-----Original Message-----
From: Karen L. Gould, President []
Sent: Mon 2/4/2013 10:50 AM
To: Staff E-Mail
Subject: A steadfast commitment to academic freedom with a commitment to ongoing dialogue and debate

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

During the past week, due to an upcoming event about the BDS movement, our campus has been wrestling with issues of tremendous importance to our college and our community.  There are passionate views on many sides.  While we appreciate the many voices of support for our stand on academic freedom, we cannot disregard the concerns raised by some of our students and alumni.

First, however, let me be clear: Our commitment to the principles of academic freedom remains steadfast.  Students and faculty, including academic departments, programs, and centers, have the right to invite speakers, engage in discussion, and present ideas to further educational discussion and debate.   The mere invitation to speak does not indicate an endorsement of any particular point of view, and there is no obligation, as some have suggested, to present multiple perspectives at any one event.  In this case, the department's co-sponsorship of the event is an invitation to participate; it does not indicate an endorsement of the speakers' positions.  Providing an open forum to discuss important topics, even those many find highly objectionable, is a centuries-old practice on university campuses around the country.  Indeed, this spirit of inquiry and critical debate is a hallmark of the American education system.

At the same time, it is essential that Brooklyn College remain an engaged and civil learning environment where all views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal.  As I stated last week, we encourage debate, discussion, and more debate.  Students and faculty should explore these and other issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the only basis for consideration.  Contrary to some reports, the Department of Political Science fully agrees and has reaffirmed its longstanding policy to give equal consideration to co-sponsoring speakers who represent any and all points of view.

Over the next two months, with the support of the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities and other campus units and community groups, we will provide multiple opportunities for discussion about the topics and related subject matter at the heart of this controversy.  In addition to Thursday evening's event, at which I encourage those with opposing views to participate in the discussion and ask tough questions, other forums will present alternative perspectives for consideration.  The college welcomes participation from any groups on our campus that may wish to help broaden the dialogue.  At each of these events, please keep in mind that students, faculty, staff, and guests are expected to treat one another with respect at all times, even when they strongly disagree.

Finally, to those who have voiced concern that our decision to uphold the rights of our students and faculty signals an endorsement of the speakers' views, I say again that nothing could be further from the truth.  Moreover, I assure you that our college does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.  As the official host of the CUNY center for study abroad in Israel, our college has a proud history of engagement with Israel and Israeli universities. In fact, over the past two years we have renewed our efforts to reconnect with existing institutional partners and to develop new relationships as well for faculty and student exchanges with Israeli institutions.  We deeply value our Israeli partners and would not endorse any action that would imperil the State of Israel or its citizens, many of whom are family members and friends of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and neighbors.

As one of the most diverse colleges in the country, it is particularly important that Brooklyn College foster an inclusive environment where all may voice their points of view across the full spectrum of social, political, and cultural issues of our time.  As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wisely stated nearly a century ago, when one finds another's speech offensive, "...the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."  Together, we must work to ensure that on our campus more and more speech continues to occur so that our students can be broadened in their knowledge, challenged in their thinking, and encouraged to bring their own analysis and values to bear on a wide range of topics of local, national, and global interest.


Karen L. Gould


Anonymous said...

I don't know much about the Evan Goldwyn case (although your description makes me sympathetic to him). However, your framing of the present issue strikes me as confused. At issue is not Omar Barghouti's academic freedom. At issue is the academic freedom of CUNY students and faculty to invite Barghouti and Judith Butler to speak on a topic of academic, political and moral interest. That is pretty clear.

Mitchell Langbert said...

Your point is that Barghouti's academic freedom is not at stake (he is like a lab rat being examined by the "scientists" of the Brooklyn College Political Science Department). That makes no difference.

I'm curious why Evan Goldwyn was not entitled to be a lab rat (I guess the "scientists" at Brooklyn College have no curiosity about lab rats with whom they disagree, only about those with whom they agree); why KC Johnson was not entitled to academic freedom; why the Democratic/Republican ratio among the Brooklyn faculty is about 12 to 1 whereas nationally it is between 3 and 6 to 1, and why I was attacked in part using rhetoric that characterized me as a conservative simply because the people attacking me thought that they could win other faculty's sympathy by so characterizing me.

Section 501(c)(3) requires that political propaganda not be part of the mission of any academic institution. The Political Science Department invited Barghouti because they agree with him politically, not because he has anything of academic interest to say. They have not invited anyone who opposes his views.

If inviting Barghouti is of academic interest to the Political Science Department, which opponent of Barghouti have they have invited? Political, not academic, interests leads to lopsidedness.

The evidence is this: (1) no one in the Political Science Department favors Israel,(2) When David Horowitz, who is pro-Israel, came to Brooklyn they would not sponsor him and they opposed his being there, (3) the Political Science Department never invited any other lab rat with a different point of view from Barghouti or Overton, (4) the Political Science Department has never invited other hate propagandists, such as the Klan. They have only invited anti-Israel anti-Semites; they do not have a scientific interest in hate speech, nor in the Middle East. Astronomers don't observe galactic phenomena only on the left-hand side of the galaxy.

I am curious why anyone who is pro Israel has not been free to teach in the Brooklyn College Political Science Department. Moreover the Political Science Department may be systematically excluding Israelis (based on a report of KC Johnson of what occurred in their faculty meeting).

You are ignorant of what academic freedom means. The 1940 statement of principles of academic freedom of the AAUP is here:

It has been shocking to me that no one in the PSC seems to be familiar with how the AAUP has defined academic freedom. Certainly, the freedom to have one's political cronies on board is not academic freedom; nor is academic freedom the license to invite master's degree students with a political animus.

Inviting a soap box orator who is a master's degree student to spew hate speech is not an element of academic freedom any more than a prurient interest in pornography or a the showing of the Rambo movie for entertainment value is. Prohibiting the showing of Rambo for entertainment does not violate academic freedom. Of course, using it for research purposes is a matter of academic freedom.

Barghouti has nothing of importance to say or teach. His ideas can be summarized in a brief paragraph. He wants to boycott Israel, and he favors national origin discrimination against Israelis, much like the Nazis favored it against Jews.

Which is not to say that I oppose Barghouti speaking. I think Barghouti, the Klan, and everyone else should have the right to speak on campus. It's not a matter of academic freedom, though. It's a First Amendment, freedom of speech question.

I suspect you have a different opinion. Like most bigots, you oppose some people's words because they "wound" you, but you support others who "wound" people against whom you have prejudice or with whom you disagree. You would invite Barghouti, but you would not dream of inviting the Klan, or even a Republican Party politician.

Mitchell Langbert said...

One more point: when convicted terrorist Syed Hashmi, a product of the political indoctrination in Brooklyn College's sociology and political science departments, was arrested, academic "scientists" claimed that he was entitled to "academic" freedom. It seems that the totalitarian bigots' lies about academic freedom shifts with whatever cause comes their way.

The Stop BDS Team said...

Do you happen to have a source for the quote from the CUNY chancellor used by Alan Dershowitz in this column at HuffPo.

Thanks in Advance
Barbara Mazor

Mitchell Langbert said...

Barbara--sorry for my delay in getting back to you: I have been reading a good history book and have not paid attention to my blog.

The Chancellor's statement is on the CUNY website at

I am sure he means well, but like any politician who has survived in a pressure cooker like CUNY, Chancellor Goldstein will take the path that leads to survival for himself; also, I sense he is backing the Brooklyn College president, but he will respond to public or political pressure to do otherwise.