Brooklyn College reinstates teacher fired for scholarship on Palestine

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Brooklyn College’s decision today to reinstate Kristofer Petersen-Overton’s teaching position is being hailed as a victory for academic freedom. Petersen-Overton, a PhD student at CUNY’s Graduate Center, was let go just 24-hours after state assemblyman Dov Hikind allegedly contacted CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to complain of Petersen-Overton’s supposed sympathy for suicide bombers. Hikind, a former Brooklyn College alumnus, previously made his mark in the smear campaign that led to the removal of educator Debbie Almontaser.

The Brooklyn College Political Science Department called an emergency meeting today during which faculty voted unanimously to recommend that Petersen-Overton be hired to teach a course titled “Politics of the Middle East.” This was followed with a unanimous vote by the Political Science Appointments Committee to officially hire him. A meeting between the Chair of the Political Science Department, Provost William Tramontano, President Karen Gould and others then ensued.

An official statement released by President Gould reads:

Over the past several days, as a result of a provostial decision about an adjunct appointment, Brooklyn College has been thrust into a debate about academic freedom. This debate has been fueled at times by inflammatory rhetoric and mischaracterization of the facts. It is unfortunate that matters of utmost importance to our college community can be so rapidly co-opted by those with a political agenda and distorted by the media.

I stand united with you: We must never allow decisions about our students’ education to be swayed by outside influence. In the matter at hand, this certainly has not been the case. On behalf of every member of this institution, I reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the principles of academic freedom, faculty governance, and standards of excellence.

Today, the Department of Political Science and its appointments committee voted unanimously to recommend Kristofer Petersen-Overton to teach a graduate course on the Middle East. Based on information that has come to light, they are confident he has sufficient depth of knowledge and the intellectual capacity to successfully lead a graduate seminar. The provost now supports their recommendation, and I am in full agreement.

Provost Tramontano refused to comment on the allegations of political motivation behind his original decision to deny Petersen-Overton’s appointment, but Political Science Chair Sally Bermanzohn said, “I’m very happy. This is a young scholar who has very interesting scholarship and has something to teach students.”

While this battle has been won, many have not. The fact that this is the second time in 6 months that academic freedom has come under attack at Brooklyn College only further emphasizes the opposition faced by those who dedicate their studies to deconstructing the complex, and controversial, politics of the Middle East.

Zoe Zenowich is a Senior in the Scholars Program at Brooklyn College, where she is the managing editor of the Excelsior, a student newspaper.

4 Responses

  1. Shingo
    February 1, 2011, 1:41 am

    Anotehr chink in the Lobby’s armor is revealed.

  2. syvanen
    February 1, 2011, 4:25 am

    It does sound like the faculty have reacted in a decisive manner against this attack against academic freedom. There are very few college administrations that will defy a unified faculty. There are a number of examples of administrations that fired faculty for communist sympathies in the early 1950s. This was during a period of fear. By 1960 this practice had stopped. The fear had broken and obvious cases of politically motivated firings were resisted. This climaxed in the University of California system over the ‘loyalty oath’ controversy.

  3. Avi
    February 1, 2011, 7:53 am

    This Hikind character has been busy:

    With anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment rising to historically dangerous levels globally, Dov’s position on the front lines of advocacy on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people of Israel is even more vital. Mr. Hikind led four separate delegations of elected officials and constituents to Israel in a show of support and solidarity for the [settler] residents of Gaza, on the eve of disengagement.

    During the Second Lebanon War, the Assemblyman led another mission of 20 community and business leaders to survey the katyusha-ravaged northern region of Israel, offering messages of prayer, support, and comfort to the 1.5 million Israeli citizens who were within target site range of rockets and missiles. Hikind presented Zaka’s first responders with 50 bulletproof vests and helmets, and delivered food and other provisions to residents evacuated to bunkers and bomb shelters, and learned firsthand how families were dealing with being under direct fire.

    On a fact-finding mission to Israel, Dov met with leading professors, intellectuals and activists including: Nobel Prize Winner Robert Aumann and a host of others to discuss the threats to Israel and world Jewry. The consensus was that Israel and the Jewish world face an existential threat from a nuclear Iran. Recently, Hikind denounced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “the little Hitler” when the Iranian leader spoke at New York’s Columbia University.

    When reports of a dangerous surge in anti-Semitic violence emerged from Europe, Dov traveled to Germany, France, Belgium, and England to be briefed by Jewish leaders and security experts on the disturbing trends in these countries. Most would flee their native or adopted countries if they could.

  4. Potsherd2
    February 4, 2011, 4:39 pm

    Isn’t this guy linked to Jewish terrorist organizations? Hasn’t some of his money ended up in the hands of Kach operatives, not just Zaka?

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