Brooklyn College president: ‘There is no academic obligation to present’ a pro-Israel perspective at boycott event

Israel/Palestine
on 17 Comments

The excellent professor, Corey Robin, has just posted a new statement by Brooklyn College president Karen Gould affirming the college’s commitment to hold the boycott panel on Thursday. This is real bravery; I am sure she has come under donor pressure in addition to political pressure. Robin says this battle has now moved outside of Flatbush to Albany and the mayor’s office. Is the state legislature going to take action? Will the mayor stand up?

Updated: See full Gould letter below Robin’s post, it includes affirmation of the college’s close relationship to Israel. Hmmmm. Robin:

This morning, Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, issued an extraordinarily powerful statement in defense of academic freedom and the right of the political science department to co-sponsor the BDS event. I don’t have a link yet (will post when I do) but this is the critical part of her statement:

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.

In my more than twenty years as a graduate student and professor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a leader of an educational institution take a more principled and courageous stand than this. Under, as we know, the most extraordinary coercion and pressure.

So that’s good. But the fight is not over.  The New York City Council, as you know, has laid down a gauntlet: if this event goes forward, with my department’s co-sponsorship, the Council will withdraw funds from CUNY and Brooklyn College. As Glenn Greenwald points out this morning, this is about as raw an exercise of coercive political power —and simple a violation of academic freedom—as it gets; it is almost exactly comparable to what Rudy Guiliani did when he was mayor and pulled the funding from the Brooklyn Museum merely because some people did not like what it was exhibiting.

So now the battle lines are clear: it’s the City Council (and perhaps the State Legislature and Congress too) against academic freedom, freedom of speech, and CUNY.

Throughout this controversy, there has been one voice that has been conspicuously silent: Mayor Bloomberg. To everyone who is a journalist out there, I ask you to call the Mayor’s office and ask the question: Will he stand with the City Council (and follow the model of his predecessor), threatening the withholding of funds merely because government officials do not like words that are being spoken at Brooklyn College? Or will he stand up to the forces of orthodoxy and insist: an educational institution, particularly one as precious to this city as CUNY, needs to remain a haven for the full exploration of views and opinions, even about—especially about—topics as fraught as the conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, there is a petition being circulated in support of my department and academic freedom. You should sign it and share it with people.

And if you yourself want to contact the mayor, here’s a link.

Update: Here is Gould’s full letter, from this site, including this statement, in the context of the college not supporting BDS: “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.”

—–Original Message—–
From: Karen L. Gould, President [mailto:[email protected]]
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.

Sincerely,

Karen L. Gould
President

17 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther
    February 4, 2013, 2:07 pm

    What about Gould’s letter to the schools Hillel?

    “”You have asked that I state unequivocally the college’s position on the BDS movement, and I have no hesitation in doing so. As president of Brooklyn College, I can assure you that our college does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, nor do I personally.”

    A covering of the bases? This seems pretty F’d in my opinion, imagine if a school pres said she spoke for the whole school on an issue like abortion, saying they’re against it…..Hmm.

    • Red
      February 4, 2013, 3:02 pm

      I have to agree. While it is terrific Gould has stood strong on the free speech/academic freedom issue over the SJP BDS forum, but she has also included a paragraph in her new statement fawning over Israel, defending the school (and her) engagement with Israeli apartheid and declaring how she and the school don’t support BDS. That in my opinion is “F’d” as you note. Its not covering all bases it is capitulation to the Zionists – basically she has actually undermined her stance on academic freedom for the school by declaring allegiance to Israel as a way to try defend their co-sponsoring of the SJP event. Basically, it is implying that in order for schools to be able to able to have nominal “free speech”/ “academic freedom”, they must also declare publicly their allegiance to Israel in order to stop interference from politicians and Zionists etc.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        February 5, 2013, 12:26 pm

        Exactly. And since when does a college have a ‘position’ on an extraneous matter like BDS? How is it even possible for a college to ‘endorse’ or ‘oppose’ any movement? Do prospective students have to sign a document stating that they are opposed to BDS or they won’t be allowed to study there?

        Unfortunately, it does sound like capitulation of sorts. Granted, she’s in a horrible position, and the important thing is that the event goes ahead. But it’s sad to see that she feels she has to grovel to the lobby who have done their best to bully and intimidate her.

  2. Cliff
    February 4, 2013, 2:15 pm

    Excellent statement by President Gould. I can’t think of any Univ. presidents who – when faced with pressure from the Zionist community – stand by principles rather than partisan tribal politics.

  3. piotr
    February 4, 2013, 2:17 pm

    This is the money quote in the letter from the City Council: “We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong. So, should this event occur, we must strongly oppose it and ask you to reconsider any official support or sponsorship.”

    And People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is democratic. However, since USA in general and NYC in particular are a bit more democratic, I guess they will have to conduct an official witch trial, namely a hearing about the preposition that “BDS event” is odious. It may be interesting.

  4. Avi_G.
    February 4, 2013, 3:45 pm

    The next time UC Irvine brings Michael Oren to propagandize their students, perhaps Dershowitz would like to recruit someone to present the OTHER side of the “debate”.

  5. Kathleen
    February 4, 2013, 3:57 pm

    Glenn Greenwald has two pieces up about the BDS/Brooklyn College issue over at the Guardian. sorry unable to link

  6. seafoid
    February 4, 2013, 4:47 pm

    “In my more than twenty years as a graduate student and professor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a leader of an educational institution take a more principled and courageous stand than this.”

    Isn’t that a tad strained ? Nothing in 20 years? Or is it just that the last 20 years have been so doped up on consumerism and careerism that nothing registered whatsoever ? Or is it simply a reflection of US navel gazing ?

    The more I read about it the more I think Zionism has all the staying power of the Wizard of Oz. Why does it get so much respect from people? It’s a bunch of hoodlums living off the suffering of the Holocaust.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    February 4, 2013, 6:19 pm

    RE: “So now the battle lines are clear: it’s the City Council (and perhaps the State Legislature and Congress too) against academic freedom, freedom of speech, and CUNY.” ~ Weiss

    ● MY COMMENT: This is yet another reason that I fear Revisionist Zionism and Likudnik Israel (specifically by virtue of their inordinate sway over the U.S.) might very well be an “existential threat” to the values of The Enlightenment [like “the right of free speech”] ! ! !
    “Down, down, down we [the U.S.] go into the deep, dark abyss; hand in hand with Israel.”

    EXAMPLES OF ZIONISM’S VALUES TRUMPING (OVERRIDING) THE VALUES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT HERE IN THE U.S.

    “How We Became Israel”, By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, 9/10/12
    LINK – link to theamericanconservative.com
    “America Adopts the Israel Paradigm”, by Philip Ghiraldi, Antiwar.com, 7/05/12
    LINK – link to original.antiwar.com
    “The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics”, by David Theo Goldberg & Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009
    LINK – link to tikkun.org
    “Brooklyn College’s academic freedom increasingly threatened over Israel event”, by Glenn Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, 2/02/13
    LINK – link to guardian.co.uk
    ‘Israelis are helping write US laws, fund US campaigns, craft US war policy’, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 6/30/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    “Report: Israeli model underlies militarization of U.S. police”, By Muriel Kane, Raw Story, 12/04/11
    LINK – link to rawstory.com
    “David Yerushalmi, Islam-Hating White Supremacist Inspires Anti-Sharia Bills Sweeping Tea Party Nation”, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 3/02/11
    LINK – link to richardsilverstein.com
    “Boston airport security program rife with racial profiling has Israeli links”, by Alex Kane, Mondoweiss, 8/14/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    “Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza”, By Glenn Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, 11/15/12
    LINK – link to guardian.co.uk

    ● P.S. AND HERE’S ANOTHER THREAT TO THE VALUES OF “THE ENLIGHTENMENT” (THIS TIME IN AFRICA):
    “US Religious Right Propelling Homophobia in African Countries”, by Common Dreams, 7/24/12
    LINK – link to commondreams.org

  8. ritzl
    February 4, 2013, 6:36 pm

    It was a great, feisty, principled stand (and maybe still is). But when I read this (from Gould):

    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.

    I slump a bit.

    Why the specific, pro-Israel disclaimer? Particularly the “imperil the State of Israel or its citizens” part (does BDS “imperil?”). Does she not feel that “imperiling” Others who are not Israeli, or the “State of Israel” are worthy of note?

    She’s between a rock and a hard place on this, and this letter is probably as good as it’s ever going to be, but that clause was disappointing. Particularly disappointing if/since, as yonah fredman claims this is a very mixed ethnicity neighborhood. Are the other ethnicities not worth a “balancing” mention (or omission in this case)?

    And this also goes to the whole one-way/my-way UC (and everywhere else) lawfare issue of “oppressive environment” (or whatever the words are) for [only some, but extrapolated out to all] Jews. Isn’t this singular mention of not doing anything to “imperil” Israel create a “oppressive environment” for Palestinians and/or Muslims at BC? I think it is doing exactly that (though seemingly not intentionally given Gould’s principled stand).

    Again, rock and a hard place, politically. I suppose Gould’s statement and stand is as good as it gets, at the moment, but it shouldn’t be.

    Thanks, and thanks for the important update.

  9. eGuard
    February 4, 2013, 7:31 pm

    More fun with Grenn Greenwald (GG), who wrote Saturday and Monday in The Guardian (one cannot expect to read such in US press really).
    1. GG really engages in his own comment section. In his Guardiuan CiF Saturday post, about 1/50 posts are his. And always killing an argument that, eh, went astray.
    2. GG already defaced Alan Dershowitz (AD) in his update, Saturday. AD=liar. AD actually has appearead on a stage AD claims to opposes today. That was Saturday 2 February 2013 15.35 GMT. Read the GG–AD emails GG linked to!
    3. Then Alan Dershowitz on HuffPo posted: 02/01/2013 2:17 pm [HuffPoUS time=US time]. This was his title:
    Does Brooklyn College Pass the ‘Shoe on the Other Foot’ Test?. “Shoe other foot fitting” is, of course, exactly mirroring what GG already has proved AD being guilty of. AD knew what was coming: he wrote the emails himself.
    4. Fun: GG got some 1200 cmts on his Saturday CiF post: a serious lot for the Guardian. At HuffPo, Dershowitz got … 17 comments (where Obama’s Skeet Shooting picture has 36.211 cmts).

  10. RoHa
    February 4, 2013, 8:12 pm

    She’s doomed. One paragraph in support of Israel isn’t enough.

  11. DICKERSON3870
    February 4, 2013, 11:13 pm

    RE: “Brooklyn College president: ‘There is no academic obligation to present’ a pro-Israel perspective at boycott event” ~ Weiss

    PETITION: “Support Academic Freedom at CUNY”

    We the undersigned write in support of the decision by Brooklyn College’s political science department to co-sponsor a panel discussion with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti. We urge CUNY President Karen Gould to resist attempts by those who have attempted to intimidate CUNY into canceling, changing, or withdrawing its sponsorship for the panel. We are especially concerned that the New York City Council has threatened to withhold further money for CUNY if it does not either cancel the event or withdraw its sponsorship. This is a grave threat to academic freedom and sets a terrible precedent for the future.

    TO SIGN THE PETITION - link to ipetitions.com

    • DICKERSON3870
      February 5, 2013, 4:09 pm

      P.S. I have signed many ipetitions. There is no charge for signing one of their petitions. However, after you “sign” the petition, they do make a pitch for a voluntary contribution (as do many sites), but it is strictly voluntary. Usually I decline to make a contribution, but every once in a while I do make a small contribution.

  12. thankgodimatheist
    February 5, 2013, 12:47 am

    “Brooklyn College president: ‘There is no academic obligation to present’ a pro-Israel perspective at boycott event”
    Woop! Woop! Woop! An anti-Semite! Call the Senate! Call the police!

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