Dear Dean Eldredge,
I was dismayed to read of your decision to ostracize and censor the human rights work of the Students for Justice in Palestine.
I am a 1965 graduate of Holy Cross College and received a PhD in Philosophy from Boston University. I have taught philosophy for 35 years along with taking two year stint as a Provost and CAO and ended my working career as an adjunct faculty teaching coach at a community college in Boston. I have written on Kierkegaard, Decision Making and Logic, if any of that makes a difference.
I note that Fordham is proud of its commitment to social justice. I note too that in August 2014 the Israel Defence Forces destroyed over two-thousand Palestinian lives, including those of five-hundred and fifty children in a matter of several weeks. Periodically attacking Gaza was referred to as, “mowing the grass,” by an Israeli politician. I admire the courageous work of Israeli historians, including the right wing politician Benny Morris, that has made it very clear that what Israel is doing now, confiscating a demolishing Israeli lands and homes and destroying both the Christian and Muslim cultural heritage in Palestine, was planned from the earliest days of the creation of Israel, well before Independence. There are several groups on campus that organize and protest these horrible occurrences. Jewish Voices for Peace is one. SJP is another. Their actions are nonviolent, restricted to the tools of speech and free expression. Their only tool to protect their lives and heritage is the nonviolent BDS movement. It worked in South Africa, but you use it as a justification for the suppression of Palestinians’ rights.
Perhaps you do not like their speech. Perhaps it is part of your job to beware of offending donors, as was the concern in the case of Stephen Salaita at Illinois. But most academics I have known are committed to J. S. Mill’s proposition that the cure for speech you don’t like is more speech, debate, a free market of ideas.
Neither you nor Fordham is behaving as a great University should behave. Have you ever seen an instance where a university gains in the long run from speech suppression? People who learn of City University’s banning of the Philosopher Bertrand Russell for advocating cohabitation before marriage, laugh at whoever decided that and it’s a black mark on a great University. I notice on Fordham’s web site, “175 things to know about Fordham.” Is number 37 of these to be that Fordham banned a nonviolent protest movement? People will be laughing at Fordham, shaking their heads, “It was once a good place.”
You made a bad mistake; bad for Fordham, for your students and bad for Catholic higher education. Your reputation will suffer from it, as did Phyllis Wise’s career at Illinois, and the reputation of Fordham will suffer. There is still time to fix it.
John D. Mullen