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Letter to Fordham: ‘Have you ever seen an instance where a university gains in the long run from speech suppression?’

on 14 Comments

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

John Mullen

John Mullen is a writer living in the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts. He has authored several books of nonfiction, including the widely-read Kierkegaard's Philosophy: Self-Deception and Cowardice in the Present Age. His stories are scattered about literary magazines and a novel, The Woman Who Hated Philosophers, is due out in the spring of 2017. In an earlier life he co-owned and managed a travel company specializing in Christian tours to the Holy Land and related sites in the Middle East and Europe, taught philosophy and was provost at a college in New York.

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14 Responses

  1. pabelmont on January 19, 2017, 8:23 pm

    Very good letter.. Very gentle. I like the Catholic angle: hadn’t occurred to me. I wonder if people talking about the priests who abused children and thereby — in a way — brought shame on Catholics were refused permission to speak their minds on campus. My suspicion is that it is only critics of Israel who suffer this fate.

  2. Citizen on January 19, 2017, 9:56 pm

    Good letter. I hope Mr. Mullen updates us with a post if and when he gets a response. The anti-BDS crew are certainly going their utmost to curb speech constitutionally protected by our First Amendment. When is the ACLU going to take this issue to SCOTUS? How many state legislations and governor’s fiats will it take to build a class action suit?

    What to know about anti-BDS legislation

    • MHughes976 on January 20, 2017, 4:59 am

      I think we must expect a wave of petty repression, maybe not too effective, across much of the English-speaking world. I can’t speak for ACLU but I wouldn’t be surprised if they expect to find the highly politicised court system unfriendly on this matter.

    • echinococcus on January 20, 2017, 7:48 am

      When is the ACLU going to take this issue to SCOTUS?

      Per the latest ACLU e-mail I just got, their main business now is participating in the disruption of today’s Prez inauguration and asking for a Trump impeachment on personal conflict of interest –obviously a way more pressing civil liberties issue than free speech and 1st Amendment rights!

      • Mooser on January 20, 2017, 12:04 pm

        “–obviously a way more pressing civil liberties issue than free speech”

        Perhaps they are somehow related.

  3. RoHa on January 19, 2017, 10:51 pm

    “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.”

    City University is a great university?

    (I’ve corrected the punctuation.)

  4. RoHa on January 19, 2017, 11:06 pm

    I thought that, these days, most speech was suppressed at American Universities. It has been decided that only a very few ideas, expressed in very carefully controlled terms, are permissible. If other ideas get through, the students flee to the designated safe spaces and eat cookies to comfort themselves. And providing all those cookies gets expensive.

    • Mooser on January 20, 2017, 11:51 am

      “RoHa” only my concern for you compels me to ask: Have you been checked for Old Timers Syndrome regularly?

      • RoHa on January 21, 2017, 1:10 am

        I’m not going to waste my time getting checked for all these new-fangled “syndromes” they keep coming up with these days. When I was a lad, people used to cure themselves with whisky and a Bex.

        Young people today have had it too soft. They run off to the doctor or the “counsellor” as soon as they get the slightest bit uncomfortable.

        Though that all that noise they call music in the shopping centres is enough to drive anyone mad, if they hadn’t been driven mad by the price of things nowadays. I remember when …

      • Mooser on January 21, 2017, 11:47 am

        “Young people today have had it too soft.”

        All too true. “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

      • RoHa on January 21, 2017, 5:07 pm

        Thank you, K. J. Freeman.

  5. John Douglas on January 20, 2017, 8:57 pm

    RoHa, “Veni. Vidi (a missing comma). Vici.”

    Thanks, RoHa

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