[Please note: Quite a few updates / links are placed below the fold; I will continue to update as events unfold, with those of crucial import above the fold.]
UPDATE, Wed 6 Feb, 12:30 pm CST: The "progressive" pols cut-and-run from their previous letter.
UPDATE, Wed 6 Feb, 12:30 pm CST: Mayor Bloomberg lays it out, plain as day and clear as a bell:
Well look, I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS as they call it, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. As you know I’m a big supporter of Israel, as big a one as you can find in the city, but I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. I mean, if you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.
The last thing that we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run, and base funding decisions on the political views of professors. I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.
You know, the freedom to discuss ideas, including ideas that people find repugnant, lies really at the heart of the university system, and take that away and higher education in this country would certainly die.
This is a city that loves and protects freedom—academic freedom, religious religious freedom, sexual freedom, cultural freedom, political freedom. We are the freest city in the world, and that’s why we’re the greatest city in the world.
UPDATE, Mon 4 Feb, 12:20 pm, CST: Crooked Timber cites Karen Gould's courageous response. Full text below.
UPDATE, Sun 3 Feb, 5:00 pm, CST: Moving to front. A post by Corey Robin links to a letter from the Asst Majority Leader of the NY City Council to BC President Gould threatening withdrawal of financial support for BC and CUNY if the forum is not cancelled or if the PS department does not withdraw its co-sponsorship.Here is a key graf of Gould's message of Mon 4 Feb:
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.FULL TEXT of President Gould's message of Mon 4 Feb:
"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
ORIGINAL POST begins here. Other updates below.
The following post is only on the free speech / academic freedom aspects of the Brooklyn College event in question. No comments on global aspects of Palestine / Israel will be accepted.
Among other Brooklyn College organizations, the Political Science Department has voted to co-sponsor a forum on Feb 7 with Judith Butler (no introduction necessary) and Omar Barghouti on the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.
What makes this a free speech issue is not a legal challenge, but the use of the New York Daily News, a 800,000 person circulation newspaper, to put pressure on Brooklyn College administrators, who have so far supported the forum. Thus Alan Dershowitz reacts with an editorial in today's Daily News, following this op-ed on Tuesday. You should follow the links and read at your leisure. More on Dershowitz below; here I'll just point to a key element of Tuesday's Op-Ed:
BDS stands for boycotting Israel, divesting from concerns doing business with Israel and applying sanctions against Israel because it exists.
While the BDS movement is a network rather than a centralized organization, there are prominent nodes in the network. The bdsmovement.net site does not have such an existential approach, but a temporal one contingent on change:
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.With regard to the structure of the forum, Dershowitz writes:
On Feb. 7, the college will be hosting a “forum” at which speakers will call for Israel to be singled out among all the nations of the world for this form of delegitimation. There will be no one presenting any other position.
Corey Robin on FB (reprinted with permission) addresses the speech-provoking aspect:
One of the things that amazes me in this whole brouhaha over the BDS event at Brooklyn College is that critics of the event claim it shuts down speech, it silences defenders of Israel, etc. Yet in the past two days I've had more conversations with defenders of Israel on campus, more conversations about Israel in general, and more conversations -- and arguments, in which multiple views are aired -- about BDS. Two weeks ago almost no one on campus was talking about any of this; now everyone is. So remind me how this event shuts down speech?
Finally, an important point, echoing Naomi Klein's oft-repeated saying that "boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic," is that different people "do" BDS differently. Here is what Judith Butler said in a piece responding to critics of her being awarded the Adorno Prize:
I do support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in a very specific way. I reject some versions and accept others. For me, BDS means that I oppose investments in companies that make military equipment whose sole purpose is to demolish homes. It means as well that I do not speak at Israeli institutions unless they take a strong stand against the occupation. I do not accept any version of BDS that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their national citizenship, and I maintain strong collaborative relationships with many Israeli scholars.
While Dershowitz has somehow obtained the epistemic standing to call the event "this propaganda hate orgy," we might contrast that with Butler's vision:
One reason I can endorse BDS and not endorse Hamas and Hezbollah is that BDS is the largest non-violent civic political movement seeking to establish equality and the rights of self-determination for Palestinians. My own view is that the peoples of those lands, Jewish and Palestinian, must find a way to live together on the condition of equality. Like so many others, I long for a truly democratic polity on those lands and I affirm the principles of self-determination and co-habitation for both peoples, indeed, for all peoples. And my wish, as is the wish of an increasing number of Jews and non-Jews, is that the occupation come to an end, that violence of all kinds cease, and that the substantial political rights of all people in that land be secured through a new political structure.
Again, I do not want our comment section to debate global issues. I have included this excerpt from Butler to contrast it with Dershowitz's characterization of what the forum will be like.
Contact information for Brooklyn College administrators, who, as we point out above, have so far supported the forum:
President Karen Gould (718.951.5671; email@example.com);
Provost William Tramontano (718.951.5864; firstname.lastname@example.org);
Director of Communications and Public Relations Jeremy Thompson (718.951.5882; JeremyThompson@brooklyn.cuny.edu).
UPDATE, Wed 30 Jan, 11:30 am CST: Here is a copy of the email I sent to the BC administrators:
Dear President Gould, Provost Tramantano, and Director Thompson:
Please stand firm in your initial support of the planned BDS discussion. Academic freedom rests on individual decisions in cases like this. Your support of the decision of the Political Science Department to co-sponsor the discussion with Professor Butler and Mr Barghouti is vital not just to the intellectual and moral life of Brooklyn College but to that of other universities in the US and abroad.
Phyllis M Taylor Professor of French Studies
Professor of Philosophy
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge LA 70803 USA
UPDATE, Wed 30 Jan, 7:25 pm, CST: Assemblyman Dov Hikind calls for the resignation of Brooklyn College President Karen Gould.
UPDATE, Th 31 Jan, 1:15 pm, CST: it seems that at one point in the past the BC PS department invited Alan Dershowitz to give its Konefsky Lecture. It seems unlikely that they also had an opposing speaker at the time:
The annual lecture to be given by Judge Korman is named for the late Samuel J. Konefsky, professor of political science at Brooklyn College for more than thirty-five years. Professor Konefsky was a major intellectual presence in the department and on campus beginning in the mid-1930s. He authored several critically acclaimed books, including Chief Justice Stone and the Supreme Court (1945) and The Constitutional World of Mr. Justice Frankfurter (1949).
Previous Konefsky lecturers include Alan M. Dershowitz, Brooklyn College Class of 1959; the late Arthur Goldberg, former associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; Floyd Abrams, America's pre-eminent First Amendment lawyer, the late Gerald Gunther, Brooklyn College Class of 1949 and for many years a professor at Stanford Law School; and Derrick Bell, of New York University Law School. The lecture is sponsored by the Ethyle R. Wolfe Institute for the Humanities in cooperation with the Department of Political Science.
I've been unable to confirm the date of the Konefsky Lecture and whether it is the talk that Dershowitz gave at Brooklyn College, unopposed, on May 23, 2008. There's even a podcast.
UPDATE, Th 31 Jan, 5:45 pm, CST:
UPDATE, Fri 1 Feb, 12:40 pm CST: A further post by Samir Chopra, in which he addresses two points: 1) that departments should stay away from "polarizing" topics (a point made here and at Chopra's place by Jared Michaelson) and 2) whether or not Dershowitz is engaging in coercive behavior.
UPDATE, Fri 1 Feb, 1:25 pm CST: NYT story detailing pressure from politicians. Includes the following graf on Judith Butler's response:
In an e-mail on Thursday, Ms. Butler said she believed it was “terribly wrong” to call B.D.S. a hate group, and praised the college for honoring academic freedom. “My own aim next Thursday remains the same: to consider some of the debates for and against B.D.S. in this public forum provided by Brooklyn College, to clarify my viewpoint, and consider carefully challenges from the audience,” she said.
UPDATE, Fri 1 Feb, 4:45 pm CST: Letter by US Rep. Jerrold Nadler and other "progressive" politicians to Brooklyn College President Gould ("progressive" is their self-given name, so these are genuine rather than scare quotes, though you should be the judge of the progressive nature of the letter).
UPDATE, Sat 2 Feb, 3:45 pm: Column by Glenn Greenwald. Of particular interest is his Update:
An emailer just brought to my attention what may be the most glaring and amazing inaccuracy in Dershowitz's statements to me. Dershowitz repeatedly claimed - both the me and elsewhere - that academic departments should not sponsor one-sided events on controversial topics, and that he would not want any department to sponsor him for such an event. He wrote to me: "If and when I come to Brooklyn College to speak against BDS, I do not expect the event to be co-sponsored by the political science department. It will be sponsored by student and outside groups, as this event should be."
But last February, a major controversy erupted when the University of Pennsylvania held an event with pro-BDS speakers. To address the controversy, here is what the school did:
"To counter the Penn BDS event, local pro-Israel groups including Hillel and the Philadelphia Jewish Federation have summoned the famed trial lawyer and Harvard University professor of law Alan Dershowitz to campus to keynote a Feb. 2 event: 'Why Israel Matters to You, Me, and Penn: A conversation with Alan Dershowitz.' Penn's Political Science department – which has pointedly refused to co-sponsor the BDS conference — will co-host Dershowitz's lecture, where the professor has vowed to explain why he considers BDS to be one of the most 'immoral, illegal and despicable concepts around academia today."'
So that's not only another example where the highly controversial Dershowitz appeared without opposition on a college campus while sponsored by a university department, but it's an example where he did so on this very topic: BDS. And he was sponsored by the same Penn Political Science department to give his anti-BDS talk that refused to sponsor the event with pro-BDS speakers. Where was Dershowitz's oh-so-principled objections then to university departments appearing to take sides in these debates?
By itself, this proves that this Brooklyn College controversy has nothing to do with the stated principle that university department should not sponsor one-sided events on controversial topics. It instead has everything to do with finding such events objectionable only when they contain criticisms of Israel. That the leading opponent of the Brooklyn College event himself regularly speaks at universities on controversial without opposition, sponsored by university departments, conclusively demonstrates how dishonest this current crusade is.
UPDATE, Sat 2 Feb, 3:45 pm CST: transcript of email exchange between Dershowitz and Greenwald.
UPDATE, Sat 2 Feb, 3:55 pm CST: another Samir Chopra piece, responding to commenters.
UPDATE: Mon 4 Feb, 9:00 am, CST: Glenn Greenwald on the threat to funding.