[The following letter was issued by the CUNY Faculty Union on 5 February 2013.]
Congressman Jerrold Nadler
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
NY City Comptroller John Liu
NY City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz
NY State Senator Kevin Parker
NY State Senator Daniel Squadron
NY State Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs
NY State Assemblyman Karim Camara
NY State Assemblyman James Brennan
NY State Assemblywoman Joan Millman
NY State Assemblyman Walter Mosley
NY City Councilman Brad Lander
NY City Councilman Stephen Levin
Mr. William Thompson
Dear Elected Officials:
I write as president of the union that represents the faculty and professional staff at the City University of New York—a union whose collective bargaining agreement begins with a commitment to academic freedom. On behalf of the 25,000 professors and staff in the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, I call on you to retract your call for the Brooklyn College Political Science Department to withdraw its co-sponsorship (which you mis-label “endorsement”) of the forum on Israel scheduled at the College for February 7.
Your letter attempts to veil a direct challenge to academic freedom as a defense of academic freedom. Academic freedom, as defined in the most influential statement of the principle, is “the indispensable quality of institutions of higher education. . . . [It is] the free search for truth and its free exposition.” Academic freedom is not “balance”; it is not the requirement that departments support only forums that advocate equally strongly for two “sides,” as you misleadingly put it, of an issue; it is not a requirement that departments insist that student organizers accept “legitimate offers from prominent individuals willing to simultaneously present an alternative view.” Would you demand that a forum on evolution accept an offer from “a prominent individual” to argue for creationism? Would you write a letter insisting that a forum organized by the NRA include an advocate for gun control?
Academic freedom is precisely the freedom to express a position even when that position is deeply unpopular. By voting to co-sponsor a forum that is expected to advocate for policies that have engendered intense opposition (such as the proposal that Israeli universities be boycotted—a position the PSC is on record as opposing), the Political Science Department is exercising academic freedom and supporting free speech. Neither the College nor the Department has done anything to prevent the organizing of forums expressing opposing points of view. Most dangerous of your distortions is the demand that Brooklyn College “must stand firmly” against the decision of its Political Science Department. It is not clear what is meant by that demand, but any action against the faculty for their exercise of academic freedom would be an assault on the University as a whole and a violation of the contract with the union. The demand should be immediately retracted.
The strategy of your letter is to conflate the views of individual speakers with the views of the Department or the College. You worry that by co-sponsoring the forum, the Department sends “the message . . . to the world that the divisive perspective offered by the organizing groups is Brooklyn College’s official view.” You suggest, outrageously, that by allowing the forum to be held, the College has decided to “take sides and [refused] to permit all voices to be heard.” The College has done nothing of the kind. In her letter to the Brooklyn College community on January 28, 2013, President Karen L. Gould explicitly refutes the conflation you make:
Unfortunately, some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views.
A college president who stands up for academic freedom at CUNY—where academic freedom has come under repeated assault in recent years—should be applauded by “progressive” politicians, not bullied. We appreciate that many of you have spoken up in the past for resources for CUNY, but the progressive position would be to defend academic freedom at the City University, and defend it fiercely. Progressive elected officials would insist, as the PSC does, that CUNY students, no less than students at elite private universities, are entitled to a university where “the indispensable quality of institutions of higher education”—academic freedom—is maintained. We invite you to join us in that position; we call on you immediately to withdraw the demands of your letter and to communicate to the Brooklyn College community your support for President Gould`s position.
Dr. Barbara Bowen
President, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY
Dr. Karen L. Gould, President, Brooklyn College
Dr. Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor, City University of New York
Dr. Paisley Currah, Chairperson, Political Science Department, Brooklyn College
Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum, President, American Association of University Professors
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY