Category Archives: Brooklyn College

Dystopia on Bedford Avenue — Ct’d

(For an earlier installment of this series, see my 2011 blog on the subject)
It gets worse at Brooklyn College.  The Political Science Department is now a political action group against Israel, and City Hall is complicit.  This became clear last week when Poli Sci officially sponsored an agi-prop event at the  College with the connivance of the College’s president and also that of the Mayor of the City of New York, 
For a description of the “BDS” event at Brooklyn College, see the ADL statement.

For a description of the “BDS” movement, see this video
Those of us (including most elected officials in Brooklyn) who criticized PoliSci’s endorsement  stressed that we do not oppose the BDS event on campus;  what we oppose is the official imprimatur that the College, through its Political Science Department, has conferred on the event.  The situation is analogous to that of the Constitutional separation of church and state.  A public university may teach about religion, and it may allow student groups to practice religion on campus, but it may not officially sponsor or endorse sectarian religious practice.
Here are some documents on the controversy at Brooklyn College.

Many of us wrote to various officials at the College, stating each time that we do not oppose the event but do not want the College to sponsor it, and each time we got the same answer:  we must have freedom of speech, and therefore the Department’s sponsorship must stand.  Therefore ? How and why is official College sponsorship necessary for freedom of speech, or any other kind of freedom ? The College officials act as if they hadn’t heard the question;  they remain mum.  That isn’t very smart, but it gets worse at City Hall.  
And indeed, the most zany performance was that of the Mayor of the City, Michael Bloomberg.  Here he explains why, in his view, Brooklyn College must be allowed to officially sponsor BDS:

“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,” he said in a news conference at City Hall.

Now our good mayor owns many homes in various parts of the world but apparently none in North Korea, so perhaps this gap in his holdings explains his opinion here. But with all that, is it plausible that the mayor, in the privacy of his own conscience, fails to appreciate the illogic of his pronouncement ?

Obviously, the College officials and the Mayor know the difference between freedom of speech, to which even the most hateful of groups are entitled, and official sponsorship, to which they are not. So when these officials play dumb, when they make believe that they cannot see any distinction, well, bad faith is the inescapable conclusion.

While College officials and the Mayor (and also the editorialists of the New York Times) all lend their complaisance to the hate-Israel movement, the same cannot be said of the learned professoriate  of the Political Science Department.  Here it is not a matter of complaisance or even mere complicity but one of activism in a political cause.

Let me say at the outset here that things could be even worse.  Some time ago I looked into a somewhat similar situation at an affiliate school of the University of Toronto, viz. the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  As I reported in a number of postings then, one of the departments there was so politicized that many of the MA theses produced in it were crude and ugly pieces of propaganda.

The same cannot be said of Poli Sci, at least insofar as I was able to determine.

Unlike the situation at OISE, for which all theses are freely available on the internet, Brooklyn College makes it difficult for outsiders to consult the products of its graduate programs.  BC theses are not available on the internet, nor are they even cataloged.  They are kept at the Brooklyn College Library Archives, to which, in principle, the public is not admitted.  However, upon application by e-mail, I was granted permission to inspect MA theses and, I must say, was given every courtesy by the librarians.  I looked at all the PolySci theses completed within the last two years, and I am satisfied that they were, by and large, free of undue political bias.

Notwithstanding its apparently satisfactory MA program, the Department has acted in the manner of a political combat group rather than as an academic department, and not only in this particular incident.

1.  I have googled all the 17 current members of the Department to get an impression  of the extent of political activism of these professors.  None of these people were identified as active on behalf of Jewish, Zionist, or pro-Israel causes.  None were identified on the internet as political conservatives.  On the other side, at least two had been signers of anti-Israel statements in the past.  Another one is identified as a former member of the Maoist Communist Workers Party, now defunct.  A further one is identified as active on the Far Left.  If there is diversity of viewpoint in this Department, it is not apparent to the naked eye.

2. Some two years ago,  the Department hired as adjunct instructor a person who was still in the midst of graduate studies, but, apparently by way of compensating for the lack of a Ph.D., was known for his strongly anti-Israel views.  (For a description of this incident, see here.)  The vote of the Department, we are told, was unanimous.  With some seventeen voting members, and in view of the fact that this particular appointment was so contentious on campus and in the community,  it is remarkable to find such unanimity.

3. When the current matter of BDS sponsorship came up for Department decision,  there again was a vote, but we are not told whether there was dissent.  The press tried to ascertain how the vote went but no member of the Department has so far been willing to divulge the numbers.  In any case, no member of the Department has come out to speak publicly against the sponsorship.  Again, there is a baffling wall of unanimity on a matter of great public contention.

4. When the chair of the Department was pushed for a statement on the BDS affair, his language was both combative and ambiguous:

A student group at Brooklyn College has organized a panel discussion regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a non-violent response to the State of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian conflict. On college campuses around the country and across the world, this issue is being discussed. Brooklyn College should be no different. The department of political science has thus decided to co-sponsor this event. We encourage students and members of the community to attend, pose their questions, and air their views.  (See my collection of documents

Read by an apologist for the Department, the statement might be interpreted to mean that the Department merely wishes to present BDS views without endorsing them.  But to anyone else, the phrase “a non-violent response to the State of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian conflict” clearly signals support to the BDS movement.

5. Corey Robin, an Associate Professor in the Department (whose anti-Israel traces can be found on the internet), sent an e-mail to students and staff in January:

From Professor Corey Robin: URGENT: Hi everyone. I need you all to stop what you’re doing and make a phone call or write an email to the administration of Brooklyn College. A few weeks ago, my department (political science) voted to co-sponsor a panel discussion, featuring Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, on the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement against Israel. In the last week, we’ve gotten a lot of pressure and pushback from the media, students, alumni, and now Alan Dershowitz (who’s been trying to track down our chair to “talk” to him). So far, the administration has held firm, but the pressure is only building and they are starting to ask us whether we endorse these views or are merely seeking to air them (to which we responded: “Was the Brooklyn College administration endorsing the pro-torture and pro-Israel views of Alan Dershowitz when it decided to award him an honorary degree?”) Anyway, I need you guys now to send an email or make a phone call encouraging the administration to stand by the department and to stand for the principle that a university should be a place for the airing of views, ESPECIALLY views that are heterodox and that challenge the dominant assumptions of society. Please contact: President Karen Gould ….; Provost William Tramontano ….; and Director of Communications and Public Relations Jeremy Thompson ….. Please be polite and respectful, but please be firm on the principle. Right now, they’re only hearing from one side, so it’s imperative they hear from many others.

(See my collection of documents)

Robin’s reference to Alan Dershowitz is particularly telling:   A) Robin indulges in defamation of Dershowitz (“pro-torture,” etc.) that is currently common in the Far Left but is totally without foundation.  For example, Dershowitz has never spoken at Brooklyn College on any contentious issue, let alone on Israel or the Palestinians.  See Dershowitz’s own refutation of these attacks against him here. B) When Robin speaks about alleged appearances of Dershowitz  on the BC campus as justification for the BDS rally, his argument is of course tu quoque and not actually worthy of an Associate Professor of any discipline whatever.

In any case: is this the letter of an educator or of an agitator ?

6.  The following is a list of the sponsoring organizations for the BDS events (See my collection of documents)

Adalah NY
Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
American Muslims for Palestine
The Political Science Department at Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College Student Union
Brooklyn For Peace
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Association at 
Brooklyn College (LGBTA BC) – Upholding freedom of speech
Critical Palestine Studies Association at the CUNY GRAD Center
CUNY School of Law National Lawyers Guild Chapter
Existence is Resistance
Hunter SJP
International Socialist Organization
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jews say No!
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
John Jay SJP
Columbia SJP
Muslim American Society Chapter – MAS on Campus
New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT)
The Occupy Wall St Social Justice Working Group
Students for Justice at NYU
Labor for Palestine
New York City Labor Against the War

Each of the groups other than the Poly Sci Department  is well known as overtly and unabashedly anti-Israel, some more so than others.  The Independent Socialist Organization, about which I have written elsewhere, is perhaps the most radical in this respect, demanding continuing intifada and the complete destruction of the Jewish state.

Why is an ostensibly neutral academic department in this list ?

Conclusion

If this were a church/state issue, the endorsement by a public, taxpayer entity of a sectarian cause would by clearly unconstitutional (Abington School District v. Schempp, 1963).  Mutatis mutandis, the sample principle should apply here.  New York’s Jewish community and the elected officials of Brooklyn are right in demanding that Brooklyn College adopt more politically-neutral policies in the future.

UPDATE, February 15

Jonathan Marks, in an article “Department of Excuses,” throws more light on the affair.  For instance, we now know that the Political Science Department attempted to secure the collaboration of other departments for its endorsement of BDS but was decisively rebuffed in all cases.

What Goes On at Broolyn College ? — Some Observations by Abigail Rosenthal


Below is a letter from Abigail Rosenthal, Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Brooklyn College, to the National Association of Scholars, a watchdog organization. I reproduce it here with her permission.

I’ve long felt that Brooklyn College is an important place in the academic universe. It’s a kind of Ellis Island, with students from all over the world, & a significant contingent of Talmudically trained young Jews who do wonderfully in Philosophy. And, when I was there, the student body included upwardly mobile Muslim young people who were often a pleasure to teach, too.

I was gratified when NAS took the stand it did last fall, against a one-sided “common text,” portraying Muslims in America as victims, which was assigned as “orientation” reading to incoming students. Since then, as you may know, the latest FBI statistics have come out, showing that Jews are eight times likelier than Muslims to be victims of hate crimes — the likelihood particularly high in the borough of Brooklyn. It’s obvious that we wouldn’t want a common orientation text devoted to interviews with Jewish victims of hate crimes in Brooklyn — not because they aren’t victims — but because we don’t want incoming students treated as part of a group with a grievance. Students are individuals seeking their own higher education.

The Petersen-Overton case, where the Provost reversed the hire and then reversed the reversal, was somewhat different. Due process was not followed in the hire. (A second-year student in the PhD program is under-credentialed to teach a graduate course, & his course syllabus, which included a history component, wasn’t cleared with the History Dept.) Due process was also not followed in his firing. I think due process, rather than academic freedom, was the main issue here. (Political considerations should not have determined the hire either. Yet it’s probable that the Political Science Dept.’s rush to hire Petersen-Overton was connected to his views. When a faculty unit acts that way, I don’t think it should be considered the only stakeholder. One can claim, with the AAUP, that advocacy is okay in the classroom. But who in Brooklyn College’s Political Science Dept advocates on the other side? One-sided advocacy is not okay, by any standards.)

Anyway, what’s done is done. My question is, where are we now, on the Brooklyn campus? Well, the “Palestinian Club” (a group that — unlike other Muslim groups on campus — refuses to talk to Jewish students), immediately staged a noisy rally, under the slogan, “We won!” — rally attended by Petersen-Overton, who addressed his jubilant followers. (I don’t think the “We” stands here for academic freedom.) I am told by the Executive Director of campus Hillel that last year’s “Israel Apartheid Week” is to be extended to two weeks this year. Which will add up to two weeks of defamation & bigotry on the time & space of a public college.

Meanwhile, thinking it was time for me to get better informed about Petersen-Overton, I read through his posted piece, “Inventing the Martyr: Martyrdom as Palestinian National Signifier.” To reporters, he had claimed that it was preposterous to say he endorsed suicide killers; the piece was merely a scholarly study — in no sense an endorsement of what he now calls “heinous acts”. However, now that I’ve read it, I can say that his denial is not true. The piece is an extraordinary propaganda sheet for Palestinian suicide killers. It is, however, wrapped in postmodern jargon, so that national identity is said to be forged in “imagination” & key terms are in (now-you-see-’em-now-you-don’t) scare quotes. One example: the al Dura hoax is first presented as fact, then admitted to have been controverted (though without mention of the relevant evidence) & finally celebrated as a substantive contribution to the process of imagining/creating national identity, with truth or falsity deemed irrelevant. Jews who were physically attacked on the pretext of the al Dura footage could not have agreed that its falsity was irrelevant. One could spend a lot of blood, sweat & tears countering every slanted & misleading claim about Israel. He is counting on that not being done.

It seems to me that by now the campus has generated a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students & has conveyed the message (via the orientation text, via political theatre on campus, via this now-underscored hire, via the expanded “Israel Apartheid Week”), to students & faculty, that only one political view has official sanction, from the effective faculty & administration.

I’m not sure whether anything can be done about it, but it needs watching, & what we don’t have is a victory for academic freedom tout court. The College is not a better place, after all this has happened. At any rate, I wanted to let you know of my view of this troubling situation.

Dystopia on Bedford Avenue


Brooklyn College

Every transfer student to Brooklyn College must read one and only one book: “How Does it Feel to Be a Problem,” by BC’s own Associate Professor of English, Moustafa Bayoumi. I suppose that there is no penalty for reading more than this one book, but only one book is required. And all freshmen at BC are also required to read this book. Moreover, the students are then to hear Prof. Bayoumi, and only Professor Bayoumi, at a presentation of his views.

The book is all about Arab immigrants to Brooklyn. There are five or so case studies, with no indication of how typical these may be for Arab Americans in general. The case studies are then distilled in the author’s thesis in an “afterword” as follows: Arab immigrants suffer here because of American imperialism. (For a moment the author hesitates between blaming American “hegemony” or American “imperialism,” but he quickly decides for the latter, without explanation.) In any case, it is this U.S. imperialism that deprives the Palestinian people of their right to self-determination, since, he says, the US takes the side of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. And it is this pro-Israel US imperialism, if I understand Professor Bayoumi at all correctly, which makes the life of Brooklyn Arabs so difficult. That is the thesis, that is the book that every student at BC must read, and that is the only book that every incoming transfer student to BC must read.

So far so good. Surely Professor Bayoumi (known also as a regular writer for The Nation, as the editor of the Edward Said Reader, and as a tireless polemicist against Israel) has a right to his opinions, this being a free country. And of course BC has every right to require its students to study him. But does he have a right to have his book used as the only source in a discussion of a public issue, at an institution of higher learning ? And does BC have a moral right to give him a monopoly in the presentation of his views ?

I asked these very questions of Dean Donna Wilson of BC, and this is what she replied:

Each year professors in the English Department and I select a common reading for our entering students. We choose memoirs (a genre familiar to students) set in New York City, often reflecting an immigrant experience, and written by authors who are available to visit campus. Students in freshman composition respond to the common reading by writing about their own experiences, many of them published in ‘Telling Our Stories; Sharing our Lives’. This year we selected How Does It Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America by one of our own faculty members, Professor Moustafa Bayoumi, because it is a well-written collection of stories by and about young Arab Brooklynites whose experiences may be familiar to our students, their neighbors, or the students with whom they will study and work at Brooklyn College. We appreciate your concerns. Rest assured that Brooklyn College values tolerance, diversity, and respect for differing points of view in all that we do.

Naturally I was happy to learn of Dean Wilson’s commitment to tolerance, to diversity, and, most of all, to respect for differing points of view. So I wrote to her again, and again, and then again once more, suggesting that she provide some balance to Bayoumi’s book, that she provide additional authors and additional speakers. I even suggested another author, Paul Berman, also resident in Brooklyn, also writing on Arab themes, also willing (I would assume) to speak to her students. And what did Dean Wilson reply to these repeated suggestions of mine ? You guessed it, she did not deign to reply at all.

As the saying goes in dystopia: Big Brother (or here, Big Sister) knows best.

Update, Aug. 30:

The Jewish Week in its online edition has additional material on Professor Bayoumi:

But Bayoumi , an associate professor at the school, also recently published “Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How it Changed the Course of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict.”
A publisher’s blurb describes the book this way:

“In these pages, a range of activists, journalists, and analysts piece together the events that occurred that May night…Midnight on the Mavi Marmara reveals why the attack on Gaza Freedom Flotilla may just turn out to be Israel’s Selma, Alabama: the beginning of the end for an apartheid Palestine.”

The book includes contributions by prominent Israel critics – including Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Walt and Philip Weiss.