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Another Violation of the Sacred Principles of Academic Balance

[ 27 ] February 4, 2013 |

The threats to Brooklyn College’s funding over their decision to invite a world-class scholar to discuss issues of major import, as I have noted, seem to involve some ad hoc principle about “balance” that is a “principle” in the same sense as the equal protection holding in Bush v. Gore.  (Actually, this is too kind — the equal protection principle used on a one-time-only basis in Bush v. Gore would have had salutary effects had that ruling actually been constitutional law, while a “principle” that every event on a university campus requires inviting an opposing viewpoint would be transparently unworkable and undesirable.)    Trying to flesh out this non-principle, the argument now seems to be that universities should not be seen as “endorsing” a position by sponsoring an event:

A spokesman for Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Upper West Side Jewish politician who initiated the letter, said that it wasn’t an attempt to limit speech, but rather an objection to the political science department’s co-sponsorship of the event.

“Any professor who would want to speak on an issue, we’d never limit that. Any student who wanted to, we wouldn’t limit that,” said Ilan Kayatsky, a Nadler spokesman. “The appearance was that they have given the college’s imprimatur to this event…on a very controversial, sensitive issue to many.”

Again, this only follows if you assume that hosting a talk represents an endorsement of everything a speaker might say, which has the obvious problem of being false. But, at any rate, let’s pretend that this is a serious argument for a second. I have an example of this new principle being violated! Brooklyn College President Karen Gould:

“You have asked that I state unequivocally the college’s position on the BDS movement, and I have no hesitation in doing so. As president of Brooklyn College, I can assure you that our college does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, nor do I personally.”

Personally, I find this statement unobjectionable. If one were to take the newly minted Sacred Principles of Academic Balance being used to attack academic freedom at CUNY, however, Gould should be robustly criticized for expressing a view on a controversial issue on behalf of the college. Is she now obligated to issue another press release from a supporter of BDS for the sake of balance? I find these new Sacred Principles very confusing.

…Gould has issued a statement for which she deserves immense credit:

As an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose, even those with which members of our campus and broader community may vehemently disagree. As your president, I consistently have demonstrated my commitment to these principles so that our college community may consider complex issues and points of view across the political and cultural spectrum.

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. We do, however, uphold their right to speak, and the rights of our students and faculty to attend, listen, and fully debate. We also encourage our students and faculty to explore these issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the sole source of information or basis for consideration.

 

Comments (27)

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  1. Bijan Parsia says:

    But you fail to recognise that Gould is endorsing the correct side of the controversial subject! Being correct is surely noncontroversial, thus, even though it’s on a controversial subject, Gould is in the clear.

  2. Bizarro Mike says:

    It is interesting to note that the Fairness Doctrine was too much for free market media to bear, but it seems to be tailor made for academia.

  3. Julian says:

    these fools never reckoned with existentialism – choosing not to choose is still a choice, suckers

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    The shrillness and hair-trigger reactiveness of the Bibi-arselicking crowd are sure signs that they know they’re defending the indefensible.

  5. oldster says:

    Eh, I’m not so sure.

    While it is quite likely that Gould is expressing her *opposition* to BDS, and while that is a no-no for the reasons spelled out in the OP (or at least evidence of confusion),

    I am not so sure that saying “I do not endorse X” always entails “I oppose X”.

    What if you just don’t want to get into the business of endorsing either side? What should you say then?

    Why can’t I say, e.g. “The Political Philosophy Department does not endorse the BDS movement, and neither does it oppose the BDS movement: that’s not the kind of thing we do. The PPD does not support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and neither do we support opposition to those programs. We are not in the business of endorsing, supporting, opposing, resisting or advocating for political movements. We are an academic institution. We study stuff.”

    Surely if you think that the square root of 2 is incapable of political actions, then you can say “The square root of 2 does not endorse BDS.” And it does not follow from that the square root of 2 is opposing BDS, or is expressing a controversial view, either. It just isn’t the kind of thing that can endorse stuff.

    So it seems to me that “X does not endorse” just cannot, as a general matter, entail “X opposes”. I don’t endorse China’s claim over the disputed islands. I don’t oppose it either. I don’t endorse or oppose Japan’s claim, either. I just don’t have a view about what to do with the damned things.

    Again, Gould here probably *does* oppose BDS, so the attribution to her, in this particular case, may be correct.

    But in the general case: suppose you just want to remain neutral on a topic, what should you as an administrator say?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel

      I don’t think this is ambiguous. (And, again, I don’t think it’s objectionable, but it’s clear opposition to BDS.)

    • witless chum says:

      BDS is specifically asking colleges and universities to do a thing and Brooklyn College is saying “we won’t do that thing.” In this case, I think it’s an either or.

      I think if Gould was asked what the Brooklyn College stance about those troublesome island was she should say “Brooklyn College has no stance on the matter and, as an institution, takes no position on it.” It’s simple, it just becomes complex if it’s a highly-charged question taht people expect you to have a position on.

      • oldster says:

        But then if Gould, in reference to BDS, had said “Brooklyn College has no stance on the matter of BDS and, as an institution, takes no position on it,” would you agree that she had neither endorsed it nor opposed it?

        Or would you say, “well, she’s expressing a controversial view, and she is opposing BDS, because BDS asked them to do a thing and she said “we won’t do that thing”"?

        If a rabid Chinese nationalist says to me, “you must support our occupation of the disputed islands! If you are not for us, then you are against us!” do I have to agree with that analysis of my options?

  6. JohnR says:

    Just as an aside, I’d point out that none of his speaking engagements seem to have had any particular difficulty with regard to the presence of that thoughtful political genius Karl Rove, the man who perfected the “Screw the Constitution, anything’s fair as long as you maintain plausible deniability” political campaign techniques. Rove, who did more and worked harder to destroy Constitutional government in this nation, is a worthwhile and legitimate voice, but not people who want public policy to reflect the policy demands of the public? I presume the Golden Rule applies to educational institutions too, now – whoever has the gold makes the rules.

  7. wengler says:

    This all comes down to politicians seeing a BDS event as some sort of racist, anti-Semitic position. Also meaning they either are ignorant of, or don’t care about, the nature of Israel’s continuing nearly 50 year military occupation.

    Having said that, I’m sure a debate would be pretty funny up until the pro-Israel side smeared everyone else as anti-Semites. So there would be a good 30 seconds at least.

    • Loud Liberal says:

      I don’t think Semitism is a race, but, why would politicians see a BDS event as racist, anti-Semitism?

      • wengler says:

        Israel was recreated as the homeland of the Jewish people. Boycotting, divesting and sanctioning will undermine Israel’s economy. Therefore, the only reason someone would do it is because they hate the Jews.

        It’s not a rational viewpoint, but it works for a lot of people.

        • Loud Liberal says:

          Actually, I was setting a trap for you, expecting you to take the opposite position, like the majority on LGM seem to take. Oh well, coitus interruptus, or something like that.

          I was also nit picking about the use of the word racism to describe religious hatred. I prefer to be more precise about such things and don’t see religion as race. IMO, religious hatred, which I refer to as a form of bigotry, is something more insidious than racism.

          In my view, all humans are born racists. Our racism arises out of our primitive, vestigial, genetic, survival instinct for tribalism. We are all – naturally – less comfortable with, and more suspicious of, those who look, speak, act, differently than us. Racism is only one small manifestation of tribalism. Other manifestations of this vestigial, genetic, instinct are nationalism, regionalism, religious sectarianism, fraternalism, sports fanaticism, even brand loyalty can be thought of as a manifestation of tribalism. As a teenager, I witnessed and participated in gang fights between the loyal owners of Mopar vs. Ford vs. Chevy hot-rods. Those were the good ol’ days.

          Conversely, IMO, it is tolerance on one side, and bigotry (tribalistic hatred), on the other, which must be learned.

  8. montag2 says:

    This must be as good as aerobic exercise for Dershowitz’s heart rate, but, that’s not an excuse to humor him.

  9. Loud Liberal says:

    Following is an email I received today from a group called Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, that I thought some might like to read: (I added back some formatting)

    A Statement on Brooklyn College’s Upcoming BDS Forum by
    Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)

    On February 7th, the Department of Political Science of Brooklyn College and various student organizations sympathetic to the Palestinian view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, such as the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), will sponsor a Forum entitled “Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti: BDS Movement for Palestinian Rights,” an event that will be an effort to promote bigotry, prejudice, and hate against the Jewish state and its supporters.

    Although the word forum suggests a debate, the announcement for the event mentions no anti-BDS speakers, or even neutral commentators—only well-known BDS advocates and anti-Israel activists Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler, who side with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups openly seeking Israel’s annihilation.

    Judith Butler is a highly vociferous public critic of Israel. When asked about Hamas and Hezbollah’s place “in the global left,” she urged “understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.” Therefore, she favors dismantling the Jewish state as we know it in favor of something she calls “multi-cultural co-habitation.” In her latest book, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, she nods to the prodigious forces of hatred and intolerance militating against her solution: “It may be that binationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it.”

    Omar Barghouti has managed to advocate for BDS while studying at an Israeli university by saying that his studies there are a “personal matter.” This is a privilege seemingly only to be enjoyed by him, while ordinary Jewish and Arab students and faculty have their personal academic studies politicized by him and his fellow extremists.

    SPME, an international community of scholars committed to peaceful resolution of all of the Middle East’s many conflicts, contends that the BDS movement is both intellectually flawed and contrary to the very real needs of the people of that region. We are committed to a genuine, just, and enduring peace.

    The BDS movement is mistaken in its focus on a single party, Israel, as the impediment to peace. Israel has repeatedly expressed its willingness to live peacefully alongside a Palestinian state. Since the rebirth of a Jewish state in 1948, Israel’s democratic governments from across the political spectrum have repeatedly demonstrated an intent to make painful compromises in the interest of a peaceful resolution of this conflict, including recognition of a Palestinian Arab homeland for those descended from Arabs displaced during prior conflicts.

    Pronouncements attempting to appeal to the conscience of academics supportive of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement often depict Israel as a Nazi-like state. Perhaps this is why CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein recently stated, “I personally abhor and am appalled by the aims of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.” Yet these pro-BDS views—once labeled extreme—have become increasingly mainstream, as academics call for Israel’s destruction, not by might or power but by demonization, delegitimization, and a call to weaken and destroy the Middle East’s only democracy.

    BDS is contrary to the search for peace since it represents a form of misguided economic warfare. It is directly in opposition to decades of agreements between Israeli and Arab Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and committed to a two state solution. Yet in her only statement on the controversy, Brooklyn College’s president, Karen L. Gould, not only declined to condemn BDS, but appeared to list it as among the “issues of importance to our world.”

    SPME urges those committed to peace and justice for the people of a region which has had too much war and violence to join with us in rejecting the politics of hatred that the BDS movement represents and urge Brooklyn College to ensure that none of its academic units sponsors this racist forum.

    The Department of Political Science has issued a statement pointing out that BDS events have been held at other universities and colleges all over the country. That is true, but not reassuring. Almost all such events have been one-sided attempts to demonize and delegitimize Israel. Moreover, our understanding is that departmental sponsorship of such events is rare.

    Therefore, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East denounces the Brooklyn College Department of Political Science’s abandonment of scholarly principles. The department’s faculty members have crossed a line and should be held to account in terms of CUNY faculty bylaws.

    About SPME
    Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

    The peace we seek in the Middle East is consistent both with Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state within safe and secure borders, and with the rights and legitimate aspirations of her neighbors.

    Our mission is to inform, motivate, and encourage faculty to use their academic skills and disciplines on campus, in classrooms, and in academic publications to develop effective responses to the ideological distortions, including anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist slanders, that poison debate and work against peace. SPME welcomes scholars from all disciplines, faiths groups and nationalities who share our desire for peace and our commitment to academic integrity and honest debate.

    http://www.spme.net/

    For further information contact:
    Asaf Romirowsky, PhD
    Acting Executive Director
    Aromirowsky@spme.org

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Hmm.

      an event that will be an effort to promote bigotry, prejudice, and hate against the Jewish state and its supporters.

      Well, this is not objectively determined, right? Those are not the set forth goal of the BDS movement, afaict, nor of the people involved, e.g., Butler:

      In the United States, I have been alarmed by the number of Jews who, dismayed by Israeli politics, including the occupation, the practices of indefinite detention, the bombing of civilian populations in Gaza, seek to disavow their Jewishness. They make the mistake of thinking that the State of Israel represents Jewishness for our times, and that if one identifies as a Jew, one supports Israel and its actions. And yet, there have always been Jewish traditions that oppose state violence, that affirm multi-cultural co-habitation, and defend principles of equality, and this vital ethical tradition is forgotten or sidelined when any of us accept Israel as the basis of Jewish identification or values. So, on the one hand, Jews who are critical of Israel think perhaps they cannot be Jewish anymore of Israel represents Jewishness; and on the other hand, those who seek to vanquish anyone who criticizes Israel equate Jewishness with Israel as well, leading to the conclusion that the critic must be anti-Semitic or, if Jewish, self-hating. My scholarly and public efforts have been directed toward getting out of this bind. In my view, there are strong Jewish traditions, even early Zionist traditions, that value co-habitation and that offer ways to oppose violence of all kinds, including state violence. It is most important that these traditions be valued and animated for our time – they represent diasporic values, struggles for social justice, and the exceedingly important Jewish value of “repairing the world”

      Not exactly “hate the Jews”, now, is it?

      Although the word forum suggests a debate

      Not really.

      The Department of Political Science has issued a statement pointing out that BDS events have been held at other universities and colleges all over the country. That is true, but not reassuring. Almost all such events have been one-sided attempts to demonize and delegitimize Israel. Moreover, our understanding is that departmental sponsorship of such events is rare.

      I’d like to see such evidence. In any case, that it is rare does not mean that the current sponsorship is problematic.

      Therefore, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East denounces the Brooklyn College Department of Political Science’s abandonment of scholarly principles. The department’s faculty members have crossed a line and should be held to account in terms of CUNY faculty bylaws.

      A specific charge would be nice. I mean, is it a violation of the campus code? How? Which provision? Their contracts?

      All and all, not particularly impressive or convincing.

  10. Bijan Parsia says:

    Oh, this is interesting:

    “People who advocate boycotts and divestiture will literally have blood on their hands,” [Dershowitz] said. “They encourage terrorism and discourage the laying down of arms.”

    Niiiiice.

  11. [...] This is from a few days ago, but Scott Lemieux does a hilarious send-up of the “balance” [...]

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