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.