Threats to Academic Freedom, Based On “Principles” Nobody Believes

Greenwald’s post on the attacks against Brooklyn College is brilliant, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. To reiterate, the idea that any speaker on campus needs to be immediately “balanced” with an opposing viewpoint is silly in theory and doesn’t exist anywhere in practice. And it’s overwhelmingly clear that Dershowitz himself doesn’t believe in the “principle” he’s pretending to support:

But nobody proves the disingenuousness of this excuse more than Dershowitz himself. Like the BDS movement, Dershowitz is a highly controversial and polarizing figure who inspires intense animosity around the world. That’s due to many reasons, including his defense of virtually every Israeli attack, his advocacy of “torture warrants” whereby courts secretly authorize state torture, his grotesque attempt to dilute what a “civilian” is and replace it with “the continuum of civilianality” in order to justify Israeli aggression, and his chronic smearing of Israel critics such as author Alice Walker as “bigots”.

Despite how controversial he is, Dershowitz routinely appears on college campuses to speak without opposition. Indeed, as the Gawker writer who writes under the pen name Mobutu Sese Seko first documented, Dershowitz himself has spoken at Brooklyn College on several occasions without opposition. That includes – as the college’s Political Science Professor Corey Robin noted – when he was chosen by the school’s Political Science department to deliver the Konefsky lecture in which he spoke at length – and without opposition. He also delivered a 2008 speech at Brooklyn College, alone, in which he discussed a wide variety of controversial views, including torture. As Professor Robin noted, when Dershowitz agreed to speak at the school, “he didn’t insist that we invite someone to rebut him or to represent the opposing view.”

Debates, as Glenn says, are one potentially useful format — but just one. Speakers are brought onto campus to speak alone about controversial topics all the time. When I gave the Constitution Day lecture, nobody thought that an adherent of Alexander Bickel had to be invited to present an approving viewpoint. Indeed, such lectures are virtually never a debate format, and never carry the connotation that a sponsoring department agrees with everything that a speaker says. I don’t believe that most of the critics attacking BC fail to understand this, and Dershowitz surely knows better. As Kieran says:

Dershowitz claims that the academic freedom of these students is being violated, and asks “Does the political science department not also represent the students who major in or take courses in that subject?”

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