This attack on academic freedom — an adjunct hired to teach a course was fired by Brooklyn College administration after a state assemblyman sent a letter arguing that the syllabus and instructor were too critical of Israel — is depressing. First of all, there’s assemblyman Hikind:
Hikind, who said he earned his master’s degree in political science from Brooklyn College, told Inside Higher Ed that he reached these conclusions after spending “countless hours” reading the newly hired adjunct’s work. This included, chiefly, his unpublished paper, “Inventing the Martyr: Struggle, Sacrifice and the Signification of Palestinian National Identity,” in which he examines martyrdom as it “embodies ideals of struggle and sacrifice” in the context of national identity. Hikind said such works reflect an effort to “understand” suicide bombers. “There’s nothing to understand about someone who murders women and children,” he said. “You condemn.”
Great — BC is outsourcing its hiring decisions to someone who thinks there shouldn’t be any difference between academic work and Weekly Standard editorials. (Wait until he finds out about the criminology department!) But there’s only so much I can blame Hikind; he didn’t, after all, make the final call. So how does the administration justify this? Well, it argued that Petersen-Overton was “unqualified,” but (as the fact that he was hired by the people best situated to evaluate his credentials reflects) the “requirement” that more than an MA and doctoral work at the grad center is required to teach at CUNY is entirely fictitious. Perhaps sensing that this won’t fly, the College offered another non-explanation that’s comic in its disingenuousness:
“There’s a lot of factors at play that seem to be connected, but aren’t,” he said. The issue isn’t one of academic freedom; in fact, Thompson said, the course will continue under a different faculty member.
Right — it’s not a violation of academic freedom to fire someone for political reasons, because…the college will still offer the same course, taught by a different instructor with a different syllabus (that will presumably be constructed with the knowledge that there will be a political veto over its content.) I guess is that what we’ll all have to look forward to in the post-tenure utopia…
…UPDATE. Petersen-Overton with his own response:
Joking aside, there are a number of issues at stake here that clearly resonate far beyond my own case and affect all student professors. An attack on academic freedom and departmental independence is troubling enough, especially considering the clumsy way I was denied due process by the administration in this instance. But the practical consequences of the college’s decision underscore the precarious position that adjuncts hold at CUNY. In the blink of an eye, I have been denied tuition remission, access to subsidized health care for my family and financial compensation for the spring semester in a time of serious economic uncertainty. If the college’s decision stands, it should send a chill throughout the entire adjunct community.