At Brooklyn College this week, it seems that everyone is talking about academic freedom. A student group, Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine, organized an event highlighting the “BDS” movement, which advocates for a boycott of Israel, urges people to divest companies that do business in Israel, and promotes sanctions against Israel. Holding this event in Brooklyn naturally sparks controversy, and the controversy only grew when the political science department chose to co-sponsor it.
Hoping to quell the critics, President Gould issued a letter outlining her commitment to free speech and academic freedom. She observed that “[s]tudents and faculty . . . have the right to invite speakers, engage in discussion, and present ideas to further educational discussion and debate.” She noted that the “mere invitation to speak does not indicate an endorsement of any particular point of view, and there is no obligation, as some have suggested, to present multiple perspectives at any one event.” Indeed, this is, in her mind, the very purpose of a university: “Providing an open forum to discuss important topics, even those many find highly objectionable, is a centuries-old practice on university campuses around the country. Indeed, this spirit of inquiry and critical debate is a hallmark of the American education system.” Thus, she emphasized that “it is essential that Brooklyn College remain an engaged and civil learning environment where all views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal.”
Not only is this her position, but the political science department also “fully agrees and has reaffirmed its longstanding policy to give equal consideration to co-sponsoring speakers who represent any and all points of view.” Those faculty also assured students that they “welcome—indeed encourage—requests to co-sponsor speakers and events from all student groups, departments, and programs.”
While many, such as Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School, may be skeptical, students should embrace the tremendous opportunity the President just gave them. They now have an open invitation—from the President herself—to put the College to the test. Does it really treasure academic freedom? Does it really celebrate vigorous debate of “any and all points of view”—even controversial or “highly objectionable” ones? Is it really an “environment where all views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal”? Or is all of this just empty rhetoric administrators trots out when citizens object to leftist or politically correct ideas?
Well, as they say, actions speak louder than words. Students can find out what the College really believes by organizing a whole series of events—complete with speakers and panel discussions—in keeping with the “BDS” theme:
Students United for Israel could call for a boycott of the PLO, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other groups that seek to destroy Israel; for the divestment of entities that financially support those racist—and often terrorist—groups; and for sanctions against those entities.
The Newman Catholic Club could call for a boycott of states that endorse same-sex “marriage” (including New York), for the divestment of groups that support same-sex “marriage,” and for sanctions against Catholics who stray from the Church’s teachings on this subject.
Chinese Christian Fellowship could call for a boycott of China due to its forced abortion policies and religious persecution, for the divestment of companies doing business in China, and for sanctions against China.
Brooklyn College Intercollegiate Studies Institute Group could call for states to boycott the Obamacare exchanges, for the divestment of groups that supported Obamacare (e.g., AARP), and for sanctions against Obama administration officials for implementing Obamacare.
The Coptic Christian Club could call for a boycott of the Muslim Brotherhood due to its persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, for the divestment of companies that do business in Egypt, and for sanctions against that country.
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship could call for a boycott of Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions, for the divestment of all businesses that support Planned Parenthood (e.g., Susan G. Komen for the Cure), and for sanctions against Planned Parenthood because of its taxpayer fraud.
Once these groups have organized their own BDS events and invited the speakers, they should ask the political science department—or even the President’s Office—to serve as co-sponsors. Perhaps it could even be the College’s theme for the semester.
The responses to such invitations would be telling. If the President and the political science faculty were to decline for one lame excuse or another or if they were to insist on a more “balanced” presentation, students could simply say, in the monotone the National Weather Service patented: “This is a test. This is a test of academic freedom at Brooklyn College.” Then they could call a group that really believes in academic freedom—the Alliance Defending Freedom.