Now that the mayor, the New York Times, and just about everyone else have come down hard on all the government officials and politicians who tried to force my department to withdraw its co-sponsorship of the BDS panel, the “progressive” politicians have issued a second letter (their first is here) to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, in which they
backpedal, backpedal, backpedal pull back from their earlier position. No longer, it seems, must we “balance” this panel or withdraw our co-sponsorship. [second letter in Robin’s post]
That it took a billionaire mayor to explain these simple matters to our progressive leaders is, well, what can one say? This entire episode has been an instructive example in courage and cowardice, shame and shamelessness. Much congratulations go to the mayor, to President Gould, to the students who organized this panel, and above all to my colleagues in political science, who stood absolutely firm on principle throughout an extraordinarily difficult time, and to our chair Paisley Currah, who led us throughout it all.
Or so it would seem. While this turn of events is rightly viewed by those who fought hard to turn back the Dershowtiz-Hikind-invertebrate City Council politician combine as occasion for celebration, what this entire business portends for the future of academic freedom on the American campus is, I think, a little more grim.
Consider this. Massive amounts of political pressure utilizing media resources was brought to bear on an academic department of a public university to ensure ostensibly, the ‘mere withdrawal of sponsorship’ from a panel discussion on campus. It was never that, of course. The pressure brought on Brooklyn College from the outside was an attempt to regulate discourse on campus. And in that, I fear it has succeeded in many ways.
For one, this event does not make the controversial panel discussion on campus more likely. It makes it more unlikely. Which department or university administration wants to go through this fiasco again? Will university administrators now ask academic departments to clear their sponsorships with them? (Academic freedom you say, but I can see administrators gearing up to couch such ‘requests’ in as vague but demanding language as possible.) Turning back this latest assault on Brooklyn College took a very determined group of faculty; will every university facing a similar crackdown be able to count on such resilience? Even at Brooklyn College, no other department dared co-sponsor the event in solidarity with the political science department; will any of them try to sponsor anything similar down the line? I do not know if the coalition acting against Brooklyn College seriously thought they could shut the BDS panel down; what they might have done is merely played the long game, knowing that even if this panel goes forward, there is little chance anything like it will happen for a long time at Brooklyn College, or anywhere else, for that matter.