Misunderstanding The University: The Brooklyn College Case

Ann McClure's picture
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In recent days, Brooklyn College has found itself targeted by a vehement campaign against its political science department's decision to co-sponsor a forum on Thursday in which two speakers are expected to advocate a position that the campaigners heartily object to. City and state politicians have even called for defunding the college.

The position in question is that Americans ought to boycott, divest from and apply sanctions toward Israel. (BDS is the movement's common abbreviation.) For the record, I oppose any call to punish all Israelis for the wrongful actions of some. But the merits of the position are not the question here. The question is: Do Brooklyn College political scientists have the right to promote political controversy? Should politicians withdraw public funds — in their own unwitting echo of BDS' goal — because they take issue with a panel discussion?

The contretemps arose because a group called Students for Justice in Palestine asked the political scientists to co-sponsor talks by two people — an American feminist philosopher, Judith Butler, and a Palestinian activist, Omar Barghouti — aligned with the BDS movement. Objections were not slow to arrive. Wherever BDS gets a hearing — for example, at UC Irvine and UCLA in recent years — it causes a ruckus.

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