Brooklyn College’s Brewing Controversy

Tomorrow, the point of no return will be crossed. This will be the point where an academic institution will be unable to claim that they are unbiased. That the academic institution’s Political Science Department’s claim of impartiality on a particular issue being disproven once and for all. The academic institution I am referring to here is CUNY Brooklyn College.

I am sure many of you are aware of the current controversy brewing at Brooklyn College: Brooklyn College’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter and Brooklyn College’s Political Science Department are co-sponsoring a BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) event featuring anti-Israel activists Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler.  The sponsorship from Brooklyn’s Political Science Department decreases the cost of the event to Brooklyn’s SJP. With this sponsorship,  the SJP does not need to pay to rent a space from the college to host the event, nor pay for additional staff from the college to help run the event.

The reason why many others and I are troubled by the co-sponsorship of this event is that it shows the Political Science Department endorsing a one sided event about an international issue. Brooklyn’s Political Science department has claimed that they are willing to sponsor any event on this issue, yet when world renowned Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a Brooklyn College alumnus, challenged the Department to invite him to speak at the event or to invite him to speak at a separate event, the Department did not respond to him.

Both NY Assemblymen Dov Hinkind and Alan Dershowitz, alumni of Brooklyn College, have said they would allow the event to stand unopposed if it had equal representation of both sides of the conflict. This would be appropriate and should be mandatory for any college department sponsoring an event on any controversy. This should be protocol because it would give the department’s majors and the general public a balanced view of the issue. But if a college refuses to do this it shows an inherent bias in the department.

I had a similar issue with a particular Political Science class I took last semester at Hunter College. The class was regarding political theories of the 20th century, centering on ideas dealing with the concept of power. The teacher who taught this class had in the second or third meeting of the class said some alleged facts about Israel that were entirely wrong. Later on in the semester, the professor began touching on the Israel-Palestine issue but only presenting the Palestinian side of the issue. This led me to believe that the teacher believes that this is only accurate side of the issue. Having a course taught in a biased manner poses two problems: Firstly, the possible bias present in a department. Secondly, it hinders the students of said course from being able to learn more about the issue.

A final note I would like to comment on is a quote taken from CBS’s interviews with students while covering the issue. A particular student stated that, “Academic freedom is part of freedom of speech, which is part of the U.S. constitution. What they’re saying is not anti-Jewish, not promoting hate…” The fact of the matter is we are not dealing here with a problem of freedom of speech. It is a problem of the academic integrity of the Political Science Department of Brooklyn College. BDS movement itself has called for the destruction of Israel, so I do view it as promoting hate. A college should not sponsor the spread of hate.



About the Author
Justin Goldstein is currently a second year MSW student at Yeshiva University's Wurzweiler School of Social Work.