February 6, 2013
Daily Read: Academic Freedom and Controversial Programs
ConLawProfs often appear on controversial panels and law schools often present controversial programming. Are there limits?
Policitical Science Professor (and Chair of the Department) Paisley Currah (pictured) of Brooklyn College has been embroiled in a "firestorm" of late. As Professor Currah writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Last month the political-science department at Brooklyn College, which I chair, was asked to either cosponsor or endorse a panel discussion on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement organized by a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. We decided to cosponsor the event, which is to take place on Thursday and to feature the philosopher Judith Butler and the Palestinian-rights activist Omar Barghouti. The BDS movement advocates using nonviolent means to pressure Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories. Our decision landed us in a firestorm.
The flames of the firestorm have been fanned by controversial LawProf Alan Dershowitz as well as a letter signed NYC officials with (somewhat) veiled threats of reducing government funding. The NYT weighed in on the matter, comparing it to Chuck Hagel's nomination for secretary of defense, and the Center for Constitutional Rights has also highlighted the controversy. As Professor Currah concludes:
The damage wrought by this controversy, however, could be long-lasting, and the lesson for other colleges is, I think, instructive. Many people have written letters and signed petitions in support of the principle of academic freedom, and my colleagues and I appreciate those efforts. But what we have learned at Brooklyn College is that supporting the principle of academic freedom is one thing; exercising that freedom by organizing or cosponsoring an event on a highly charged subject, like BDS, is another.
For ConLawProfs teaching First Amendment this semester, the underlying facts could be the basis for an excellent class discussion or exercise. For everyone involved in the academic enterprise, Currah's piece is an important read.
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