Unwilling to accept the City University of New York’s report last month on the handling of an anti-Israel event at Brooklyn College, five members of the City Council are demanding that an administrator at Brooklyn College be held accountable for her actions.
They also want CUNY to hire a pro-Israel chairman at Brooklyn’s political science department, which sponsored the February event, and establish better guidelines to ensure that the rights of all students to participate in events.
“Academic freedom is not a right reserved only to academics and faculty members,” wrote the three Democrats and two Republicans.
The report issued April 12 by CUNY’s general counsel, Frederick Schaffer, and an outside lawyer, James Gill, faulted the Brooklyn College administration and its security team for removing four pro-Israel Jewish students before the event started because it appeared that they might protest the speakers, who advocate boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish state.
But the report said there was no evidence that the students were removed on the basis of their religion and confirmed that the college’s initial contention that the students were being disruptive was false. Brooklyn College’s president, Karen Gould, apologized to the students and promised better guidelines for future events.
But Councilman Lewis Fidler called the report a “whitewash.” In an April 29 letter to Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson of CUNY, he questioned whether the report was released late on a Friday to minimize news coverage and said the administrator who allowed the students to be removed should face “repercussions.”
His letter was co-signed by Brooklyn Democrats David Greenfield and Michael Nelson, Queens Republican Eric Ulrich and Staten Island Republican James Oddo, who is the Council Minority Leader.
The councilmen noted that if the investigation found that the students — Melanie Goldberg, Ari Ziegler, Yvonne Juris and Michael Ziegler — were not disruptive, the only reason they could have been removed was because they were holding papers and appeared prepared to challenge the speakers.
“What in heaven’s name does that say about academic freedom on campus?” asks the letter.
The administrator who was present at the event is not named in the letter, but reports have said that Vice President Milga Morales attended and declined to intervene when the students were being removed.
“What are the repercussions to this administrator for her conduct from the beginning of this event through this wrongful expulsion?” the councilmen asked in the letter.
In a May 3 letter responding to the councilmen, Hershenson declined to respond to their points but said “I am instead sharing a copy of your letter with the CUNY chancellery and college presidents, who are scheduled to discuss the issues raised by the BDS forum report shortly.”
He added, “ the University is reviewing practices at other universities and would welcome reviewing any protocols utilized by the New York City Council regarding event sponsorship or co-sponsorship.”
The councilmen in their letter recommend that CUNY continue its investigation to find out who is responsible for “misfeasance” during the event; establish precise criteria for events planned by faculty departments; and develop a plan to “level the playing field” at Brooklyn’s political science department by endowing “a chair in the department for a visiting professor from Israel who reflects a more sympathetic view” about the country.