Standing Up For Academic Freedom · 18 January 2008

By Phil Orenstein -

This is the story about an embattled student who stood up to challenge his incompetent radical professor and the dramatic outcome that ensued. Aaron Haberer is a student from Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), who received a failing grade for disputing his professor’s virulent anti-America, anti-religious demagoguery in the classroom. Aaron’s story is an example of the type of flagrant abuses of student academic rights that increasingly typifies much of the college experience today. This testimony is meant to show that the more students have the courage to complain, the better the chances that some action will be taken. Yet there are many such cases that never hit the radar. In most cases, school officials have failed to step in or come to the aid of a beleaguered student as they did in Aaron’s case, but though they may fear repercussions in their grades or careers, if enough students and faculty are bold enough to speak out when they experience professors infringing on their academic rights or using the classroom for indoctrination, then there is a greater likelihood that college administrators, trustees and faculty of good sense will step in to remove the bad apples before they infect the rest of the barrel.

Aaron was encouraged when he heard about the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) legislation in New York (S2300 / A04406), and the principled representatives who sponsored this vital legislation. Although under analysis in the Higher Education Committee, ABOR has played a supportive role acting as a de facto declaration of academic rights giving students moral support for their freedom to express their political opinions and religious beliefs in the classroom without fearing penalization, the right to disagree with a professor, to be graded fairly and to be exposed to a wide variety of scholarly perspectives rather than one-sided political agendas.

In 2002, prominent conservative author David Horowitz drafted the Academic Bill of Rights for State University of New York (SUNY) Board of Trustees chairman, Thomas Egan who expressed enthusiasm for its adoption on SUNY campuses and promised to hand it over to his board to proceed. However the radical faculty unions that hold sway over the university systems of New York and tie the hands of administrators, fought against the measure. Accordingly, he reneged on his promise and repeated attempts to bring it up to the board for a fair hearing by Trustee Candace de Russy were stonewalled leaving no alternative other than to introduce it to the state legislature. Finally, Governor Spitzer terminated Trustee de Russy’s term in 2007, leaving no representation in the SUNY system to fight for the concerns of students, faculty and parents regarding political indoctrination in the classroom.

In response to the hasty sweeping of this issue under the rug by both the state and city university systems, Brooklyn College Professor Mitchell Langbert and I lobbied our state representatives and traveled to Albany to meet with Senator LaValle’s aide, John D’Agati, director of the Senate Higher Education Committee to introduce ABOR. We were met with reasonable consideration and concern from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, rather than stonewalling and outright denials of the problem, as we were accustomed to in academic circles. It’s apparent that there is a deep-rooted problem in higher education when our State Legislature in Albany advances the free and open exchange of ideas and opinions more so than do our college campuses.

After hearing the encouraging news about the ABOR bill under consideration in the New York legislature, Aaron contacted me to speak at an open meeting of College Republicans at BMCC. He described his ordeal of political and religious viewpoint discrimination in his Modern History class taught by Professor Gronowicz and showed me the one-sided booklist and assignments his professor handed out to impose his “eccentric” pseudo-science on the students.

Since there were quite a few liberals and radicals in the audience I described ABOR as a measure that is good for both liberals and conservatives. It’s not about Left or Right but about the professional responsibly of professors. They have immense power and authority in the classroom to mold and shape young minds, and they should not abuse their classroom authority by indoctrinating students. I advised the students to know their rights as spelled out in ABOR and warned them to be on the lookout and don’t be afraid to speak up if they see instances of indoctrination by their professors. Are they hearing irrelevant slurs about our president, our military forces or the War in Iraq, which have no relation to the course subject matter? Are they being spoon-fed emotionally appealing myths and conspiracy theories rather than being taught to think critically? I pointed out the dangerous consequences of academic indoctrination using historical examples of the anti-Semitic German academic roots of Nazism. I discussed how mythical ideologies of Aryan supremacy and racial anti-Semitism disseminated in the classrooms of German universities long before Hitler seized power, were the root causes of the Nazi atrocities and World War II. By revealing the long-term academic indoctrination process where the “Master Race” was groomed for the kill, I cautioned the students to be aware of their rights and be ever vigilant of the dangers of radical ideologies and dangerous myths being disseminated in their classrooms. Outrageous myths and conspiracy theories were in fact being peddled in the classrooms of BMCC in the name of Modern History and Aaron and others would proceed to speak up boldly. Even some of the vocal critics present at the meeting ultimately helped Aaron and other students pursue their complaints against this delinquent professor.

Aaron’s professor, Anthony Gronowicz leads quite a busy life above and beyond his regular teaching capacity as Associate Professor of Social Science at BMCC. He is also a leading figure in New York’s radical political circuit and an outspoken anti-war activist. He ran for Mayor of New York City against Michael Bloomberg in the 2005 General Election as the Green Party “eccentric candidate,” according to The Villager and had an earlier run for State Assembly in 1996. His policy positions entailed restoring the failed policies of open enrollment and remediation to City University of New York, banning cars one day a week, rehabilitating prisoners, fining people in proportion to their income and raising federal income tax to 91% for the top income bracket, to name a few mentioned in his interview in The Villager. His activist career from 1965 to the present centered on the anti-war movement. He started out by chairing the Chelsea Committee to End the War in Vietnam, joining SDS marches on Washington, rallies for cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, protesting police shootings at City Hall Amadou Diallo rally, up to his recent speaking engagement at the Union Square Cindy Sheehan/Camp Casey anti-Iraq war protests. He is currently active in the radical caucus of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the faculty union of CUNY. In the interview he said, “I am engaged in a crusade.” However, he has mistakenly brought his anti-American political crusade to the classrooms of BMCC.

Aaron, son of a Lutheran Pastor, is a devoted Christian himself, and a serious student of history aiming to teach on the high school level. Professor Gronowicz’s class was one of the requirements. But according to Aaron, instead of teaching a survey course on Modern Western History, he spent an entire semester teaching secret societies and conspiracy theories as fact, and other topics that had no relation to the publicized course content. The course essentially surveyed secret societies emphasizing the Order of Skull and Bones, claiming that this Yale University fraternity boasting such notable past members as George W. Bush, John Kerry and other government figures, is a secret order that rules the world. Another student remarked that he hadn’t learned a thing because the entire course was an endless diatribe against Bush.

Aaron expressed his opinions during classroom discussions in defense of America. He argued that these secret organizations and conspiracy theories are based upon fabrications and lies to justify calumny against our great country. Raising his voice to a shout, Gronowicz asserted that it’s not possible for anyone to find explanations to justify America and it’s immoral actions. He singled out Aaron’s religious faith making such statements as, “it is impossible to be a free thinking educated person and believe in a God.” Aaron responded to the slanderous innuendo that all religious people are ignorant by offering good examples of highly educated God-fearing men and women, in order to argue against the crude insults directed at him, but Gronowicz would shrug them off as exceptions to the rule. This professor’s classroom manner conveyed pure religious discrimination that violates professional academic standards of conduct as well as First Amendment rights.

Regarding 9/11 conspiracy theories, Professor Gronowicz stated that the destruction of the World Trade Towers was an inside job the Bush administration knew about way ahead of time because of the close family ties between Bush and the Bin Laden families. As proof that the government orchestrated 9/11, he stated that Tower Seven was not directly hit, but it came down nonetheless, by planned implosion because the government was trying to cover up secret documents concealed within its vaults. He also asserted that first responders where not given the proper safety equipment. However Aaron was a union tradesman working as a first responder at Ground Zero and went about overturning the nutty professor’s erroneous statements and false premises one by one.

As Aaron argued his points in the classroom discussions, his saw his grades gradually plummet to an “F”. Another student who had a complaint about his grade, who never received lower than a B+ in other classes, said that he received a C- in the course because Gronowicz lost his midterm, which hurt his GPA and forced him to repeat the class. Still other students mentioned various complaints about this professor’s conduct and strange grading system.

When Aaron realized the poor grades he was receiving were a direct result of expressing his firm belief in the righteousness of American government and his religious principles, he reported Gronowicz to another professor. This professor advised him about his academic rights and helped him file a formal complaint. Some of his fellow classmates likewise filed complaints when Aaron urged them to do so. Aaron fought for almost an entire semester and finally his grade was raised to one that he felt he deserved. Professor Gronowicz was summoned to appear before a peer review board. His classroom conduct was reviewed and as a result, he was demoted from a full time professor to adjunct status and given only one class assignment. However the obvious downside is that this professor is still on the faculty payroll at BMCC today.

Aaron feels that no student should have to go through the lengthy process he endured merely to get a fair grade based upon his course work, not upon political opinions or religious beliefs. ABOR added clout to his complaint and helped to dispel the notion that students are powerless and have no recourse. If more students speak up when they experience similar injustices in the classroom, ultimately school officials will come to their defense and take steps to remedy the situation. If enough students complain, then sooner or later, eccentric professors like Gronowicz and his ilk will be fired, and our colleges and universities will return to be the fortresses for the free and open exchange of scholarly ideas and opinions they were meant to be.
Phil Orenstein is a manufacturing systems manager at Orics Industries Inc. based in Queens, NY, and formerly an adjunct lecturer of Computer Aided Manufacturing at Queensborough Community College and Farmingdale State University.