Victory for SAF at Brooklyn College · 22 March 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Daniel Tauber--Brooklyn College Excelsior, 03/22/04

The Center for Diversity at Brooklyn College has agreed to change its mission statement to include "intellectual diversity," Students for Academic Freedom President, Eldad Yaron, told the Excelsior last Friday.

"Per our request, BC's center of diversity has agreed to add 'intellectual diversity' to its mission statement and definition of diversity," Yaron said.

About a week ago, Yaron sent a letter to Professor Joseph Wilson, the director of the Center, asking the Center to expand their mission statement "to include the protection and promotion of intellectual diversity."

A few days later, Wilson wrote back, saying that not only was he "in essential agreement" with Yaron's points, but that he would be "glad to list intellectual diversity as part of the Center's mission."

This is the first, if small, victory for Student for Academic Freedom, which was started earlier this semester.

"This is, to me, a quite significant little victory," Yaron said.

The Center's current mission statement is "to promote and support a dynamic multicultural academic environment through policy initiatives, curriculum and faculty development, student empowerment and community service learning."

SAF, which has yet to receive funds from the Student Assembly, seeks to protect students from professors who seek to influence their students' political opinions.

"The purpose of the club is to confront political bias in the classroom," Yaron said, "which is a big task."

In order to accomplish this task SAF seeks to record cases where professors are unduly influencing student's political opinions.

"I will log a list of offenses, I will look into them, and try to find out if it is in fact an issue, of unfair and unbalanced education," Yaron said.

"If it is," Yaron said, "I will confront each and every case, take it up to that professor, take it to his department and chair, take it to the media, take it to whoever it needs to be taken to."

Aside from this, SAF also wants Brooklyn College officially recognize the value intellectual diversity by adopting legislation called the Academic Bill of Rights.

The Academic Bill of Rights calls for students grades to based only on their "appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs."

Also included in the Bill are regulations on hiring faculty: "All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in their field of expertise."

Conversely, the Bill states that the hiring and firing of faculty shouldn't be dealt with "on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs."

But even before Students for Academic Freedom, political bias and academic freedom were hot issues on Brooklyn College.

In February of 2003 Chancellor Mathew Goldstein override a decision by Brooklyn College's history department to deny Professor KC Johnson tenure on the basis that he wasn't as collegial as he should have been.

The New York Sun reported that "Johnson had been told that his alleged lack of collegiality stemmed from political positions he took against the practice of considering race and gender when hiring decisions and protestation of a panel on terrorism that had no pro-American or pro-Israel participants."

The Excelsior reported last semester on the possible political bias that may result from the Arts of Democracy and Learning Community programs ushered in by Brooklyn College's newest provost, Roberta Mathews.

An Excelsior editorial from two weeks ago entitled "Arts of Hypocrisy" criticized the Arts of Democracy program, citing a course at Evergreen University, "500 Years of Globalization," in which students learned the process by which Europeans and Americans have left the rest of the world poor and powerless.

Brooklyn College, like Evergreen, has been targeted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities for its "Liberal Education and Responsible Citizenship: Arts of Democracy" program.

According to the AAC&U's website, Brooklyn College will "participate in Project Aimed at Preparing College Students for Responsible Global Citizenship."

Yaron said that he did not start SAF in response to Johnson's tenure case, or to the Arts of Democracy program.

"I know that there was some drama involving his tenure case, something about him testifying in the Senate," Yaron said of Johnson.

Johnson did indeed testify to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee last semester on October 29, 2003.

"I survived an attempt by Brooklyn College of the City University of New York to deny me tenure on the basis of my ideas and academic values, an attempt amounting to an attack on the principle of intellectual diversity on campus," Johnson had testified.

Yaron also said that he has "heard about a plan to redo a plan to redo the whole core curriculum," but didn't know anything past that.

He sited personal cases, however, that made him aware of the need to combat political bias in the classroom.

Yaron said that Core Three was an example of a very slanted class.

He also cited a Politics and Law class he took in which "the text books were all one sided, completely one sided."

The professor, Yaron said, "was cool enough to understand that. He was a new professor, and he acknowledged the fact that the class materials are extremely slanted."

SAF's next event will be on Thursday, March 25th in the Aviary Lounge in SUBO and will feature Professor KC Johnson.