Shortell and Brooklyn College SAF: A Contradiction Explained (part 2) · 21 June 2005

Anti-Social - Shortell and SAF: A Contradiction Explained (part 2)

Read part 1 here

A report from Brooklyn College SAF by Eldad Yaron-06/17/05

The Sociology department's decision to elect Prof. Shortell as chair last month clearly turned out disastrous. Claiming at first to laugh at his critics, prof. Shortell eventually stepped down, blaming everyone but himself. While a handful of his colleagues thought he certainly was the right man for the job, quite a larger number seemed to think otherwise. Students for Academic Freedom was among them. The following will explain our position and why we had to act.

SAF Must Follow Its Own Set of Principles

An examination of Students for Academic Freedom's Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) explains how placing prof. Shortell as departmental chair would be a slap in the face to the Brooklyn College student body, whose student government recently adopted the SAF cause. Here's a central section from the bill:

All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.

"On the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise"

While it is currently arguable whether chairing the department amounts to an actual promotion, as far as competence, knowledge and expertise are concerned - these are determined in the academic world by looking at the person in question's scholarly and published work.

Criticism of religion and of religious extremism - despite being hardly original - may be perfectly valid. However, the very fact that a sociologist groups all people of faith, of any degree and kind - meaning, billions of people from hundreds of different religions and cultures - as a single sect of bad, ugly, violent, and immoral people, indeed brings into question Shortell's 'appropriate knowledge' of his field: society.

Religion is a central political theme in the United States, where an overwhelming majority of Americans consider themselves religious - roughly 80%. Most Americans, whether secular or religious, recognize that the secular legal system of this country is founded largely on ethical principles that are religious in origin. For example, the forbiddance of lying under oath (which mentions God) while testifying in a court, or the unlawfulness of murder, are both explicit religious commandments that are also punishable by this country's laws. More than just laws, even setting aside special seats for the elderly in public transportation is an example of customary conduct that can easily be traced to the Bible. According to prof. Shortell, then, most of our legal system, culture, and population are "social poison."

Prof. Shortell's ideas are based on demonstrable ignorance, and he has every right to express them. At the same time, equally protected is our right to consider them sub-standard nonsense. To some, prof. Shortell may be a first class scholar. Others, however, have pointed out that his published work is not sufficient.

With a questionable academic track record, the basis of prof. Shortell's competence, knowledge and expertise is therefore, highly debatable at best. We believe that unquestionable top rate quality and merit should come first.

"A view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives"

Prof. Shortell asserts that he "has a duty to challenge this social poison [of religion] at every opportunity," and that "It is not enough to be irreligious; we must use our critique to expose religion for what it is: sanctimonious nonsense."

Such a stated dedication "to challenge the social poison" of religion "at every opportunity" - including, presumably, as department chair - is in itself the exact opposite of considering religion to be a valid perspective. Much less does it demonstrate a minimal compatibility with SAF's view of fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.

"No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs."

Despite Shortell's apologistic attempts to weather the media's reaction by stating that, in fact, "some of his friends are religious," we are convinced that for a man with a duty to fight the "social poison" of religion, who says religious people are inherently violent and incapable of moral action, to actually hire, promote, or evaluate a religious professor in good faith (pun intended) would be an impossible thing to do.

Explains David French of the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

A department chair who is "on the record" disparaging religious individuals as "children" and "moral retards" is an enormous liability risk. Such comments provide even a semi-competent trial attorney with what we called in my trial attorney days a "lay-down hand" when it comes to providing evidence of discrimination. If a qualified religious individual is denied employment in Shortell's department (or is denied a promotion), then the question is not whether Brooklyn will be forced to take out (the taxpayers') checkbook but how many zeros it will attach at the end of the number.

Confronting Cheap Bias

A brief look at prof. Shortell's People, Power and Politics online syllabus suggests an ideologically motivated approach.

One of his main class assignments forces students to find "evidence" of inequality in their neighborhoods. A student who does not see "inequality" in his or her vicinity cannot do such an assignment properly. This task is clearly colored by a Marxist/classist theme. By focusing on an inequality of result, rather than equality of opportunity, the assignment seems to be designed to influence students in the direction of criticizing the capitalist system and offering a redistributive socialist political approach.

The selected "critical" textbook for Shortell's version of the mandatory People Power and Politics further suggests framing American society from the "critical" viewpoint that is compatible exclusively with the political left. The book's authors tell the reader up front what to expect: anti-globalization readings, anti-corporation readings, and a general analysis reflecting - yet again - a Marxist, a feminist and a critical race theory viewpoint.

Additionally, the very fact that prof. Shortell's online class instructions and syllabus appear within his private, politically radical blog is in itself alarming, as it certainly demonstrates Shortell's activist approach of mixing his personal politics and his teaching.

While we're glad to hear that no known incident of 'political grading' in prof. Shortell's classes has surfaced - which would otherwise certainly become a separate issue of concern for us - the lack of record of such action by prof. Shortell in class is not nearly sufficient in predicting his actions as a departmental chair.

His evident political bias, however, does signal a general departmental attitude: teaching in the sociology department means a license for professors to take it upon themselves to first and foremost "civilize" students according to their professors' own narrow, highly political, and single interpretation of social justice. Fair, factual teaching may only be an accidental, secondary by-product (assuming it exists at all).

It is exactly this monoculture, resulting from lack of intellectual diversity in the very departments that monopolize social and political disciplines, that prevents their members from seeing how providing half the story amounts to robbing students of their tuition and tax money. Diverse students deserve diverse education.

True, we believe there is a strong Marxist bias in the entire structure of the Core 3 class, which is not exclusive to prof. Shortell. At the same time, true to our cause of confronting biased education, and especially in a class mandatory for all Brooklyn College students, we find it impossible to support the idea of placing such a blatantly biased professor, who seems to be on an irrational and extreme Stalinist mission to eradicate the toxic "opium for the masses," in a position of a spokesperson for Brooklyn College, heading an academic department, influencing the careers of others, and co-administering the very class he already teaches with a political slant.

I explained some of this in a letter that was published in the NY Sun a couple of weeks ago:

I'm glad President Kimmich's letter suggests a realization that tenured professors' abuse of their own academic freedom by trampling others' - that of students in particular, but possibly that of future faculty as well - cannot survive the light of day. Sadly, though, the school's reaction to this seems too little too late. Had the sociology department and its neighbor, the political science department, hired a truly diverse faculty in the first place, and not solely the Marxists who dominate them, chances are that this entire embarrassing fiasco would have been avoided. More importantly, it would result in a situation where students at least would get to hear more than just this type of approach to society, including those students who agree with Professor Shortell's views.

The chairs of the two departments, by the way, co-administer a controversial, mandatory class with a mandatory textbook at Brooklyn called: "Core 3: People, Power and Politics," which - no wonder - forces students to view America exclusively from the typical leftist class-race-gender mind frame. Putting aside the fact that non-leftist instructors are practically not allowed in these departments (in the name of "diversity," of course), it is impossible to teach the class as it is without a politically activist slant. Allowing Mr. Shortell to chair the sociology department translates into changing things for the worse, rather than an attempt by the college to rectify this already ongoing scandal. And this is not because Mr. Shortell's views are "offensive," but because there is no reason to believe he can lead the department fairly.

President, Brooklyn College Students for Academic Freedom

A Chairman's Supremacist Hate Speech is a Threat to Intellectual Pluralism

We believe that professor Shortell's words amount to pure hate speech analogous to those of a racial supremacist. Further, as these words come from a government employee in a public school, we see these views, which call for discriminative action to "expose" the supposedly ugly, violent and immoral people of faith, as dangerous, witch-hunting positions.

This is a clear threat to our democratic cause of fostering tolerance, pluralism and intellectual diversity on campus.

Certainly, Shortell's type of speech is protected under US law. In fact, the very notion of free speech entails that the US Constitution does not, and should not, protect us from being offended by others' words.

Accordingly, loyal to our stated ideals, SAF has never called on anyone to fire prof. Shortell. Further, we also repeatedly emphasized his entitlement to his views and his academic freedom as a professor. This is precisely the reason SAF never took issue with Shortell's statement, however inappropriate, in the past, until we learned about the sociology department election from the free media.

Our concern was, once again, with allowing him to exercise these views from a position of power as a departmental chair with the ability to influence curriculum decisions as well as others' careers. Had Shortell not stepped down, what religious sociologist would even apply for a job in the sociology department? No matter how religious people are treated in Shortell's classroom, would this not serve as a chilling factor for any person of faith to keep away? And why would a religious person wish to send their children to Brooklyn College? Is this how we understand the concept of equality?

Contrary to the way some faculty members try to present it, we believe that the issue at hand is anything but an attack on prof. Shortell's academic freedom.

Explains the FIRE's David French:

There is a difference between the academic freedom of a professor and the academic freedom of a department chair. As Eugene Volokh noted in his excellent early analysis of the [Ward] Churchill case:

"The chairmanship of a department is an administrative post; while a professor's job is to publish his own work and his own views, the chair's job is to advance the academic mission of the university. See Jeffries v. Harleston (2nd Cir. 1995), which sensibly draws this distinction."

[…] In the Shortell case, Brooklyn College has the authority to strip Shortell of his chairmanship, and such an action would not violate the constitution nor would it violate traditional conceptions of academic freedom.

NY Sun reporter Jacob Gershman writes:

A senior program officer at the AAUP, Robert Kreiser, questioned the extent to which a department chairman - who holds an essentially administrative post - is covered by the protections of academic freedom. He said a college administration may not want to have as chairman someone whose views "are outside the mainstream" of the department or the college.

Indeed, rather than suggesting to "punish" prof. Shortell for his views, we actually did the exact opposite.

We paid him respect by taking his publicly stated views - his craft - seriously. Our own academic freedom entitles us to interpret his statements for what they really are. And while they may very well fit in his radical blog, the man who has every right to voice them may not necessarily be fit to become a spokesman for the school by leading one of its academic departments. Exercising free speech does not make one immune from accountability for his or her words. Neither does it provide a license to infringe on the rights of others.

SAF's Duty to Promote Academic Intellectual Diversity

Students for Academic Freedom advocatesthe promotion of intellectual and political diversity on campus and fair education. We firmly oppose intellectual and political discrimination, believing that everyone in the academic world is entitled to academic freedom. This means also students, not only professors - whether tenured or not.

Further, as we've been asserting since the very beginning, and as the current case clearly demonstrates: education that lacks intellectual diversity and that is blatantly colored by political partisanship undermines the quality of the school and damages its reputation.

As New Yorkers, our tax and tuition dollars pay our professors to do their job. As such, we, the public, are essentially our own professors' employers. As students, we are also our professors' clients. As both, we uphold our right and our duty to demand that our professors do an excellent job, and to speak out when we identify something that is harmful for our school.

As both, we must demand a good, broad education, rather than one that is compromised by ideologically-motivated, activist professors, who commonly, and way too similarly, act upon their own beliefs in obscuring our access to valid viewpoints that contradict their personal politics.

While we recognize the democratic decision of the sociology department, we also recognize the context in which this decision is placed, which, according to the college bylaws, is only one part of the process and not its final step. In fact, our tax and tuition dollars don't only pay the salaries of prof. Shortell and his supporters, but also President Kimmich's, who has the right - and the duty - to decide what's best for Brooklyn College.

Members of the sociology department sure have their rights, but they're not immune from public criticism. Under no circumstance is SAF's right to free speech less protected than the right of professor Shortell to publish his views. Indeed, the sociology department should have acted more responsibly, sparing a fair amount of shame to the entire college community.

Some claim that prof. Shortell's views will not necessarily bleed into his classroom or administrative actions. Others simply don't see it possible that they wouldn't, unless prof. Shortell doesn't believe a word he says. Some believe that neither case makes a good chairman, while yet others weren't up to bothering with taking the risk.

Reaction From Brooklyn College Students and Professors

"There is no way, that this man could give a fair evaluation of anyone, whether Christian, Moslem or Jew. I would not want him to teach my children or grandchildren. Brooklyn College, has a reputation of being fair and tolerant to all, why would they want to change that?" Jacqueline Douek, BC Student


I believe that Professor Shortell has a right to express his opinions about religion, no matter how vile it may seem to others. I think that the reactions to his comments are purely emotional and wasted. Far beyond Brooklyn College, the United States has seen a long- standing tradition where Freedom of Speech is often preached, but with the exception that others aren't offended by what is said. I believe that this is the same way Professor Shortell is being treated. People have the right to be offended, just as Professor Shortell has the right to voice his opinions. I don't believe that his views about religion will infringe on the rights of people within his department, considering that they are responsible for electing him to chairperson. If this does become a concern, then it is up to the administration to handle or rather, reform the situation in the best interest of his department and students. Vanessa Ford-Williams, BC Student


Failing to place Shortell in a position of authority in no way abrogates his right of free speech: it merely reflects the university's right to decide who qualifies for an administrative assignment. Bylaws Section 9.1(c) requires the President's "careful consideration . . . of the qualifications of those selected by the respective departments" to serve as chairperson. It also requires that the President's recommendation to the Board be based "on the capacity of the individual selected to act effectively as the departmental administrator and spokesperson and as a participant in the formation, development, and interpretation of college-wide interest and policy." It would be hard to argue that a figure whose public writings deemed religious people "moral retards," or compared Karl Rove to Joseph Goebbels, or celebrated the higher death rate of older Americans could "act effectively as the departmental administrator and spokesperson and as a participant in the formation, development, and interpretation of college-wide interest and policy." Prof. KC Johnson, BC History Department


It is possible that Professor Shortell's statements create a hostile environment for religious students and faculty, and so potentially violate Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the very law which the campus left has repeatedly used to silence the speech of those with whom it disagrees. If private universities around the country repealed their multiculturalist speech codes, most recently illustrated in the issue of "dispositional assessment" at Brooklyn College, the claim that the Shortell matter is primarily a freedom of speech issue would carry considerably more weight. It would seem that what is good for the liberal professorial goose ought to be good for the conservative student gander.

With respect to his website, Professor Shortell has rights tempered by responsibilties. The right to freedom of "extramural utterance" is tempered by ethical principles enunciated in 1940 by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The 1940 AAUP principles with respect to extramural utterance are as follows:

"Professors speaking as citizens should: (1) at all times be accurate; (2) exercise appropriate restraint; (3) show respect for the opinions of others..."

Interpreting the AAUP principles involves gray areas. It is questionable whether Professor Shortell has exercised his professorial responsibilities with respect to extramural utterance prudently and ethically in accordance with the 1940 AAUP principles. Prof. Mitchell Langbert, BC Department of Economics


I am pleased that there are people employed at Brooklyn College who are so true to their convictions and willing to take risks on behalf of said convictions. But the learning enviornment at the college level should help students develop thier own convictions while also teaching tolerance. Clearly Timothy Shortell is a qualified man to teach students to stand up for their beliefs and to help young adults to expand thier scope of knowledge. But can he help young adults to embrace the world around them? Can he foster and instill the level of patience, understanding, and responsibility that comes with having strong opinions and speaking them?

Shortell has articulated himself in a less than eloquent way, although I respect and praise our right to free speech, it makes a difference how and when we say things. For example it is illegal to yell fire in a crowded theatre. But Shortell's name-calling is said and written under the protection of this great nation's first amendment.

But it clearly demonstrates hypocricy on his part when he claims that people who have faith and /or religion "only discriminate, belittle and exclude." This very statement does just that! Shortell represents more than just a risk in the classroom, he is also in a position to help or prevent a professor from getting tenure. I, for one, am uncomfortable putting a man who's known for pointing fingers and passing judgement on a tenure committee. I don't trust that Shortell could possibly be open-minded enough. If he is willing to state that people who are religious are "moral retards" would he then appoint such a person to a permenant positon at Brooklyn College? The answer is no, Shortell is more likely to try his best to infiltrate his department and others with people just like him and if everyone teaching at Brooklyn College felt and spoke as Shortell does, we, the students, would be suffereing from indoctrination. It is a public school's job be be present and aware in situations like this and to ensure that it gives the student body the most fair education, that allows them to think freely and to learn from all facets of life.

Leya Topodas, BC Students and VP of BC-SAF


CuahutémocArroyo: "Whites tended to regard blacks as morally inferior beings, and this perception served to justify in the white mind the dehumanizing ways whites treated blacks. White migrant workers from the South who still held to their racist mentality commonly used analogies comparing Negroes to animals. One white worker at Moore Dry Dock, whom Archibald overheard in a conversation about blacks, said "Niggers, morally and in every other way, are beasts" (1947, 69). Typically, whites tended to ascribe to blacks a propensity for theft and other crime. At Moore Dry Dock blacks were more likely to be singled out for suspicion when white workers misplaced their tools or lunches."

Prof. Timothy Shortell: "On a personal level, religiosity is merely annoying-like pop music or reality television. This immaturity represents a significant social problem, however, because religious adherents fail to recognize their limitations. So, in the name of their faith, these moral retards are running around pointing fingers and doing real harm to others. One only has to read the newspaper to see the results of their handiwork. They discriminate, exclude and belittle. They make a virtue of closed-mindedness and virulent ignorance. They are an ugly, violent lot."

Is there really that much of a difference between "Niggers, morally and in every other way, are beasts" and "these moral retards... are an ugly, violent lot?"

The above quote is also evidence that once you start ascribing "moral inferiority" to a group, it doesn't end with just that. Yehuda Katz, BCStudent


The "Neo-Communist" revolution in American higher ed by Diana Esposito, BC Graduate

The hollow ideology of Timothy Shortell, newly elected chair of the BC sociology department, vis-à-vis religion and its adherents is illustrative of the Communist specter looming over contemporary academia. Like Karl Marx, Shortell exhibits an aversion to all things religious, except the father of Communism wasn't as militantly anti-God as Shortell. Marx didn't call religious people "moral retards" or refer to them as an "ugly, violent lot." Nevertheless, Shortell's beliefs and rhetoric, shared by an overwhelming number of professional educators across the country, constitute an attack on education, intellectualism and democracy-exactly what the neo-Communist revolution seeks to achieve.

Learning from the failed experiments in Russia, China and Cuba that Communism cannot be successfully imposed "from above" by violently taking over state institutions, the "neo-Coms" in the U.S. (i.e., left-over hippies from the sixties, radical left-wing ideologues, etc.) have embarked on a much subtler revolution "from below." No coup de etats. No Stalins, Maos or Castros-only infusing American academia and culture with Communist principles masquerading as economic justice, extreme secularism and moral relativism. And sometimes, as is the case with Mr. Shortell, outright disregard for religion and the undeniable role it played in elevating the human race to a higher level of civilization, and yes, morality. Take Judaism and Christianity for example, both of which challenged and eventually abolished human sacrifice in the areas of the Middle East and the New World, respectively. And Islam terminated female infanticide in pagan Arabia while simultaneously establishing more humane standards of treatment for individuals.

My point, however, is not to defend religion, but to expose the "neo-Com" classroom tactic of withholding from students information that undermines Communist ideals. Professors like Shortell are filling the chalkboards with red propaganda and indoctrinating students, not education them. Whereas education entails providing students with ALL relevant information on a given subject in an unbiased manner and allows them to draw conclusions, indoctrination draws conclusions for students. An indoctrinator does this by telling students what to think, how to think, and limiting their awareness of ideas and information contrary to his beliefs. Not only is indoctrination a cheap substitute for real education, it is an insult to students' intelligence, as well as an assault on their dignity as intellectual beings. It deprives students of their God-given right to information and to independent thought. Additionally, neo-Com indoctrination is hypocritical. Communists espouse moral-relativism and claim that there is no one "truth," yet Shortell and others like him are trying to establish the "truth" about the wrongness of religion.

What are the implications of such "Shortellian" beliefs for our classrooms? For our democratic society? How can we have an informed citizenry is it is learning half-baked ideologies from frustrated neo-Coms? It's not just religion that gets unfair, inaccurate play in the lecture halls. Politics, economics, the humanities and even hard sciences are infected with red ideology. This is why Professors such as Shortell are a menace to our education, democracy and freedoms, and why we need to expose Shortellian education for what it is-neo-Communism.


This man is a disgrace to professors and scholars everywhere. He exposes what the left's TRUE position is on "religious freedom, diversity and tolerance" : the complete abolition of religion.

Of course, criticizing Shortell's remarks brings up the free speech issue. His speech is constitutionally protected. There is, however, nothing in the constitution that guarantees freedom from responsibility. This man is in a powerful position at a major college and should behave in a responsible and ethical manner.

Imagine the outrage that would erupt in the academic community if a conservative professor said atheists are "moral retards" and that all people should follow a religion. It is reasonable to conclude that academia would not corral around him and turn it into a free speech issue.

In a May 27th statement on his website Shortell remarks that he is, "...proud to be among a group of intellectuals who have argued for a free, secular society". Does he even realize where he lives? The last time I checked, the USA is a "free, secular society". No Inquisitor sightings yet reported!!!

In the end, I have some pity for Professor Shortell. He doesn't understand the light that religion can bring into people's lives. I'm not sure if you can even make an intellectual argument for it. It is just something THAT IS. Woops....I forgot...only a Sith speaks in absolutes!! Professor Shortell, enjoy your empty life!

Adam Welikson, BC Student


The time-honored goal of a liberal arts education is to produce adults with the capacity for well-reasoned and critical thinking, supported by a body of knowledge covering the fundamentals in the arts, humanities and sciences. Any policy, whether in teaching or curriculum, that limits a student's exposure to the broadest range of views, shortchanges all students and diminishes the stature and credentials of the institution.

If it is the mission of Brooklyn College to offer a curriculum that espouses or rewards only viewpoints that are deemed correct by any one member of the administration, then that mission should be clearly stated as being so. To do otherwise is dishonest and not in accord with the aims of a traditional liberal arts education.

It is up to the administration to insure that no discrimination occurs at any level. Therefore, the administration is obligated to select faculty and students who will support a policy of non-discrimination and of broad and informed thinking. To select as a department chair a faculty member whose stated views are so extremely biased and limited to one "correct" position on all subjects is to call into question the integrity and mission of the entire school. It is further a recipe for an "illiberal" education (thank you, Dinesh D'Souza). A chairman of a department in most colleges and universities wields the power to set curriculum and select faculty. As a consequence a chairman with rigid views that brook no contradiction will never provide the kind of education we believed Brooklyn College provided.

We are the parents of a student who is funding her own education, so I speak here only in her behalf. However, were I paying the tuition, I would certainly demand that I got what I was paying for. I believe that Professor Shortell represents a clear and present danger to Brooklyn College both for the present and for the future. I question whether Brooklyn College really wishes to jeopardize its reputation merely to uphold a politically convenient appointment of a department chair; or have those charged with the decision-making and oversight neglected to remain true to the tradition of liberal arts for the sake of expediency?

I think every student has every right (and duty) to demand that the administration stop the manifest discrimination in Shortell's appointment and return the principles and policies of a true liberal arts education. It now remains to be seen how those powers will respond. I hope it continues to be in the best interest of the students and free and informed thinking. A BC Student'sMother