Defend Academic Freedom at Brooklyn College, CUNY

  • by: The CUNY Advocate
  • recipient: Brooklyn College President Karen Lee Gould and Provost William A. Tramontano

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern for the precarious state of academic freedom at Brooklyn College, CUNY and the City University of New York system more broadly. 

Just a week before the start of spring semester classes, Kristofer Petersen-Overton was fired from his position as an adjunct lecturer of political science at Brooklyn College. The move came following a complaint from a prospective student in Peterson-Overton's scheduled Middle East Politics course that the instructor's "pro-Palestinian" bias would preclude him from objectively teaching the subject.  After complaining to the school administration the student then contacted New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who in turn wrote to the president of Brooklyn College expressing his concerns about the course reading list.  In that letter, Hikind labeled Peterson-Overton as "pro-suicide bomber." Hours later, the provost of Brooklyn College dismissed Petersen-Overton on grounds that, as a doctoral student, he was insufficiently qualified to teach graduate courses at the college. This move came despite the fact that many graduate students in several departments currently teach and have taught master's level courses at Brooklyn College over the years. Given these circumstances, it is clear that Peterson-Overton's dismissal had nothing to do with his qualifications, but was the product of political pressure from forces outside the university.  

The college's actions are a clear violation of academic freedom, including the university's own official policy, which states that the "office of a chancellor, president, or other administrator cannot be used to compromise the academic freedom of other members of the university community."  Therefore, we demand that Peterson-Overton be fully re-instated in his position, and that his course on Middle East Politics be allowed to proceed as originally designed.  Moreover, we insist that Peterson-Overton not face any future sanctions, and that he be judged henceforth solely on the basis of his teaching abilities and the quality of his academic work.

Furthermore, we demand a formal, public apology from the Brooklyn College administration, including President Karen Lee Gould and Provost William A. Tramontano for their illegitimate actions and borderline incompetence in dealing with this matter. 

We also call for a formal pledge from the university to protect the academic freedom of all of its employees irrespective of status, stature, and rank, especially contingent faculty like Petersen-Overton, who receive none of the protections of tenure despite the fact that they teach the majority of courses at the City University of New York. 

We ask that all these demands be met immediately and without compromise. 

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