Sunday, February 17, 2013

What is Right to Speak?

While it might be nice to say hate-speech should be excluded from the college campus, it is pretty hard to get people to agree to what constitutes hate speech. No one ever comes along and says, “Hey. I am going to rouse the crowd into hating a particular group.” One admits to engaging in “criticism” or “speaking truth to power.”

I would like to suggest what I believe to be a better, more objective rubric to be used to determine what should or shouldn’t enjoy the platform offered by the college campus or any other responsible civic organization: honesty.

A presentation should be honest in 3 ways: explicitly, implicitly and intellectually.

Explicitly honest means a presentation is factually correct. I think this is pretty straight forward.

Implicitly honest means that important context and historical information is included. Here is an example:
A team of several masked, well-armed men break into a man’s home in the middle of the night and shoot him in front of his family. As they leave, they steal his computers.
You are probably feeling one way about the victim. Now I tell you that I have just described the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Context changes everything.

Finally, intellectually honest means that conclusions and opinions are supported by the evidence, that counter evidence is not ignored, but can be explained, that cause and effect are not reversed, that correlation is not confused with causation, etc.

It seems to me this standard could be applied to any presentation, controversial or not. As far as I remember, it was the standard for scholarship back when I went to college. Maybe it could be used to determine what makes a "contribution to the intellectual life of the campus" and should be part of "the open and free exchange of ideas."

How does BDS fit into this?  That is for next time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should Hate Speech Be Permitted on the College Campus?

Should "academic freedom" include hate speech?  Should hate speech be permitted on the college campus?  Should a college department co-sponsor hate speech?  Can hate speech be a "contribution to the intellectual life of the campus" and part of "the open and free exchange of ideas"?

Two views:

Judith Butler is unequivocal.  In her remarks at Brooklyn College she says:
“If BDS is hate speech, then it is surely not protected speech, and it would surely not be appropriate for any institution of higher learning to sponsor or make room for such speech.”
“So in the first case [BDS as hate speech], it is not a viewpoint (and so not protected as extra-mural speech),”
Butler excludes hate speech from not only from college sponsorship, but even from use of the college facilities.

On the other hand, Abe Foxman of ADL, in a paid advertisement on the New York Times Op-Ed page, insists "even hate-filled voices have a right to be heard." Foxman does not object to a student group hosting BDS, but rather to the Political Science Department adding its co-sponsorship. Foxman objects to sponsorship "because it inherently creates the perception that the views expressed at the event are endorsed by the sponsor." Sponsorship gives the event "an added degree of legitimacy and credibility that is unwarranted."  So, Foxman offers a resolution:
First, students have a right to invite whom they want. Second, officials of the university, however, should not lend the good name of the university to such hate by sponsoring or giving its seal of approval to such appearances.

And third, when students invite hateful speakers— which they have the right to do—university presidents would do well to use their bully pulpits to reject those messages of hate and anti-Semitism.
Both agree the college should not endorse hate speech. Butler would even exclude a student group from using college facilities for a hate event, whereas Foxman would permit it.

Of course, this doesn't resolve the question of how to identify hate speech. That is for next time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Brooklyn College BDS Wrap Up

In a week when more than 1200 people were killed in the Syrian Civil War and at least 25 people were killed in Iraq in the 7th and 8th suicide terror attacks there since the beginning of the year, it seems an inordinate amount of media attention was focused on the speaking engagement of Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler at Brooklyn College.  Controversy erupted when it became known that the college's Political Science Department signed on as a co-sponsor of the student organized event to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel.

Alan Dershowitz framed the issue like this:
“I am not opposed to students sponsoring an event like this. Students have the right to be foolish and damn fools and immoral. What I’m opposed to is the political department sponsoring and endorsing the BDS. The BDS includes the blacklisting of Jewish professors from Israel, and that’s illegal, immoral and racist. An academic department should not be taking sides in this debate.”
But according to the Political Science Department Head, Paisley Currah:(all emphasis mine)
"Last month the political-science department at Brooklyn College, which I chair, was asked to either cosponsor or endorse a panel discussion on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement organized by a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. We decided to cosponsor the event....
Is it inappropriate for an academic department to be a co-sponsor?  Professor Currah answers:
The department has a long history of cosponsoring student-initiated events, regardless of the popularity of the perspectives presented or its perceived political message. Until now no one has found fault with this practice....

By cosponsoring student-initiated events, we’re not endorsing the ideas expressed. We’re not providing money. What we are doing is acknowledging students’ contributions to the intellectual life of the campus and supporting the open and free exchange of ideas.

And there’s no political litmus test. In my 18 years at Brooklyn College, I cannot recollect our department turning down a single cosponsorship request.
No endorsement.

Local politicians weighed in, as well. The opinions on the event varied: cancel the event, withdraw the cosponsorship, provide an opposing view,  don't interefere with academic freedom.  But, ALL condemned the BDS movement.

Mayor Bloomberg:
Well look, I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS as they call it, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. As you know I’m a big supporter of Israel, as big a one as you can find in the city, but I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose.
Four local Congressional representatives, 7 State legislators, and 8 New York City officials wrote to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould,:
We collectively believe that the BDS movement is a wrongheaded and destructive one, and an obstacle to our collective hope for a peaceful two-state solution.  These simplistic and one-sided approaches do a disservice to the cause of peace and stability by unfairly placing blame entirely on one side, and by attempting to delegitimize one party on the world stage, and will do nothing to bring either party back to earnest negotiations or enhance a better understand of complexity of this conflict.
President Gould responded in an email to college staff, faculty and students affirming "a steadfast commitment to academic freedom with a commitment to ongoing dialogue and debate."  She concluded her letter saying:
Finally, to those who have voiced concern that our decision to uphold the rights of our students and faculty signals an endorsement of the speakers' views, I say again that nothing could be further from the truth.  Moreover, I assure you that our college does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.  As the official host of the CUNY center for study abroad in Israel, our college has a proud history of engagement with Israel and Israeli universities. In fact, over the past two years we have renewed our efforts to reconnect with existing institutional partners and to develop new relationships as well for faculty and student exchanges with Israeli institutions.  We deeply value our Israeli partners and would not endorse any action that would imperil the State of Israel or its citizens, many of whom are family members and friends of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and neighbors.
And the Chancellor of the City University of New York, Matthew Goldstein:
"I personally abhor and am appalled by the aims of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement."
 There is one ironic footnote, however.  President Gould stated in her letter: is essential that Brooklyn College remain an engaged and civil learning environment where all views may be expressed without fear of intimidation or reprisal.  As I stated last week, we encourage debate, discussion, and more debate.  Students and faculty should explore these and other issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the only basis for consideration.  ...

...In addition to Thursday evening's event, at which I encourage those with opposing views to participate in the discussion and ask tough questions, other forums will present alternative perspectives for consideration.  The college welcomes participation from any groups on our campus that may wish to help broaden the dialogue.  At each of these events, please keep in mind that students, faculty, staff, and guests are expected to treat one another with respect at all times, even when they strongly disagree.
According to reports in the New York Daily News and Tablet Magazine some Jewish attendees, including the Daily News reporter who wore a yarmulke, were asked to leave or were not admitted, even though they had confirmed a reservations.