November 14, 2013

Karen L. Gould, President Brooklyn College 2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11210

Dear Professor Gould, As a coalition of over 50 national organizations united in the belief that free speech must be protected, we are writing to express our support for Brooklyn College’s commitment to academic freedom. It is our understanding that, just months after the College was attacked for hosting a discussion on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, another campaign has been launched, this time to protest the appearance of author Ben White, an author and critic of Israeli policies, whose U.S. and Canada book tour this month includes many universities. Ben White’s talk was organized by a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, and co-sponsored by the Departments of Sociology, English and Political Science. Disagreement on Middle East politics is likely to spark the most passionate of political feelings today. We have repeatedly dealt with controversies around the subject both on campuses and at art institutions. In a society which respects free speech and considers academic freedom the foundation to its system of higher education, potential disagreement or controversy must not lead to the imposition of a political litmus test when deciding to invite a speaker to present his ideas to the student body. On the contrary, controversial ideas should be welcomed on college campuses, as debate and discussion is precisely what education is about. The presentation of an idea in an academic setting is not an endorsement, any more than a museum’s decision to display a religiously-themed work implies an endorsement of a religious view by the museum. Students are free to agree or disagree with the speakers. And they do, often vigorously, as anyone who has set foot on a vibrant college campus in the recent past is well aware.

Elected officials and others who disagree with Mr. White’s position have ample opportunity to express their disagreement with Mr. White’s views without resorting to strong arm tactics to try to take over every lecture hall in town and determine what views should or should not be heard there. Hidden under their demand for “balance” is a thinly-disguised desire to control the terms of the debate. Indeed, we are unaware of any situation where Professor Dershowitz, who is as openly pro-Israel as he is a proponent of so-called balance, has called for a pro-Palestinian rights speaker to provide “balance” at his public appearances. We applaud you and the faculty of the Political Science, Sociology and English Departments for standing up to external pressure and upholding the principle of academic freedom, as well as respecting the rights of faculty, students, and invited guests to express and hear different perspectives on world events. Please let us know – now and in the future – if we can do anything to assist you in this work.

Sincerely,

Joan Bertin Executive Director

Svetlana Mintcheva Director of Programs

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