The stereotype of ruler-wielding, dogma-enforcing Catholic nuns has nothing on the parody-proofing self-image being created by the AAUP of college professors as academic thugs.

In its latest draft document to define academic freedom, the American Association of University Professors has gone abroad to authoritarian regimes and overboard to try to suck the air out of critiques of academia.

Who is to blame for the AAUP’s draft? It seems that I am, at least in major part as the stimulus to putting the fear of criticism into AAUP. I launched critiques last Fall and again for the Spring semesters of politically biased practices at Brooklyn College, my alma mater. My critiques reverberated throughout New York City and nationally.

The AAUP denigrates and seeks to negate the views of anyone other than the usually incestuous faculty majority or insider group in control. Although couched in proceduralism, the AAUP’s Executive Summary reveals the motivation and the cure for insulating faculty from critique

Current political threats to academic freedom have intensified with the rapid growth of new media and Internet connectivity that has made it possible for talk-show hosts, bloggers, and well-funded interest groups to supplement the trustees, politicians, corporate and religious groups, and journalists who previously put untoward pressure on the university.


1.Complaints regarding alleged classroom statements forwarded by outside agencies or individuals should be generally ruled out of consideration in initiating or conducting personnel reviews.
2.When complaints regarding alleged classroom speech arise from or are promoted by student political groups, the complaints should be respected only to the extent merited by the complaints and only when they are based on evidence from students who were actually enrolled in the course or courses in which the alleged inappropriate conduct occurred and who were present to observe that conduct.

Who is to judge?

1.It is essential that the hearing committee be elected or appointed by an appropriate elected faculty body.

A professor at Brooklyn College, who himself was subject to discrimination against his non-Leftist views and had to go to the expense of going to court to obtain tenure, comments:

It condemns the activities of, among other people, “bloggers,” while also seeming to fault students for “report[ing] and publiciz[ing] offending classroom statements” by faculty members. In short, the Brandeis philosophy---sunlight is the best disinfectant---must not be allowed to apply to higher education…. the organization is most concerned to stop in their tracks those who have deigned to criticize the actions of the current academic majority…. it presumes that outside criticism can be perceived as ispo facto bad faith, given the existence of mechanisms for dealing with threats to academic freedom from inside the academy…. it presumes that students have virtually no academic freedom rights. The AAUP document goes much further than the organization’s 1940 and especially 1915 statements on academic freedom in giving to professors a right to bring one-sided political advocacy into the classroom, even if this advocacy is tangentially or unrelated to the course subject matter…. Students, trustees, alumni, or the media seem to be all but impotent in the AAUP’s new academy…

The professor concludes:

The AAUP document, in effect, intends to establish what NAS head Peter Wood perceptively labeled a “firewall” to protect the academic status quo. The AAUP purports to be concerned with both internal and external threats to academic freedom. Yet the document calls for rejecting virtually all external criticism of the academy, regardless of its merits, and the AAUP strongly discourages forces from within the academy that might provide some balance (chiefly upper-level administrators, trustees, and alumni) from doing anything but rubber-stamping faculty decisions. How, then, does the organization propose to deal with internal threats to academic freedom? Apparently by relying on the good-faith actions of the very professors who have created the problem in the first place. That’s not exactly reassuring.

 In this respect, the AAUP document is worse than nothing: it would have been far better for the organization simply to have issued a statement affirming that its job is upholding the views of a majority of its members, and that those professors whose views conflict with the academic majority can enjoy academic freedom rights only at the pleasure of the majority of their colleagues. To have suggested, on instead, that their recommendations are consistent with defending academic freedom is nothing short of absurd.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, reviewed the executive summary of the report.

He said that the emphasis appeared to be on controversies that originate outside the academy -- and that the AAUP was suggesting that there was no such thing as “a legitimate concern” that a non-academic might have about a professor. The tone of the report suggested that “criticisms from outside should be de-legitimized as pressure, rather than as criticism,” Wood said….

 Further, he said, the references to outside forces shift attention from “threats within the university” in which faculty members apply political tests to determine whom to hire and promote….

More broadly, Wood said that the AAUP appears to be “trying to create a firewall around faculty” so that “no one other than faculty has a legitimate place at the table,” when the conduct of a faculty member is being discussed. And he said it was hard to take the AAUP report at face value when the AAUP “is silent” about cases of bias faced by conservative faculty members, while speaking out on behalf of others.

The AAUP’s reply, from Ernst Benjamin, a member of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and chair of the subcommittee that wrote the new report:

And to the extent that the AAUP may have spoken out in more recent cases involving left-leaning professors than their right-leaning counterparts, Benjamin said this didn’t mean that the AAUP cared more about one political camp than another. “We think it’s more often now that the attacks have come from the right than the left.”

Exactly. The Left is in firm control of academia, and pro-Palestinians have been selected to teach Middle East studies. External critiques challenge their hegemony over what is taught students.

As to procedural openness, the AAUP is hypocritical

The AAUP is inviting comment on the report, drafted by a subcommittee established to look at politically controversial academic personnel decisions, and the document remains subject to revision and to formal approval by the association’s governing council. But Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP, said on Thursday that the final report is likely to closely resemble the current draft, and that his organization is urging colleges to begin following the report’s recommendations now.

How did I instigate this academic thuggery from AAUP?

Last Fall, I publicly announced that as an alumnus of Brooklyn College I eliminated from my will and trust a bequest to my alma mater.  This was due to its decision to present a sole book to incoming students. That book misrepresented facts in its false statistics and in the author’s purposely selected experience of a handful of young Moslems in America as indicative of discrimination against all young Arab-Americans (most of whom are actually Christian). The book’s author, himself a pro-Palestinian faculty member at Brooklyn College, criticized America as an imperialist power in the book. This led to quite an uproar across the blogosphere and then New York City’s newspapers. One of them even featured an editorial blasting the book as “not a memoir, but a polemic.” As to Brooklyn College: “But that freedom [to choose this book] comes with the responsibility to provide inquiring minds with the straight goods about the literature they’ve been ordered to read. Here, by all the evidence, Brooklyn College has failed.”

I called for a more transparent process for selecting Brooklyn College’s Common Reading.

The college has issued its transparency. Below you can see its transparent pre-selection bias in favor of multiculturalism. The views of activist immigrants is more important to students’ education than consideration of classic or other important writings that are the basis of America or, heaven-forbid, America’s or Western culture’s exceptionalism compared to the more common backwardness, despotism and barbarity from which most of our immigrants escaped and sacrificed to come here.

The Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies sent a letter to students to invite their input to the selection of next Fall’s Common Reading:

Among the “goals”: “advance the college’s commitment to incorporate principles of diversity and inclusion into the classroom and curriculum and promote peer-to-peer dialogue.”

Among the “Selection Guidelines”: “Brooklyn or New York City-related stories also preferred; many of the selections have focused on an immigrant experience;…“Connection to one or more college initiatives or institutional mission.”

The Brooklyn College “mission” includes, according to this 2005 draft (found prominently in a search for “mission” at Brooklyn College’s website) of a “Strategic Plan for 2005-2010”: “III.Promote/develop diversity initiatives that encompass the full spectrum of diversity (intellectual, political, religious, ethnic, etc.) Among the recommendations given: classes should not reflect only one type of political perspective – rather more of a balance of viewpoints;” Among the foci of the current Brooklyn College president, “She has demonstrated a deep commitment to the promotion of diversity…” At Brooklyn College, “diversity” is a street with only one-side.

For the Spring semester at Brooklyn College, a self-professed pro-Palestinian activist, Kristofer Petersen, was recklessly recommended to and accepted by a professor in the Political Science department to teach The Politics of the Middle East. (Kristofer Petersen’s own description of his background includes: “Outside the academy, I worked for some time as a human rights activist in Gaza and the West Bank and I still maintain close contact with the Palestinian activist community.”)

I criticized the appointment, as did others inside and outside CUNY. His syllabus was almost entirely critical of Israel, and important state actors in the politics of the Middle East – Iran and Turkey, for example – are purposely excluded from the readings and class discussions. Instead, the adjunct’s preoccupation with Israel and the Palestinians is centered as most important. (Petersen is preoccupied with the Palestinian narrative, as evident in his syllabus on the course, Politics of the Middle East: “the course is structured around the broad theme of identity and will be conducted at two levels: (1) a macro level which focuses on the Arab Middle East in general—and does not include details about Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan or Pakistan—and (2) a micro level which focuses specifically on Israel/Palestine.”)

A reckless appointment? First, it is common practice at the City University of New York to appoint adjuncts from among its graduate students, seemingly regardless of their academic qualifications. As the appointed adjunct himself said, the benefits of his appointment are important to him: “they have not only impacted my career but also my income and health insurance.” In another interview (I can’t recollect the source url right now, as I’ve cached hundreds of articles), the adjunct mentions that one of the reasons he chose CUNY for doctoral studies is because it appoints its grad students to adjunct posts. Graduate students who supported his appointment correctly pointed out that the formal grounds given by Brooklyn College for his dismissal, that he lacked his PhD, were spurious. His dismissal was reversed and he was rehired.

The uncomfortable truth of his firing was avoided. Petersen, hired to teach a graduate course is just 1 ½ years into his doctoral studies, and is a biased radical whose own writings, speech and course syllabus are proof that he doesn’t merit being an adjunct for this course. Further, the faculty at CUNY and Brooklyn College were, at best, negligent to properly vet the adjunct.

The professor at CUNY’s Graduate Center who recommended the adjunct to Brooklyn College admits that the syllabus is deficient and has readings not of academic caliber, and the Brooklyn College professor who hired him admits he is not knowledgeable about Israel-Palestinian affairs. Reckless? Yes. Negligent? Yes.

So, what has happened so far in the class? The adjunct told one of the students in the class who criticized the syllabus that he advocates the Israeli “New Historians,” and that other historians are not credible. The “New Historians” selectively focus on scattered comments from Israel’s founders to argue that they pre-planned and executed the expulsion of the Arabs in the portion of the British mandate that came to be Israel. The central role of the surrounding Arab states’ invasion in 1948 in opposition to its UN supported founding is downplayed by the “New Historians”, as is the simple truth that during a war there are refugees, and as is the fact that a million Arabs stayed within Israel and are citizens (with more civil liberties than in any of the Arab states). Instead, the adjunct has written that Israel engages in ethnic cleansing and apartheid, consistent with an exclusionist Zionist ideology. (Petersen’s chapter to a recent book presents Israel’s Zionism as a “philosophy of separation” and “ethnic separation” creating an apartheid state and so treating Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. To quote the chapter: “This chapter argues that the philosophy of separation is a logical extension of Zionism’s exclusionary ideological history and that its implementation in the Gaza Strip has not reduced the level of violence against Israeli civilians.” The chapter goes on that this “has led some to draw comparisons with South African apartheid, a parallel that has become increasingly justified…”)

For example, the syllabus contains the early seminal work of the “New Historians”, by Benny Morris. Benny Morris revealed that future Israelis were not blameless in creating the Palestinian refugees. However, Morris has said more recently, not included in the syllabus, “There was no Zionist ‘plan’ or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of ‘ethnic cleansing.” and that “the demonisation of Israel is largely based on lies—much as the demonisation of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies. And there is a connection between the two.” 

Most recently, the adjunct has violated the AAUP’s own position on the rights of students.

The AAUP’s “Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students” said:

3. Protection against Improper Disclosure.

Information about student views, beliefs, and political associations that professors acquire in the course of their work as instructors, advisers, and counselors should be considered confidential. Protection against improper disclosure is a serious professional obligation. Judgments of ability and character may be provided under appropriate circumstances, normally with the knowledge and consent of the student.

And, here is Petersen talking about the student in the class who criticized his syllabus:

As for the class? “The student who ignited the controversy” not only remained in the course, but “continues to cause difficulty. She sent me a 20-plus page breakdown of my syllabus with around 200 footnote citations explaining that the authors I’ve assigned apparently believe Israel committed ‘the worst crimes of the 20th century.’ She clearly hasn’t read the material, and I strongly suspect she had outside help from groups like CAMERA in compiling this indictment.” Also, “On the first day of class, after introducing the syllabus, I handed out the AAUP’s 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and discussed it with the class. She seemed irritated by this and expressed concerns that I was ‘only interested in academic freedom for the faculty; but students also should have academic freedom.’ So I explained that I was not here to censor anyone and that I would be happy to talk with her in my office hours if she feels I covered something insufficiently. Last Thursday, we attended the Egypt Arising talk at Columbia, so I didn’t hold office hours. But I think she’ll be waiting for me this week.”

Twenty-pages of reading-by-reading critique of the biased syllabus is hardly evidence that the student is not knowledgeable of the readings. A hundred or a thousand pages would also be dismissed out-of-hand by Petersen. Instead, Petersen publicly denigrates the student, in violation of the AAUP’s own statement of student rights.

The student has been widely identified in the press and blog coverage of the matter, and recently wrote a column about it for one of the student newspapers at Brooklyn College (not online). It is clear to anyone who gives a hoot about student rights who Petersen is referring to, and whose rights and academic freedom are violated by Petersen.

The student wrote:

Aside from the narrow like-minded perspective of most of the authors, a glaring flaw is the failure to include any major works on Israeli nationalism – of which there is no shortage. I am eager to dive into the Palestinian perspective, but I am just as eager to dive into the Israeli one. So far, us students will walk out of the course having explored the Palestinian narrative, but deprived of serious scholarly knowledge of the Israeli narrative. How could a professor intentionally slice a coin in half like that?

She concludes:

The classroom belongs to students too. We students should be given diverse opinions so we can weigh the issues intelligently and independently - as in the spirit of true academic freedom. But the Middle East course now is clear manipulation of “academic freedoms” towards a political agenda. This is allowing biased education into the classroom and normalizing extreme anti-Israel views.

 This has the danger of creating a hostile environment for minority Jewish students, in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

There are still many classes to be held in Petersen’s course. Will he be censured? Will he publicly apologize for his behavior? Will the AAUP step in, or Brooklyn College’s or CUNY’s administration? Not likely. They have abandoned students’ rights, as well as the professional standards which academic freedom is erected to ensure.

Unless, perhaps, this column by an outsider, outsiders’ criticism being deemed illegitimate by the AAUP, creates enough stir to puncture the AAUP’s “firewall” that the AAUP seeks to erect to avoid examination of academic malpractice.

A Message from the Editors

Your donation sustains our efforts to inspire joyous rediscoveries.