Adjuncts and Academic Freedom at Brooklyn College
UPDATE February 1st: Inside Higher Ed reports that Peterson-Overton has been rehired for his teaching position. The American Association of University Professors describes this as “a victory for Academic Freedom and for the faculty.”
Brooklyn College removed an adjunct Lecturer from his teaching position last week after a local politician complained about his syllabus and research.
In December the college hired Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a Doctoral Candidate at City University of New York, to teach a graduate level seminar entitled “Politics of the Middle East.” Before the class began meeting Peterson-Overton came under fire from New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
One of the enrolled students complained to Assemblyman Hikind about Peterson-Overton’s work with the Palestinian Center for Human rights. Hikind then sent a letter to college President Karen Gould asking that Peterson-Overton be removed from his position on the grounds that he was “an overt supporter of terrorism.” A few days later the college did just that, though on the grounds that he lacked proper qualifications to teach a graduate level course.
Of course not all the facts of this case are yet clear. The college asserts that their decision to remove Peterson-Overton was made before Assemblyman Hikinds involvement and that his letter merely had unfortunate timing. However, in a statement released on Tuesday by acting Chair of Political Science Mark Ungar “Ten of the faculty members in political science (the rest could not be reached, since we are on break) object to the provost’s actions yesterday.”
Regardless, having a public official attempt to eliminate a faculty member whose views he disagrees with is troubling in and of itself. Academic Freedom exists so that Universities can expand knowledge by exploring new ideas, even if those ideas are sometimes controversial.