Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), has had to do some hard thinking this past year about how it will protect reasoned, politically balanced dialogue and inquiry on its campus. Its trajectory seems to be upward.
The misstep of permitting the English Department unilaterally to select one of its own professor's polemical books (Moustafa Bayoumi's How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America) as the single, unchallenged orientation reading for all freshman has led to a high-level commitment to a more inclusive faculty selection process. The exceedingly odd decision to hirea graduate student with a history of inflammatory anti-Israel publications to teach a master's level course represents another reminder of the need for proactive policies to ensure appropriate academic standards.
Recently, the College scored a remarkable victory for reasoned, civil, and open discourse. The campus had, as in the past, a "Palestinian Week" and an "Israel Week," this time not simultaneously. Both groups had the opportunity to present their points of view with films and speakers. The moral of Brooklyn College's challenges can be found in the classic Report of the Committee to the Fellows of the Yale Corporation, chaired by the late C.V. Woodward. The Committee criticized the University for failing to ensure a podium for a controversial, though duly invited speaker. But it also reminded campus leadership everywhere of the need to think in advance about the policies it will enforce. Brooklyn College has achieved a fragile victory for civility, reason, and free expression. To protect these values, it needs to anticipate the inevitable challenges to the sanctuary it has struggled to create.