After faculty and staff members at Brooklyn College accused Provost William Tramontano, of anti-Semitic discrimination, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, along with 20 lawmakers on the state and city levels, wrote a letter urging City University of New York (CUNY ) Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to call for an independent investigation of the accusations.
According to The New York Post, faculty and staff members claimed that Tramontano had denied Jewish employees deserved promotions and had prevented the hiring of qualified Jewish candidates, because of his bias against Jews. Staff members also alleged that the provost had created a "hostile environment" for Jewish employees. The Associated Press reported that Hikind claimed these accusations came from "high-level staff members."
Meanwhile, according to The New York Post, some faculty members said that the provost had discriminated mainly against Jewish professors who were either female or Orthodox. Yet others suggested that Tramontano was biased against Jews in general. For instance, according to The Post, one faculty member, Hershy Friedman, deputy chairman of the Business Department, said, "Jews are having a problem with this provost. He's making it harder and harder to bring in Jews. He doesn't want Jews."
Goldstein denied the charges and said that they were "completely unfounded." A spokesman for the college agreed with Goldstein, saying that the accusations were based on "erroneous" information and that every decision regarding promotions or hiring had been made for "rational" reasons. The Wall Street Journal reports that the college also claimed to have based its decisions on hiring and promotions on each candidate's "qualifications, academic record, and potential for contributions to teaching and research."
However, faculty members disputed this claim, alleging that Tramontano had made anti-Semitic remarks while shooting down candidates. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Business Department Chairman Robert Bell alleged that when the provost had been asked to consider a female candidate for a professorship, he replied, "You already have a Miriam."
This is not the first time Tramontano and Hikind have been involved in the same controversy. In 2011, Brooklyn College fired adjunct professor Kristofer Petersen-Overton, claiming that he lacked the appropriate experience to teach a course on politics in The Middle East. Yet the university rehired Petersen-Overton after students and faculty rallied against the decision. Some suggested that Petersen-Overton had been fired, not because he lacked the appropriate credentials, but because of pressure from Assemblyman Hikind.
In the midst of the controversy, staff of the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate published a letter from Joan Wallach Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, saying that when she was the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee of the American Association of University Professors, she had dealt with, "a distressing number of cases" in which "outside pressure from what can only be called lobbyists for the current Israeli regime" had demanded that professors they disliked be fired. She said that these "lobbyists" had used arguments much like the kind Assemblyman Hiking had to try to have professors they disliked removed. She said that professors like Kristofer Petersen-Overton were often "mistakenly" charged with anti-Semitism because of their opposition to Israel.
According to The JTA, Hikind had written a letter to Brooklyn College the day before Petersen-Overton was fired, voicing concern over the adjunct professor after a student objected to Petersen-Overton's syllabus, which reportedly "included 50 books all blaming Israel for the problems in the Middle East." The JTA also reports that the adjunct professor's academic papers allegedly included several attempts to understand suicide bombers.
Hikind issued a statement objecting to Petersen-Overton's reinstatement, saying that it told suicide bombers that an American institute of higher education thought suicide bombing was a permissible method of resistance; however, according to The Jewish Week, Petersen-Overton denied that he supported suicide bombers in any way. He said that he objected to the targeting of civilians, no matter who targeted them. He also claimed to support a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, though he admitted to having heavily pro-Palestinian views.
These events may have influenced Tramontano's hiring decisions. They also suggest that Brooklyn College's struggles with bias and anti-Semitism began long before the current controversy.