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February 6th, 2013

BDS Forum at Brooklyn College Sparks Free Speech Debate

The Political Science Department and other departments and clubs at Brooklyn College are  getting slammed for their decision to sponsor a forum featuring two speakers—Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti —who support BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) an international boycott to force Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

BDS is the same group that  caused a conniption fit at the Park Slope Food Coop last year when they proposed that the Coop stop selling Israeli products. A hearing and vote among members opposed the proposal.

I applaud Karen Gould, President of Brooklyn College, for her decision to proceed with the event despite opposition from pro-Israel activists, and a group of City Council Members, who threaten funding to the college.

A college is meant to be the center of free speech and academic freedom. Below is a letter published in the Nation by President Gould to students, faculty and staff.

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Each semester, student clubs, academic departments, and other groups on our campus host events and invite speakers on a broad range of topics. At times, the issues discussed may be challenging and the points of view expressed may be controversial.

Next week, Students for Justice in Palestine is hosting two speakers who will discuss their views on the BDS movement, which calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The event is co-sponsored by several campus and community organizations, including the political science department.

As an institution of higher education, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate on topics they may choose, even those with which members of our campus and broader community may vehemently disagree. As your president, I consistently have demonstrated my commitment to these principles so that our college community may consider complex issues and points of view across the political and cultural spectrum.

Unfortunately, some may believe that our steadfast commitment to free speech signals an institutional endorsement of a particular point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brooklyn College does not endorse the views of the speakers visiting our campus next week, just as it has not endorsed those of previous visitors to our campus with opposing views. We do, however, uphold their right to speak, and the rights of our students and faculty to attend, listen, and fully debate. We also encourage our students and faculty to explore these issues from multiple viewpoints and in a variety of forums so that no single perspective serves as the sole source of information or basis for consideration.

In addition, as I have said on several occasions, our college community values mutual respect and civil discourse. We ask all students, faculty, staff, and guests on our campus to conduct themselves accordingly so that Brooklyn College continues to be a learning environment where all may discuss and debate issues of importance to our world.

Sincerely, Karen L. Gould, President


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