Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Hatred of Controversy at Brooklyn College

The Brooklyn College controversy, which I blogged about earlier this week, has broadened into a profound attack on academic freedom.
Ronald Radosh calls it a "scandal" in the New York Post. Radosh writes, "No one at the college is asking that Bayoumi be dismissed, or that his work be censored." I can't quite see how a demand not to ask students to read a book is anything but censorship. An alumnus is rescinding his donation over the book. But I'll focus on K.C. Johnson's misguided attack on the book, which concludes with this speculation about a book on Jewish immigrants: "Does anyone believe that such a book would even be considered for a common-reading selection, must less survive the process and ultimately be chosen?"

I believe that a similar book by a Brooklyn College professor about Jewish immigrants would certainly be considered for a common-reading selection, and I hope it would be chosen. Unfortunately, after a series of attacks by K.C. Johnson and the NAS and Ronald Radosh and a donor who is now withdrawing funds because of this book, I doubt any college will be willing to select controversial books.

If there is an excellent conservative book that has been banished from a common reading program due to its politics, I would be happy to condemn that. But K.C. Johnson offers no such example, just his insults and speculations.

As for the utter nonsense that English professors are not competent to choose books with political views in them, I ask: Should English professors be unable to select books such as "War and Peace" because they are not experts on war and peace?

It's time for all of us to speak out against anyone, left and right, who thinks controversial books should be banished (or "not selected") for their politics. And K.C. Johnson needs to clarify whether he stands on the side of freedom or censorship, or if it depends on which side he agrees with politically. By declaring that a college "deserves criticism" for assigning a controversial book, Johnson is certainly not setting a high standard for his college.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The right-wing has blown the whole situation out of proportion.Most students will read the book, write a paper, in which students are free to form their own opinions, and move on other pieces of literature.
Most instructors have considerable latitude to pick books, articles, etc as they wish. In addition, I doubt most of the discussion of the book would be on Mideast politics. Most instructors would probably use the text to inform students of the place where they live(Brooklyn), as well as teaching them how to become good writers so that they could succeed in their other classes.
I would hardly call assigning a controversial book to discuss in class, "indoctrination" as the donor and his conservative allies allege.