Friday, January 28, 2011

A Purge Grows in Brooklyn

The case of a Brooklyn College professor fired from a class for being too critical of Israel is covered today by Inside Higher Education and Salon.

The instructor, Kristofer Petersen-Overton, was dismissed from teaching the class after a student who had looked at the syllabus complained to state legislator Dov Hikind, who wrote to the university calling Petersen-Overton an "overt supporter of terrorism" and demanding his dismissal.

There's no doubt about this being an academic freedom issue when pressure from a politician was paramount in this case.

I'm particularly amused by this line from the Inside Higher Ed article: “The issue isn't one of academic freedom; in fact, Thompson said, the course will continue under a different faculty member.” Obviously, academic freedom is involved when a teacher is removed for political reasons, even if the course continues to be taught by a different faculty member.

As for complaints about the syllabus, the fact is that plenty of teachers use controversial syllabi. The proper response is to criticize the teacher and encourage them to change the syllabus, not to fire the teacher.

The excuse that this professor was removed from the class solely for lacking a Ph.D. is ridiculous.
1) Ph.D.s are not required to teach in academia, not even in graduate-level courses. Our Ph.D. obsession, sadly, leads some people to think otherwise.
2) The teacher's alleged qualifications only became an issue once there was criticism about the ideology of the teacher.
3) Plenty of other teachers of master's courses at Brooklyn College, past and present, do not have Ph.D.s.

Here's a petition on academic freedom at Brooklyn College.

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