Opposition to a panel on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians scheduled to take place at Brooklyn College tomorrow has led a surprisingly long list of New York City politicians to threaten funding to that CUNY college, and though some are backing down in the face of criticism from supporters of free speech and academic freedom, others are stepping up their attacks.
In a January 29 letter to Brooklyn College president Karen Gould, ten members of the New York City Council said that the event — a discussion of the pro-Palestinian Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement — was not “what the taxpayers of this city … want their tax dollars to be spent on.” Though they “believe in the principle of academic freedom,” the signatories declared, “we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong.”
This barely-veiled threat to public funding for the City University of New York was greeted with shock and outrage by many members of the university community. Gould subsequently re-iterated her support for the panel’s campus sponsors, while CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein said that although he was “appalled by the aims of the boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement,” he was “committed to the expression of the full complement of perspectives on critical issues,” and urged those who had not yet shown their support for Gould and Brooklyn College “to stand up and be heard.”
In the days that followed, two of the ten signers of the city council letter withdrew their endorsement of it, and a third is rumored to be ready to follow. Just yesterday, however, State Assembly member Dov Hikind declared that he had “reached out to individual Brooklyn College trustees and major donors in an effort to convince Brooklyn College President Karen Gould of her grave error.”
With the panel now just thirty hours away, and the top officials of the college and university on record in staunch support of its being held as scheduled, prospects for cancellation or alteration seem remote. If the event is held as scheduled, the politicians who have threatened CUNY’s funding will need to decide whether they are actually willing to harm New York City’s most important higher educational institution over a political dispute.