The Academic Bullies Prevail

Last week, I wrote about the extraordinary adjunct appointment of Kristofer Petersen-Overton, the under-qualified anti-Israel extremist assigned to teach a graduate course in Brooklyn’s political science department. On Monday evening, amidst vitriolic, bullying denunciations from the anti-Israel CUNY faculty union, the college administration reversed course. Despite his not having completed his Ph.D. qualifying exams, Petersen-Overton will now teach the graduate-level class. Thanks to a mandate from the state legislature, in New York a primary purpose of M.A.-level courses is to train public school teachers by allowing them to study with acknowledged experts in their subject fields. The decision created an unfortunate precedent that it’s acceptable for departments to allow under-qualified instructors in graduate classes—at least as long as the instructor shares the department’s ideological preferences on a controversial contemporary issue, as was the case here. Of course, an under-qualified instructor with pro-Israel views wouldn’t get near an adjunct appointment to a graduate-level Middle East politics class at Brooklyn or at most other institutions. The timing of the affair—which was completely outside the administration’s control—is even more unfortunate. New York, like most states, is facing a fiscal crisis; and, since Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised not to raise taxes, the state will need to balance its budget through spending cuts. There’s little reason to believe that next year’s budget will spare public higher education. Like most public institutions, CUNY has high fixed costs in salaries for full-time professors and administrators, as well as maintenance and other non-discretionary items. Any reductions in state aid, therefore, will disproportionately affect the adjunct budget. Because the state legislature has underfunded CUNY for years, the university needs a reasonable adjunct budget to cover required, introductory undergraduate courses. That’s an argument the university can—and needs to—make to the legislature. Alas, it’s hard to believe most legislators won’t be more skeptical of such claims, given that the institution’s highest-profile adjunct is someone teaching a graduate elective class even though he hasn’t completed his Ph.D. qualifying exams. As I noted last week, neither option in this case was a good one for the administration, which had no role in the initial decision to appoint Petersen-Overton. But in the era of faculty groupthink, it seems that sometimes even minimal qualifications can’t be allowed to get in the way of bringing aboard someone with the appropriate message.

One thought on “The Academic Bullies Prevail”

  1. Hello. I beleive the author is very professional in his opinion about the matter. But still I have a feeling that the topic is not completed and there is much more to talk about.

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