Libel, Satire, Or Terrorism at CUNY?

Sharad Karkhanis, professor emeritus at Kingsborough Community College, is a vitriolic critic of the faculty union at the City University of New York. He’s accused Susan O’Malley, another professor at Kingsborough, of seeking to “recruit terrorists” to teach at CUNY. O’Malley has responded with a two million dollar libel suit, reports the New York Post:

In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Susan O’Malley charges that professor emeritus Sharad Karkhanis defamed her by accusing her of having an “obsession with finding jobs for terrorists” in recent issues of a newsletter he’s been e-mailing to CUNY faculty members for 15 years.

Citing O’Malley’s efforts to land jobs for convicted activist lawyer Lynne Stewart’s co-defendant Mohammed Yousry and former Weather Underground member Susan Rosenberg, Karkhanis wrote:

“Has Queen O’Malley ever made a ‘Job Wanted’ announcement like this for a nonconvicted, nonviolent, peace-loving American educator for a job in CUNY? . . . Why does she prefer convicted terrorists bent on harming our people and our nation over peace-loving Americans?”

Karkhanis considers his writing to be satire. It’s not particularly civil language; but then again, as KC Johnson has pointed out, two of O’Malley’s prospective hires were terrorists, or quite near to being ones – Susan Rosenberg “was a member of a terrorist organization” and Mohammed Yousry “was accused and convicted of aiding a convicted terrorist.” Not all, predictably, agree on the substance of the comments: John K. Wilson, for one, has called them “idiotic” but he does dub the idea of a two million dollar libel suit in response as “frivolous and absurd.” Fortunately, others agree; a new blog, “Free Speech At CUNY” has ably taken up Karkhanis’ case.

“Free Speech At CUNY” offers some delightful background on Karkhanis’ assailant. O’Malley, former university faculty senate chair, former faculty representative on the CUNY board of trustees, and an all-around perennial in CUNY union posts, was the arranger of a 2004 CUNY conference on “Defining and Defending Academic Freedom”; the site provides the text of numerous faculty union statements on “dissent” and “academic freedom” in which O’Malley, as part of the union leadership, seems to have had a hand. The current case is useful in clarifying what she actually meant; freedom for her, libel suits for her opponent.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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