Brooklyn College Criticizes Itself over Anti-Israel Event

This past February, in the final act of Brooklyn College’s BDS fiasco, four Jewish students were kicked out of the talk. (Brooklyn’s Political Science Department had formally voted to affiliate itself with the talk, which featured two speakers who advocated a nationality-based boycott against Israelis, divestment from Israel, and international sanctions against the Jewish state.) An investigation ensued, and CUNY vice chancellor and general counsel Frederick Schaffer has now issued a report on the expulsion.

The major finding of the report: “It is clear that there was no justification for the removal of the four students.”  An initial college statement that “official reports” indicated that the students had engaged in disruptive behavior was not accurate. And while there’s no reason to believe that the students were removed because they’re Jewish, “a more plausible inference can be drawn that the removal of the four students was motivated by their political viewpoint.”

The report’s key judgment: “The Brooklyn College administration did not handle this event well.  It was probably a mistake, once the forum became such a large and controversial event, to give the students (and a few faculty recruited by the students) primary responsibility for maintaining order unless there was a threat to physical safety.  Even if that was the correct decision, it was not sufficiently elaborated and communicated either to the student volunteers and faculty marshals or to the public safety officers.  In particular, insufficient consideration was given to the question of how a verbal disruption would be handled; certainly, none of the public safety officers received clear instructions about this.  Furthermore, no decision was made as to who would have the authority to remove members of the audience in the case of a verbal disturbance. As events unfolded, no senior administrator intervened to determine what the evidence was for the alleged disturbance or whether the facts justified the removal of the four students from the room and then the building.  Nor did any of the public safety officers check with a superior before removing the students.  Instead, all of the Brooklyn College personnel deferred to the request of a single, interested person, who, unbeknownst to them, was not even a student at Brooklyn College.”

To repeat: at a public college, in an event co-sponsored by one of its academic departments, four students were likely expelled from the event because of their political beliefs. Presumably this finding will cause even the president of the college, Karen Gould, to publicly apologize to Brooklyn’s student body. But given Gould’s performance to date, this may be expecting too much.

The Schaffer Report also brought to light at least four previously unreported facts:

(1) The false information about the students’ allegedly disruptive behavior as “based on official reports” came not from the BDS student organizers but from a Brooklyn College dean, Milga Morales–who doesn’t exactly have a history of pro-Israel activism on campus. The report notes that the “public safety officers who removed the students had not witnessed the alleged disturbance.” Morales nonetheless communicated this misleading information to the college communications staff and (presumably) to senior administrators. The Schaffer Report does not explain why a veteran, senior college administrator elected to pass misleading (at best) information to her superiors and to the college press office.

(2) At least five “faculty marshals,” selected in consultation with the BDS organizers technically presided over the affair, with responsibility for handling security concerns. Yet none of these self-styled defenders of academic freedom, several of whom enjoy robust campus reputations for their hostility to Israel’s security concerns, raised a peep as four students were improperly removed from the event. While their inaction should come as little surprise–for champions of the academic status quo, too often academic freedom applies only to those who embrace the majority’s viewpoint–the disinclination of these “faculty marshals” to stand up for the improperly expelled Jewish students exposes the hollowness of their professed concerns with “academic freedom.”

(3) One of these “faculty marshals” termed the atmosphere at the anti-Israel gathering a “love fest.” Imagine the appropriate outrage if a professor at Brooklyn College–or, indeed, at any institution of higher learning–described an event championing a nationality-based boycott of Arabs, Africans, or Latin Americans as a “love fest.”

(4) Though it was established at the time that a reporter from the Daily News, which had editorialized against the gathering, was barred from the discussion, the Schaffer Report reveals that another anti-BDS reporter, representing Frontpage Magazine, likewise was denied admission.

The report provides some background on the role of the press at the event. Initially, the student organizers wanted to allow no journalists into the talk–even as they did permit some non-Brooklyn College students to attend. Incredibly, the college administration went along with this demand. At some point, however, this hard-and-fast opposition waned, and the organizers only insisted that any reporters refrain from videotaping the event. As a result, at least three journalists were in the room during the BDS panel, with one each from the Daily Beast, the New York Times (whose editorial page had strongly defended the performance of President Gould), and the far-left 972mag (whose coverage was wildly tilted in favor of the event). The report found no evidence that panel organizers deliberately excluded skeptical journalists. That said, the ideological balance in journalists who got into the room is quite a coincidence.

The report leaves unanswered the question as to why President Gould–given her purported support for the open exchange of ideas–did not step in to ensure that all accredited journalists were able to attend a public event that was, after all, co-sponsored by an academic unit of the college.

In general, the Schaffer Report portrays a chaotic, poorly-organized event. Some Jewish students were excluded from the talks, but at least one Islamic student was, as well; organizational incompetence, rather than ethnicity-based malevolence, seems to have explained the treatment of students who didn’t get into the talk even though they had signed up in advance.

It should be noted that one agency of the college–the college press office–comes across extremely well in the Schaffer Report. The report describes Ernesto Mora, of the college’s Office of Communications and Marketing, as doing his best to accommodate the interests of the media, and also notes that Mora told student organizers “that they could not decide to selectively admit certain journalists; it had to be all or none.” And, of course, the college press office was wholly blameless for the inaccuracies in the initial college statement on the event.

This affair was an embarrassment from start to finish for the college. 


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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