Brooklyn College: Possible Investigation of Professor’s Expression

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Brooklyn College, City University of New York

In a direct attack on academic freedom and free speech, the Brooklyn College School of Education tried to silence one of its most prominent critics, history professor KC Johnson. After publicly criticizing perceived indoctrination and viewpoint discrimination by members of the Brooklyn College faculty, Johnson faced a possible investigation by a Brooklyn College “Integrity Committee” for his constitutionally protected speech. In a swift and crucial victory for freedom of speech and academic freedom, Brooklyn College affirmed that Johnson would not be subjected to an unconstitutional inquisition into his views. The college surrendered mere days after FIRE came to Johnson’s public defense.

  • Campus Alert: Think like us–or else

    June 4, 2007

    Columbia University’s Teachers College is one of America’s most prestigious education schools. For many students, it’s probably the best—but not if you don’t buy the school’s definition of “social justice.” Teachers College evaluates students in part on the basis of so-called “dispositions,” defined as “observable behaviors” that “involve the use of certain skills.” One “disposition” is the student’s “Respect for Diversity and Commitment to Social Justice.” This warps the discussion of whether a student might make a good teacher into whether that student has the “correct” personal, religious or political beliefs. Evaluating students’ aptitude for teaching based on their commitment […]

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  • Speech on Campus After 9/11: Less Free than It Used to Be?

    May 25, 2006

    Universities have traditionally been places where debate and the free exchange of ideas have been welcomed. But after 9/11, that may be changing — as some recent, troubling incidents suggest. In this column, I’ll survey some recent incidents suggesting free speech on campus is in peril, and discuss the extent to which the First Amendment protects student and faculty speech Cracking Down on Student Demonstrators and Controversial Student Speech Recently, students at the University of Miami (a private school, but one with a stated policy of fostering free speech) demonstrated alongside striking maintenance workers to show solidarity. Now, they face […]

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  • Class(room) Warriors

    October 24, 2005

    The cultural left has a new tool for enforcing political conformity in schools of education. It is called dispositions theory, and it was set forth five years ago by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education: Future teachers should be judged by their “knowledge, skills, and dispositions.” What are “dispositions”? NCATE’s prose made clear that they are the beliefs and attitudes that guide a teacher toward a moral stance. That sounds harmless enough, but it opened a door to reject teaching candidates on the basis of thoughts and beliefs. In 2002, NCATE said that an education school may require […]

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  • FIRE Protests Threatened ‘Inquisition’ of Brooklyn College’s Dissenting Prof.

    September 20, 2005

    By Jim Brown at Agape Press A New York college recently accused of threatening to censor a dissenting professor claims it has remained firm in its commitment to academic freedom. Brooklyn College claims it has not begun an investigation of outspoken Professor KC Johnson; however, the statement comes after the instructor was warned he may face such an official investigation. Johnson received the warning that he may face a Brooklyn College “Integrity Committee” investigation for criticizing the school’s new ideological “litmus test” for education students. Each student in the department is now evaluated on his or her commitment to the […]

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  • College backs off on dissenting professor

    September 15, 2005

    Faced with the threat of legal action, a New York City college pledged not to investigate a professor who objected to the school’s policy of requiring education students be committed to a particular definition of “social justice.” Brooklyn College’s decision to stop pressuring history professor Robert “KC” Johnson is a “crucial victory for freedom of speech and academic freedom,” declared the public-interest group that came to his defense, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. FIRE said the college “surrendered” just a few days after the group began defending Johnson, ensuring the professor would “not be subjected to […]

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  • Prof’s protest of ‘political litmus test’ raises hackles

    September 10, 2005

    By Linda Seebach Oh, that KC Johnson. He’s always getting into hot water. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that the administration at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York keeps trying to bring the water to a full rolling boil, hoping he’ll jump out. Well, perhaps he should. He deserves better, and his institution doesn’t deserve to keep him. But his students, who on the evidence are unlikely to encounter many other faculty members who exemplify the academic virtues of free inquiry and principled disagreement, need him.Robert KC Johnson is a tenured […]

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  • ‘Disposition’ Emerges as Issue at Brooklyn College

    May 31, 2005

    By Jacob Gershman at The New York Sun Brooklyn College’s School of Education has begun to base evaluations of aspiring teachers in part on their commitment to social justice, raising fears that the college is screening students for their political views. The School of Education at the CUNY campus initiated last fall a new method of judging teacher candidates based on their “dispositions,” a vogue in teacher training across the country that focuses on evaluating teachers’ values, apart from their classroom performance. Critics of the assessment policy warned that aspiring teachers are being judged on how closely their political views […]

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  • Disposition for Bias

    May 23, 2005

    By Elizabeth Johnson at Inside Higher Ed Little doubt exists that the nation’s college faculty has become less intellectually diverse over the past generation. According to one recent study, self-described liberals or leftists increased from 39 percent in 1984 to 72 percent now, with even higher percentages among the ranks of humanities and social science professors. Speaking for the educational establishment, Jonathan Knight of the American Association of University Professors doubted “that these liberal views cut very deeply into the education of students.” Knight might have looked at teacher-training programs before issuing his comment. There, the faculty’s ideological imbalance has […]

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  • David Thompson Speaks Out about KC Johnson and Social Justice Indoctrination

    October 20, 2010

    FIRE recently released a video about KC Johnson’s dispute with the Brooklyn College School of Education (BCSOE) over an article he published on “Dispositions Theory,” or the theory that prospective public school teachers must be disposed to certain sets of highly politicized beliefs.  David Thompson’s recent blog post, “Dissident Academic Feels the Warmth of ‘Social Justice’” (cited by Amy Alkon in her subsequent article, “How to Screen Out Teachers with ‘Undesirable’ Social Beliefs”) employs Johnson’s case as an example to illustrate the dangers of promoting monolithic theories of social justice in education schools. Thompson reviewed various teacher-training outlines at education schools […]

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  • New FIRE Video on KC Johnson’s Fight for Academic Freedom

    October 14, 2010

    FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network has released a new video today about Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson’s fight to protect his academic freedom. Johnson wrote a column publicly criticizing “dispositions theory,” which education schools sometimes use as a political litmus test to ensure that students have the “correct” views on “social justice.” In response, the Brooklyn College education department (31 professors) unanimously signed a letter demanding that he stop writing about dispositions theory and that he be investigated by an “Integrity Committee.” With FIRE’s help, Johnson fought back and vindicated his academic freedom, proving once again that universities cannot defend […]

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  • The Trouble with ‘Dispositions’

    September 21, 2005

    This morning, FIRE launched its second press release in two weeks detailing controversies surrounding the so-called dispositions evaluation of teaching candidates. Two weeks ago, we addressed the Brooklyn College School of Education’s attempt to censor Professor K. C. Johnson after he criticized overtly ideological elements in the school’s own dispositions program. Today, FIRE has set its sights on Washington State University. Already embroiled in controversy after financing and planning a disruptive and threatening protest of a controversial play, the university (this time acting through its school of education) has used “dispositions” theory to punish a self-described conservative Christian student for […]

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  • Education Programs May Have a ‘Disposition’ for Censorship

    September 21, 2005

    PULLMAN, Wash., September 21, 2005—A new trend in campus censorship is emerging: this summer, Washington State University used “dispositions” theory to punish an education student for his political and religious expression. The university relented only after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) became involved. “Dispositions” theory, increasingly in vogue in education programs, requires professors to evaluate their students’ commitment to concepts such as “social justice” and “diversity” in conjunction with their actual scholastic achievement. Just last month, FIRE had to intervene when Brooklyn College professor K. C. Johnson was threatened with a secret investigation for questioning the use […]

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  • Professor’s First Amendment Rights Upheld at Brooklyn College

    September 14, 2005

    As FIRE announced in a press release this morning, Brooklyn College has conceded that Professor K. C. Johnson’s public criticisms of dispositions theory are constitutionally protected and has affirmed that Professor Johnson will not be subject to any investigation as a result of his expression. This is a victory for academic freedom and freedom of speech, although it is disheartening that FIRE even needed to remind a public university that its students and faculty have the right to voice their opinions on matters of public concern. The college could not defend in public what Professor Johnson’s would-be censors were doing […]

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  • First Amendment and Academic Freedom Triumph at Brooklyn College

    September 14, 2005

    BROOKLYN, N.Y., September 14, 2005—In a swift and crucial victory for freedom of speech and academic freedom, Brooklyn College has affirmed that prominent professor K. C. Johnson will not be subjected to an unconstitutional inquisition into his views.  The college surrendered mere days after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) came to Johnson’s public defense. Since May of this year, Johnson has been speaking out against the use of “dispositions” theory by Brooklyn College’s School of Education (SOE).  Since this theory requires that education students’ commitment to “social justice” be evaluated along with academic performance, Johnson fears its […]

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  • Criticism or Censorship?

    September 8, 2005

    In June of this year, the City University of New York at Brooklyn (Brooklyn College) was rocked by a story in the New York Sun reporting on a new method of evaluating education students. That method, called “dispositions,” was designed in part to determine whether students had an appropriate commitment to “social justice.” Students who were not sufficiently committed to the university’s politicized vision of social justice could find that their education degrees—and future teaching careers—were in jeopardy. The “dispositions” theory plainly violates the Supreme Court’s famous admonition that the government cannot “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, […]

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  • Brooklyn College Threatens Inquisition to Silence Dissenting Professor

    September 8, 2005

    BROOKLYN, N.Y., September 8, 2005—In a direct attack on academic freedom and free speech, the Brooklyn College School of Education (SOE) is seeking to silence one of its most prominent critics, history professor K. C. Johnson.  After publicly criticizing perceived indoctrination and viewpoint discrimination by members of the Brooklyn College faculty, Johnson is facing a possible investigation by a Brooklyn College “Integrity Committee” for his constitutionally protected speech. Johnson has criticized the SOE’s use of “dispositions” theory, which holds that professors should evaluate students’ commitment to “social justice” along with academic achievement.  On June 7, officials from the college’s faculty […]

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  • Real World vs. Ideal World

    June 10, 2005

    My recent posts regarding the differences between the free speech of department chairs and the free speech of professors have generated considerable lively discussion—both inside FIRE’s offices and outside (for a thoughtful response to my latest post on Shortell, see this entry from Sherman Dorn). The details of Shortell’s case bring up an interesting question: should a “free speech” organization ever publicly state that otherwise constitutionally protected speech can be restricted according to a person’s position in public life? Shouldn’t we be free speech “purists?” The answer to that question depends on the answer to another, different, question: “How effective […]

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  • Shortell Declines Chairmanship After All

    June 8, 2005

    Just a quick update that Professor Timothy Shortell has decided not to take up the position as chair of the sociology department at Brooklyn College. This decision comes after controversy arose over his writings about religion and religious people on a non-school-related website. (Read David’s posts for more details about the legal implications for Shortell’s chairmanship and about freedom of speech for department chairs in general.)

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  • Department Chairs and Free Speech

    June 7, 2005

    A good friend of FIRE wrote in response to my post regarding Timothy “Moral Retards” Shortell. In that post, I noted that department chairs, as administrators, do not have the same level of freedom to offer public comments as do professors. I also noted that because Shortell’s comments involved an entire class of people covered by employment discrimination statutes, he now is an enormous liability risk to his university. Qualified individuals of religious faith who are denied employment at CUNY Brooklyn’s sociology department now have powerful evidence of religious animus. Our FIRE friend writes: I am hard pressed to follow […]

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  • ‘Moral Retards’ and Academic Freedom

    June 3, 2005

    Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article regarding CUNY Brooklyn professor and administrator (he is chairman of the sociology department) Timothy Shortell. Shortell, as many may know, has started the clock running on his 15 minutes of fame in our academic freedom wars with a controversial essay regarding people of religious faith. Inside Higher Ed sets the stage: The essay, “Religion & Morality: A Contradiction Explained,” critiqued the role of religion. “Modern religion is a fundamental belief in magic,” he wrote. The essay also argued that religion had numerous negative consequences. Of religions, he wrote: “They persist today because they […]

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  • ‘Dispositions’ at Brooklyn College

    May 31, 2005

    In today’s New York Sun, reporter Jacob Gershman—one of the few reporters who fully understands the critical cultural importance of civil liberties in higher education—writes about the use of the “dispositions” theory (discussed in Robert’s post below) at CUNY Brooklyn. Gershman describes how “dispositions” is defined by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which accredits roughly half the nation’s education schools, and applied by Brooklyn College’s School of Education: In 2000 the council introduced new standards for accrediting education schools. Those standards incorporated the concept of dispositions, which the agency maintains ought to be measured, to sort out […]

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