Victory for Academic Freedom at Brooklyn College

November 23, 2004

BROOKLYN, N.Y., November 23, 2004—The City University of New York’s Brooklyn College has reversed a decision that effectively disbanded the student government to prevent it from voting for a resolution including an academic bill of rights.

After protests from students, faculty members, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the college restored the student government to its earlier status, allowing it to continue with its work.

“While we are pleased that Brooklyn College has reinstated its duly elected student leaders, it is appalling that the administration was so fearful of true academic freedom that it took such extreme steps to derail the democratic process,” said David French, president of FIRE.

FIRE wrote Brooklyn College President Christoph Kimmich to protest the administration’s move. The resolution at issue included sections stating that faculty members should not be hired, fired, or denied promotion or tenure because of their political, religious, or social beliefs; urging that students be included on tenure committees; and specifying that grades should not be based on students’ political beliefs. Attempts to pass similar policies have been controversial at other colleges and universities across the country, and FIRE received reports that students were told that the decision to nullify the officer elections and actions of the Student Assembly was made specifically to prevent the passage of the resolution.

The college nullified the assembly’s leadership elections, justifying its actions by claiming that the Student Assembly had followed improper procedures in electing its speaker and leadership. Yet the student government had been operating with the approval of administrators and without apparent problems for six weeks, until it received Dean Milga Morales’s letter nullifying the Student Assembly’s officer elections on the same day that the academic freedom resolution was being considered. Finding the administration’s interpretation of the rules dubious and its timing suspicious, FIRE wrote President Kimmich, requesting that Brooklyn College overturn its decision.

On November 19, Kimmich sent an e-mail to members of the student government blaming them for not having clear procedures and claiming that the administration had originally not been fully apprised of the situation—despite the fact that Dean Morales’s letter disbanding the assembly leadership was three pages long and very specific. Kimmich disaffirmed Dean Morales’s letter and reaffirmed the results of the original Student Assembly leadership election.

“The message from this case is clear,” said FIRE’s French. “Friends of liberty will not allow administrators to hide censorship behind procedural or administrative pretexts. If an administration believes an academic bill of rights is improper, it should engage in debate, not repression.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities.FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david.french@thefire.org

Christoph Kimmich, President, Brooklyn College: 718-951-5671; cmk@brooklyn.cuny.edu

Schools: Brooklyn College, City University of New York Cases: Brooklyn College: Administrative Attempt to Stop Academic Freedom Resolution