Saturday, November 3, 2007

Doctor Bowen and Ms. Hide

The Professional Staff Congress appears to be of (at least) two minds when it comes to questions of free speech and academic freedom. At times, it is vigilant and vociferous when detecting and denouncing threats to these cherished rights on any of CUNY’s nineteen campuses. The union even has its very own academic freedom committee:

“Academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and information are at the heart of a university and the key to creating an environment for learning. Protection for these freedoms must be among our highest priorities.”

In 2005, the union’s president, Barbara Bowen, quarreled quite publicly (and quite bitterly) with the university’s chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, over less than friendly press coverage of some of her radical confreres. CUNY’s crop of critics of capitalism, racism and patriarchy seem to have rather thin skins these days. Indeed, Professors Bowen, O’Malley and company requested that the American Association of University Professors investigate the supposedly sorry state of academic freedom at CUNY, with an eye toward censuring the university. No such sanctions have been forthcoming.

At other junctures, however, neither the Bowen-dominated PSC nor the O’Malley-led University Faculty Senate have been so fastidious about faculty rights. When our indefatigable colleague Robert “KC” Johnson fell afoul of "academic terrorists" at Brooklyn College on his way to tenure, the union offered him but the shortest of shrifts. The Hillary Clinton (for Senator) button on his book bag did not absolve him of the sins of insisting on multiple political perspectives at a post-9/11 teach in. Susan O’Malley denounced Chancellor Goldstein’s decision to grant Johnson tenure (and preserve CUNY’s reputation) as part of a process that one judicious observer called a case of libel. It seems that some libels are more serious than others.

Now some four years after the Johnson imbroglio, the sisterhood of usual suspects is at it again. The reasons why, at this late date, "Sue" O’Malley’s amour-propre has been so damaged by the satiric shafts of The Patriot Returns will, in due course, come to light. So, too, will the benefits to Barbara Bowen should her most consistent and trenchant critic be silenced. Since the issues involved in the O’Malley v. Karkhanis case are not limited to CUNY, but resonate across the American academy, we hope that many will take notice. Ms. Hide's recent comments notwithstanding, there is nothing "silly" about her lawsuit.


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