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Home » Clarion » 2024 » April 2024 » Defending academic freedom at Lehman

Defending academic freedom at Lehman

Admin caving to outside pressure?By ARI PAUL

Oops, they did it again.

Since the fall semester, the union’s Academic Freedom Committee has fought against campus administrations’ attacks on academic freedom, especially when it comes to members participating in events having to do with the conflict in the Middle East. Once again, this spring, the committee is fighting Lehman College in the latest iteration of this troubling trend.


In a letter to Lehman College’s top administrators on February 23, the committee’s chair, Anthony Alessandrini, wrote, “We write to protest in the strongest possible terms the cancellation of a panel, ‘Globalize the Intifada! Mapping Struggles for Palestine from the Streets to Our Classrooms,’ to have been presented at the conference ‘Engagement, Equity, and Antiracism’ organized by the Writing Across the Curriculum program at Lehman College in collaboration with Hostos Community College. The panel in question was organized by graduate student instructors who are PSC members, in collaboration with a distinguished Graduate Center alumnus. Our understanding is that, due to a pressure campaign from outside the University, the title of the panel was first changed, and the panel was subsequently cancelled. Ultimately, due to the fallout from external right-wing pressure and CUNY management’s response to it, the entire conference has had to be postponed until a yet-unspecified date in the fall.”


The committee demanded an immediate reinstatement of the panel and an apology.

Alessandrini, a professor of English at Kingsborough Community College, said, “Every aspect of the handling of this situation by management at Lehman College has been riddled with violations of academic freedom. To begin with, yielding to pressure to replace the word intifada – an Arabic word that translates as “shaking off” or “resistance” – was completely unacceptable. The fact that the word in question is deemed “controversial” in certain political circles does not mitigate this fact. We remind you of the principle reiterated by the American Association of University Professors: “Free speech is not simply an aspect of the educational enterprise to be weighed against other desirable ends. It is the very precondition of the academic enterprise itself.” The pattern by which CUNY management caves to outside political pressure, at the expense of this principle and of its own educational mission, is a disturbing one that needs to be reversed immediately.”


Fernando Delgado, the president of Lehman College, responded in a letter days later saying that while members of the administration “appreciate your concern and share your commitment to academic freedom,” the college leadership believed the committee’s “characterization of the series of events is incorrect.” He added, “While the Lehman administration supports the outcome, the college had no role in the decision-making process.”

In a follow-up letter, Alessandrini voiced his skepticism of Delgado’s denial of responsibility, saying his response “belies published reports and stretches credulity given the information that we have received about the administration.”

He said, “This cancellation is part of a larger pattern of the repression of academic freedom and political expression by CUNY management since October 2023. As the PSC noted in its public letter to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez on October 25, ‘Even in times of great anguish and upheaval, CUNY must maintain a commitment to the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly for students, faculty and staff.’ The hundreds of PSC members who co-signed the letter called upon the chancellor ‘to affirm the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly at CUNY,’ and noted: ‘Your failure to do so has sent a chilling message.’ As of yet, there has been no response, and no affirmation of these fundamental rights, nor of our contractual right to academic freedom.”

The committee has fought similar battles involving cancelled events at Hunter College and Baruch College.

Published: March 27, 2024

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