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Home » Clarion » 2024 » June 2024 » Labor is fighting for academic freedom

Labor is fighting for academic freedom

A nationwide struggle continuesBy ARI PAUL

Brooklyn College hosted a panel on April 3 addressing right-wing threats to academic freedom and how academic unions like the PSC can fight back against this assault. The panel featured two speakers from the University of Florida – political scientist Sharon Austin and the campus chair of United Faculty of Florida, Paul Ortiz – who highlighted many of the state-level attacks on academic freedom: the attempt to bar faculty from testifying about political affairs, mandates against teaching certain subjects and restrictions on partnerships with foreign academic institutions.

Carolina Bank Muñoz connected the issue of austerity to academic freedom. (Photo Credit: Paul Frangipane)

It also featured Risa Lieberwitz, the general counsel of the American Association of University Professors, and Carolina Bank Muñoz, Brooklyn College PSC chapter chair and professor of sociology. It was moderated by Alan Aja, the chair of the department of Puerto Rican and Latino studies at Brooklyn College.


Panelists observed that the assault on academic freedom in Florida went hand in hand with an attack on academic unionism, as the state also enacted measures to make it impossible for the UFF to deduct member dues through their paychecks and mandated that the union keep a membership of 60% within the bargaining unit or risk decertification.

Measures like these are popping off across the country. A new law in Indiana “allows universities to revoke a professor’s tenure if they don’t promote so-called ‘intellectual diversity’ in the classroom,” National Public Radio reported. In Arkansas, state agencies including its universities are barred from using the word Latinx. And all the while, the panelists said, there is tremendous outside pressure on university administrations to prevent faculty from speaking out on sensitive topics.

Lieberwitz, who is also a professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said that the “current wave of attack” is a part of the “corporatization of the university,” and is a result of the private-sector model of American academia that has evolved into being since the Reagan era. Citing content analysis of recent New York Times coverage, Bank Muñoz situated the attacks in a “moral panic being created by the media today” – the story of a culture war tearing campuses apart – when in actuality little to no attention is paid to significant problems such as austerity at universities like CUNY.


After the outbreak of violence in the Middle East last October, the PSC has fought the administration’s cancellation of academic events related to the conflict at Lehman, Hunter and Baruch Colleges. And this is nothing new. In 2017, Clarion investigated a right-wing smear campaign against two Brooklyn College professors – Samir Chopra and Corey Robin – who had made statements about politics in the Middle East. In 2013, Brooklyn College came under fire from politicians because of a political science department event about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. In 2011, Brooklyn College instructor Kristofer Petersen-Overton was briefly ousted from his job because of outside right-wing pressure, but had his job restored thanks to PSC advocacy.

Lieberwitz said it was important for unions like the PSC, UFF and AAUP to work locally and nationally to fight back against attacks on academic freedom.

“We are all in this together,” she said.

Published: May 19, 2024

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