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Home » Clarion » 2024 » March 2024 » Another academic freedom fight at CUNY

Another academic freedom fight at CUNY

Baruch administration cancels teach-inBy ARI PAUL

The PSC is protesting yet another case of the CUNY administration violating academic freedom, this time at Baruch College.

In a letter to the Baruch College administration in January, Anthony Alessandrini, the chair of the PSC Academic Freedom Committee, wrote, “We note with great concern reports that the Baruch College administration acted to cancel a faculty-organized event, which is a clear violation of academic freedom and free expression. A faculty teach-in, titled, ‘The Gaza Crisis’ and organized by members of the Baruch College History Department, was scheduled to be held on December 4, 2023. The event, which had been approved by the administration in advance and advertised via Eventbrite, was to have featured three Baruch faculty speakers.”

“This unilateral decision by the administration prevented members of the Baruch community – students, staff and faculty alike – from having an opportunity to discuss the sorts of important issues that are the essence of a public university’s work."

Anthony Alessandrini, PSC Chair of Academic Freedom Committee

Yet, a day before the teach-in was to take place, the administration cancelled the event. “It is our understanding that the organizers had expressed some concerns regarding the claiming of tickets via the Eventbrite page: Although tickets were supposed to be reserved only by those who registered with Baruch email addresses, a number of tickets were bought in blocks of 10 by people without Baruch email addresses,” Alessandrini wrote.

“While this might have caused a potential security concern, it is our understanding that Provost Essig subsequently informed the chair of the History Department of several additional reasons for the cancellation of the event: that the title suggested it was an advocacy rather than an educational event; that the framing created an alleged security concern; and that the title of the event – “The Gaza Crisis: Teach In” – was apparently deemed to echo the language of advocacy organizations inside and outside of campus.

Alessandrini, who is a professor of English at Kingsborough Community College, said that none of these concerns merited the cancellation.

“While the reserving of tickets by those who might not have been Baruch ID holders might have been a concern, this fact on its own hardly justifies the complete cancellation of the event,” he wrote.

“This unilateral decision by the administration prevented members of the Baruch community – students, staff and faculty alike – from having an opportunity to discuss the sorts of important issues that are the essence of a public university’s work. Finally, the arbitrary cancellation of a faculty-organized event by management contributes to the chilling of academic freedom and free expression on campus more generally. Like other recent events by CUNY management at other campuses – including the cancellation of a film screening at Hunter College last month – this act by Baruch management strikes us as extremely disturbing because it is contrary to the principles of academic freedom at our university.”

In a response on January 12, Baruch President David Wu said that the “exercise of [academic] freedom is not without bounds” and that it must be “thoughtfully balanced with considerations of time, manner and place.”

ADMINISTRATION RESPONSE

“The safety and well-being of our students and faculty are of paramount importance,” Wu wrote. “When an event raises potential security concerns, the institution must act responsibly. The administration’s decision to cancel the event was based on multiple unforeseen safety concerns because of time and place.”

The union has been fighting several academic freedom battles around the University since the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7 and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza.


Published: February 27, 2024

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