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A Forum on “The First Amendment and Civil Rights on College Campuses”

Michelle Anderson, president of Brooklyn College, responds to students’ recent protests at the school. PHOTO/ City University of New York

By Michelle J. Anderson

Published: October 31st, 2018

Two recent instances of faculty speech at Brooklyn College have troubled our campus. In late September, a professor advocated sexual assault on his personal blog. He wrote, “having committed sexual assault in high school ought to be a prerequisite for all appointments, judicial and political.” Then it came to light that another professor published a letter to the editor in the New York Times in July encouraging the deportation of all undocumented people, and suggesting that Mexican immigrants should not be admitted to the United States because they are undereducated.

Many Brooklyn College students responded to these statements with protest. They expressed pain that they feel unsafe when faculty members with these beliefs teach at the College. Given the current political climate across the country, many students felt targeted by the faculty statements and saw them as credible threats to the safety and security of their communities.

I sympathize with the students’ concerns. I disagree with the faculty statements because they are antithetical to the fundamental values of Brooklyn College. Founded in 1930, Brooklyn College was the first public, coeducational, liberal arts college in New York City. Throughout its history, the College has been a place that has welcomed students regardless of gender or immigration status. Over the past two years, the College has repeatedly emphasized that it will take any steps available under the law to protect our undocumented students.

Students have asked for a campus forum to better understand the implications of the First Amendment. On Nov. 12, from 4:30-6:00 p.m. in the Gold Room of SUBO, we will host a Teach-In on “The First Amendment and Civil Rights on College Campuses.” There, we will be joined by Distinguished Professor Ruthann Robson, a prominent First Amendment scholar who teaches at CUNY School of Law, as well as our own Professor Paisley Currah of the political science department, Professor Gunja SenGupta of the history department, and Brooklyn College’s General Counsel Tony Thomas. The forum will cover the civil rights movement and free speech, the challenges that free speech poses on a college campus, students’ rights to equal education, and campus procedures to protect the civil rights of students.

I have also asked relevant members of my cabinet to meet with the leaders of the student protests to discuss next steps. They will be reaching out to student leadership this week. More generally, students have expressed that they need more opportunities to engage with the administration in direct dialog to share information and problem-solve. We agree. We will work with Student Government to set up these kinds of opportunities this semester.

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