BC President Karen Gould Says She Would Have Handled Things Differently
BY RYAN SIT|
The BDS report is in, but the vestiges of the event are sure to last.
Looking back on the polarizing and controversial Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions event, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould said on Tuesday that she would have handled the ejection of the four Jewish students differently had she attended the event.
When asked what actions she would have taken, Gould drew a deep breath and had a long pause before offering her measured response. “I would have done things differently.
On Feb. 7 the Students for Justice in Palestine club hosted the BDS on Israel event. The event was co-sponsored by the political science department and drew worldwide criticism.
Two public safety officers removed four Jewish students during the event for allegedly causing a disturbance. CUNY Chancellor Mathew Goldstein later requested an investigation into their removal. The investigation found that “they did not create a ‘disturbance.’”
Even so, Gould offered what she called “a roadmap” for such occurrences.
“If I were in the room,” Gould said, “I would be going over to that person and saying, you know, ‘what’s the issue’ and ‘can you tone it down because other people are trying to study’ or ‘[…] someone is not being able to hear around you.’ And verbally try to improve the situation in the room.”
The investigation’s report was published on the university website on April 16, the same week Goldstein announced his plan to retire this summer. The Bryan Cave LLP law firm conducted a two-month-long examination of the event, which included interviews from over 40 students, faculty, and staff witnesses, according to the report.
The report found that “there was not justification for the removal of the four students.”
Carlos Guzman, a former vice president of Hunter College SJP who helped organize and manage the event, requested the four students be removed after the students refused Guzman’s request to turn over documents they brought, according to the report.
The documents included a list of questions and fact sheets that Melanie Goldberg, one of the ousted students, said she intended to distribute.
However, the report also concluded that students and members of the press were not denied access to the event based on opposing ideology or religious discrimination, as purported by some critics.
For all student club hosted events, Gould said that “the primary audience, or majority audience, ought to be students.”
Nadya Drukker, the executive director of the Tanger Hillel at Brooklyn College and vocal critic of the event, made early claims that the forum ended 15 minutes early in order to deny attendees the opportunity to pose questions to Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, the event’s speakers.
The report concluded that this too was not done for discriminatory reasons, but added: “we have been unable to establish the times when either the Q&A ended or the forum ended.”
Sundus Seif, president of the Brooklyn College SJP, told investigators that wanted to make sure Barghouti had time for a book signing and knew Butler had to leave as soon as the event ended.
Drukker acknowledged in an email the bittersweet findings in the report. “We are glad that the report concludes what we knew all along, that Jewish students were treated unjustly.
“Yet,” she continued, “the report fails to see anti-Jewish activity.”
Gould said she could appreciate the pressure felt by senior administrators and security personnel charged with monitoring the BDS forum. “Whether you’re faculty marshal at an event or a student leader, it’s really almost an unfair position to put you in—that all of the sudden you are also being asked to marshal a room.”
“It’s one thing to say, ‘you need to be the time keeper,’” Gould said. “It’s a very different thing to say ‘you need to leave the room.’”
Campus security, run by New York state police, was on high alert that night. More than a dozen uniformed officers lined up in the basement floor of Ingersoll before the event began to prepare for what was expected to be a rowdy night.
“I understand the stressfulness of their situations that night,” Gould said. “There were very serious security issues to be concerned about.
“There were bomb sweeps and the whole nine-yards, they were making sure that the building was safe and they needed to do that.”
NYPD officers manned two barricades outside of the student center, where two groups, for and against the event, voiced their opinions. “NYPD was doing their job,” said Gould, “making sure the streets were safe, and that people were allowed to share their views and their counter views across the street.”
Gould said she expects academic departments to continue co-sponsoring events and embracing academic freedom, but added that caution should be advised.
“I think it would be irresponsible to say, ‘regardless of the topic it doesn’t matter,’ everybody can do their own thing. But at the same time, I think that you know we have made a strong statement about academic freedom.”
In her email, Drukker maintained that the political science department abused that academic freedom. “The report fails to acknowledge the misguided actions of the political science department in co-sponsoring the BDS forum that opposed academic freedom.
“The report does not address that department’s evasions and actions that have been harmful to academic integrity.”
The school hopes to have “clear and responsible parameters for student clubs” developed by this coming fall semester, Gould said.
Included in those parameters will be the clarification of terminology, like “co-sponsorship.”
“Was co-sponsorship endorsement?” asked Gould. “Of course it wasn’t.”
The reported listed one final point about the students’ removal: “The Brooklyn College administration did not handle this event well.”
“It was probably a mistake, once the forum became such a large and controversial event, to give the students […] primary responsibility for maintaining order.”
Gould said in the future senior administrators would oversee security.