New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted City Council members who threatened Brooklyn College's funding over a controversial panel the college intends to host Thursday that gives a platform to supporters of Palestine's BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) movement.
Bloomberg said the City Council members protesting the event simply aren’t thinking before they speak, and defended the university despite his personal support of Israel today at a press conference for Hurricane Sandy relief.
If you want to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea ... I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students. The freedom to discuss ideas, including ideas that people find repugnant, lies really at the heart of the university system. Take that away, and higher education in this country would certainly die.
“The fastest way to popularize an idea is to ban it,” Bloomberg said. “All you have to do is take a look at the history of the communist party to see that.” [See Bloomberg's statements in the video below, starting at 32:00]
New York City Council members threatened the college last week, saying the panel is offensive to taxpayers and robs other worthy causes that would otherwise receive public funds, the Guardian reports.
A letter dated Jan. 29 from Assistant Majority Leader Lewis Fiddler to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould called on Gould to cancel the forum. Signed by nine other Council members, it appeared to issue an ultimatum that threatened the college’s funding. [Read the letter below]
Every year, we legislators are asked for additional funding to support programs and initiatives at these schools, and we fight hard to secure those funds. Every one of those dollars given to CUNY, and Brooklyn College, means one less dollar going to some other worthy purpose. We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City -- many of who would feel targeted or demonized by this program -- want their taxpayer money to be spent on.
The ultimatum was seemingly issued here:
"We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong."
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian’s liberty and securities reporter, likened the current issue to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 1999 termination of funding to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Guliani cut funding to the museum after it refused to cancel an exhibit Guliani found offensive that included, among other works, a portrait of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung. U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon struck down Giuliani in a ruling that defended the First Amendment.
Gould’s office responded to the debate on Monday with a statement thematically similar to Gershon’s decision, adding, “We encourage debate, discussion and more debate” instead of the endorsement of any singular perspective.
Our commitment to the principles of academic freedom remains steadfast. Students and faculty, including academic departments, programs, and centers, have the right to invite speakers, engage in discussion, and present ideas to further educational discussion and debate. The mere invitation to speak does not indicate an endorsement of any particular point of view...”
She added that the college is under no obligation to offer both perspectives at the event.
Providing an open forum to discuss important topics, even those many find highly objectionable, is a centuries-old practice on university campuses around the country. Indeed, this spirit of inquiry and critical debate is a hallmark of the American education system.