CUNY Chancellor Defends Academic Freedom

National Association of Scholars

NAS applauds CUNY Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly for his statement of September 20 defending academic freedom. Last week NAS president Peter Wood delivered an open letter to Chancellor Kelly urging him to take such a stand, after protestors began to carry out a campaign to intimidate and harass David Petraeus, who began teaching at CUNY's Macaulay Honors College this fall.

Dr. Wood wrote:

This is a situation that calls for the university strenuously to protect a faculty member’s academic freedom. The First Amendment rights of protestors do not extend to harassing a faculty member. [...] If allowed to continue, this harassment will hinder Petraeus’s ability to teach and obstruct the opportunity of his students to learn. Freedom to learn, Lernfreiheit, is no less important to academic freedom as the faculty member’s right to express his scholarly judgments free from menace and coercion.

The dean of the Honors College, Ann Kirschner, released the first statement responding to the protestors, in which she wrote, "We may disagree, but we must always do so in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding.  While the college supports the articulation of all points of view on critical issues, it is essential that dialogue within the academic setting always be conducted civilly." CUNY's Faculty Senate followed suit on September 13, and finally, Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly has made his own official statement, in which he says, "We defend free speech and we reject the disruption of the free exchange of ideas. Accordingly, CUNY will continue to ensure that Dr. Petraeus is able to teach without harassment or obstruction."

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