Last week, Kristofer Petersen-Overton, an adjunct in Brooklyn College’s political science department, was dismissed from his position hours after a state assemblyman complained about the educator’s political beliefs. According to The Post:
Hikind said…that Petersen-Overton, 26, has written several academic papers that are anti-Israeli and attempt to understand [imagine that!!] suicide bombers. Hikind told The Post that after he was alerted by students, he reviewed the proposed curriculum and saw about 50 books listed — all of which blamed Israel for problems in the region.
“Not one of them presents another point of view,” Hikind said.
Students were more likely upset after being assigned to read 50 books! Brooklyn College has embarked on a craven, conspicuous cover-up in response, but this isn’t the first time the college has allowed much-publicized opposition from the school’s powerful pro-Israel faction to determine course at the school.
In 2002 and 2003, sometimes right-leaning history-professor KC Johnson merited national attention when he was denied tenure for, his department said, a lack of collegiality. He fought back, waging a battle that some supporters (many of whom appear to have been Jewish) turned ideological. Eventually, he won permanent employment. (Johnson’s personal account is far more dull, revolving around conflicts about academic philosophy and procedure.)
Years later, Johnson would help spearhead opposition when the college assigned incoming students to read Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, which Israeli apologists found insufficiently well-rounded (i.e., sympathetic to the Jewish point of view).
Statistics about religious affiliation among Brooklyn College students don’t seem to exist, but anecdotal evidence (such as the preponderance of yarmulkes and long skirts on campus) would strongly suggest that the school attracts a large number of conservative Jewish students from surrounding neighborhoods, like Midwood. Student government elections are often waged between candidates who represent the school’s Jewish bloc and its African-American caucus.
Did the former have anything to do with Petersen-Overton’s dismissal? Brooklyn College said that Petersen-Overton was dismissed because of inadequate credentials—because he is “very early on in his doctoral studies.” I asked an adjunct in a different department about the claim.
“This doesn’t sound right to me, especially considering I’ve been an adjunct for…years without a PhD,” he wrote in an e-mail. “After having read the article in question, [the] reading on the fishiness-meter went from eight to ten: in my opinion, [the college's excuse] sounds like a smokescreen.”
A check of Brooklyn College’s website indicates that adjunct professors are required to have a PhD, while adjunct lecturers are not. When I asked my adjunct-source about this, he wrote back:
“Then why would they hire him as an adjunct in the first place?”
Petersen-Overton spoke to Counterpunch about the situation:
I was hired by Mark Ungar at Brooklyn College’s political science department on the recommendation of Dov Waxman at the Graduate Center. I went in for an interview, and he was impressed with my credentials. I have an MA and I’ve published on the situation [in the Middle East], and he said “I would be honored to have you”…I have not once been contacted by the department itself, but I was told that the official reason I have been fired is that I don’t have a PhD, which is untrue, because no student teaching this course has a PhD, and there are of course many student teachers at BC who do not have their PhD’s. And I’ll point out that I am somewhat more qualified than many student teachers because I came into the program with a Master’s degree, which many students who are teaching for CUNY don’t have.
Petersen-Overton has since omitted any mention of Brooklyn College from his CV.
Unfortunately, the Petersen-Overton case is not unique at Brooklyn College. Once again, academic decisions there have been determined not by educators, but by a powerful and coordinated political resistance that can use its muscle in state government to silence any opposition to its worldview—to the detriment of its student body.
More information here.