Last week The Chronicle of Higher Education featured a story about City University of New York and a teach-in held there earlier in the week. The teach-in was held to discuss potential causes for the attacks of Sept. 11. The article stated that two members of the CUNY Board of Trustees for the university drafted a resolution that “[condemned] professors who criticized U.S. foreign policy.” The Trustees formed this resolution even though neither of them attended the meeting. Matthew Goldstein, the university’s chancellor, also condemned the professors without attending the teach-in. The reprimands seemed to be issued more because of miscommunication about the event than any other reason.
CUNY should further investigate the message conveyed at the teach-in before issuing a reprimand. The reasons the trustees gave for drafting the resolution were that the teach-in took place only 100 blocks from where the World Trade Center towers once stood, and that the professors expressed “lame excuses” for the attack without any concern for the victims or their families. The professors, however, maintain that they were not trying to make excuses for the attacks, but merely show what lead the attacks to happen.
These professors happen to think that U.S. foreign policy is to blame for the events leading up to the attack. Bill Crain, a psychology professor, was quoted in The Chronicle as saying, “…U.S. alliances have shifted. We support one person, and then another, but the constant is violence. We need to address that and work for peace.” Professor Walter Daum said, “In no way am I sympathetic to what was mass murder.”
In this very sensitive time, it is important to remember that freedom of speech should be observed very closely. The Board of Trustees for CUNY said that while they knew they couldn’t fire the professors, they invited them to “take a hike.”
CUNY should more carefully examine what the professors at the teach-in exactly expressed before issuing a formal reprimand. Even if they still completely disagree with the comments made, they must remember everyone in this country has a right to express their opinion.
We commend Lawrence for its willingness to let people speak freely about the events of Sept. 11, whether it be through a board in the union, or organized panel discussions. We hope that CUNY will take measures to ensure that their freedom of speech rights be as respected as they are at schools like Lawrence.