'Academic Freedom Week' brings radical leftist profs to Columbia

Sandor Farkas
Collegiate Network Fellow

  • A student group at Columbia University is hosting an "Academic Freedom Week" this month featuring a roster of notorious left-wing academics, including anti-Semites, Antifa supporters, and racial bigots.
  • Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said the organizers are misappropriating the term “academic freedom” as a vessel for “crude propaganda, browbeating, [and] excoriation of their opponents.”
  • An upcoming “Academic Freedom Week” at Columbia University is slated to feature a roster of notorious left-wing academics, including anti-Semites, Antifa supporters, and racial bigots.

    The series of events, sponsored by the Columbia University Apartheid Divest student group, will be held in university facilities from April 9 to April 11, and will feature three panels: “On The Palestine Exception,” “White Supremacy in Academia,” and “Academic Antifascism.” 

    "It is an abuse of the concept of ‘academic freedom’ to say that it has anything to do with the legitimate purposes of the university."   

    The event’s website boldly proclaims that “We Will Not Be Silenced!” before quoting Columbia alumna and activist Audre Lorde’s declaration that “Your silence will not protect you.” By its own admission, the event aims not merely to “call attention to the ongoing attempts to destroy academic freedom,” but also to “help chart out new ways to defend an outspoken, progressive politics.”

    [RELATED: Prof: Students learn ‘progressive values’ from faculty]

    “The battle for academic freedom at our nation’s universities has been going on for decades, reaching its most repressive stage during the McCarthy Era,” the event description begins, asserting that “due to the rise of the so-called Alt-Right, progressive academics are once again under attack.”

    Noting that professors have been disciplined for inflammatory social media posts, that “Black Lives Matter activists have had to endure threats from Alt-Right trolls,” and that “whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning” have had invitations revoked by major universities, the event organizers declare that “we cannot allow university administrations to continue to collude with Alt-Right bigots to silence our voices.”

    Comparing the climate at Columbia to “a battlefield where we are pitted against those who seek to lull us into narrow-minded bigotry, against those who seek to police the way we think and act,” the organizers say they are seeking to give a platform to “a range of academics and activists who have been, because of their ideas and activism, assailed and silenced by universities across the country.”

    [RELATED: Prof calls whites 'inhuman assholes,' says 'let them die']

    The first panel, On The Palestine Exception (with some thoughts concerning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Zionism in the academy), features Rutgers University professor Jasbir Puar, Columbia professor Joseph Massad, and UCLA/Columbia professor Gil Hochberg.

    The event description opens by quoting white supremacist Richard Spencer on his support for Israel, proclaiming that “the link between anti-Semitism and Zionism has a long history,” and that Spencer is “hardly an aberration in linking the basic precepts of Zionism to the White Supremacist desire of [sic] a white ethno-state.”

    Prominent scholars have accused Puar, who has claimed that Israel harvests Palestinian organs, of advancing a modern blood libel. When a Jewish student at Dartmouth College attempted to record Puar repeating these claims during a panel discussion, Dartmouth professor Annabel Martín allegedly threatened him with force and arrest. When the student chose to leave, another panelist reportedly called him out using anti-Semitic language.

    Joseph Massad, who also appears on the panel, is known in part for his theory that anti-Semitism is not a uniquely anti-Jewish phenomenon, and that it currently takes the form of European and Jewish hatred of Arabs and Muslims. 

    Massad also allegedly demanded that an Israeli student disclose how many Arabs he had killed, and ordered another student to leave his class when he voiced support for Israel. In 2011, Massad’s anti-Semitism even prompted an investigation by the Department of Education when it was revealed that a university advisor had recommended that a Jewish student avoid his class.

    [RELATED: Scholars accuse Duke of publishing 'academic anti-Semitism']

    The second panel, White Supremacy in Academia (Teaching and learning in a racist country), will feature Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams, Vassar College professor Dorothy Kim, CUNY professor Jessie Daniels, and Florida Gulf Coast University professor Ted Thornhill.

    Thornhill rose to prominence in the wake of media reports about his controversial “White Racism” course, and more recently gave a lecture at St. Olaf College during which he compared conservative students to Nazis, calling them “central characters in the on-campus white racist mob.”

    Williams provoked an even more vocal public outcry in the wake of the 2017 congressional shooting, posting statements on his Facebook page that appeared to suggest that black first responders should have let the white victims die.

    [RELATED: Lawmakers want Trinity prof ousted for ‘reprehensible’ remarks]

    The final panel, Academic Antifascism (Self-defense strategies in response to the Alt-Right), will compare Hitler’s rise to power in Weimar Germany to the current American political climate, arguing that universities are under threat from “outright fascist ‘alt-right’ groups,” as well as from “alt-light” groups such as Turning point USA. 

    The panel will feature former Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher, Syracuse University professor Dana Cloud, Columbia Law School lecturer Kayum Ahmed, and San Diego State University professor Ozzie Monge, all of whom have courted racial controversy in the past.

    Monge, for instance, made headlines in January when the California Department of Justice completed an investigation that found he had harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against a white student based on her race, at one point accusing her of “cultural appropriation” for wearing a bandana and braids.

    Cloud made waves the previous summer with a tweet calling for members of the Syracuse community to “finish off” conservative protesters who were holding an anti-Sharia law demonstration, crowing that “we almost have the fascists in [sic] on the run.” 

    Ciccariello-Maher, for his part, resigned from his tenured position at Drexel in December 2017, attributing the decision to “harassment by right-wing white supremacist media outlets and internet mobs” that he endured as a result of several provocative tweets.

    He first gained notoriety in 2016 for tweeting that “All I want for Christmas is White Genocide,” and subsequently attracted further criticism for tweets blaming “whiteness” for the Las Vegas shooting and describing how he “tried not to vomit” after witnessing an airline passenger give up his first-class seat for a uniformed soldier.

    Last October, Ahmed filed a complaint with Columbia over the College Republicans’ decision to invite a speaker he disagreed with, arguing that Tommy Robinson’s “presence on campus (albeit via Skype) is a threat to my safety and security.” At the time, Ahmed was one of 15 individuals under investigation by the university for playing a role in the disruptive protests that ultimately prevented Robinson from finishing his lecture.

    [RELATED: Prof says punishing disruptive students is unfair to the left]

    Peter Wood, a renowned historian and president of the National Association of Scholars, told Campus Reform that in his view, “Academic Freedom Week” confuses academic freedom with free speech.

    While the First Amendment protects individuals from government interference, he explained, academic freedom simply refers to a university’s commitment not to interfere with scholars “engaged in the pursuit of truth” and to respect their autonomy in “research, teaching, and publication,” as well as “respect for the freedom of students to make up their own minds.”

    According to Wood, the Columbia event features “a mélange of speakers who have little regard for academic standards,” and appears to be misappropriating the term “academic freedom” as a vessel for “crude propaganda, browbeating, [and] excoriation of their opponents.”

    “All of that can and should be permitted as First Amendment free speech,” he pointed out, “but it is an abuse of the concept of ‘academic freedom’ to say that it has anything to do with the legitimate purposes of the university.”

    When reached for comment, the witty and erudite organizers of Academic Freedom Week told Campus Reform that “the event is being hosted by the Department of Cultural Marxism and the George Soros Center for Globalism at Columbia University,” adding that “our sponsors include Che Guevara, Malcom X, and our parents[‘] trust funds.”

    In response to Wood’s comments, they sent a link to a video featuring footage of a martial arts movie edited into a leftist fantasy.

    Campus Reform also reached out to the American Association of University Professors, which regularly comes to the defense of embattled liberal professors on academic freedom grounds, but has not received a response.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @SFarkas48





    Sandor Farkas

    Sandor Farkas

    Collegiate Network Fellow
    Sandor Farkas is a Collegiate Network Fellow at Campus Reform. Prior to starting this fellowship, he was a Tikvah Fellow. Farkas earned a degree in history from Dartmouth College, where he was editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review. Farkas also serves as an officer in the Virginia Army National Guard.
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