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Defending their Right to Say It -- at Graduation

posted May 1, 2017, 10:06 AM by Emily Tai   [ updated May 14, 2017, 7:01 PM by Jay Weiser ]
By Jay Weiser

Clouds of pollen are blowing off the trees, which means it must be college commencement disinvitation season. Here in New York, sights are currently trained on Linda Sarsour, named keynote speaker at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy's inaugural commencement ceremony.

The CUNY University Faculty Senate Executive Committee has consistently defended academic freedom for all viewpoints. Among the controversies we have weighed in on:
Continuing our tradition, we defend SPH's invitation to Sarsour and her right to deliver her commencement address. As in previous controversies, we take no position on Sarsour's views. Instead, we believe that CUNY, and all universities, should be a forum for free discussion of all viewpoints. This is consistent with CUNY's Academic Freedom Policy:

The City University of New York should remain a forum for the advocacy of all ideas protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the principles of academic freedom. 

If you haven't been following the controversy, Sarsour has been a co-organizer of the National Women’s March and former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York -- as well as a prominent supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement and a defender of Sharia law.

SPH Dean Ayman El-Mohandes cites former President Barack Obama, who named Sarsour a Champion of Change. New York State Assembly Member Dov Hikind, however, calls Sarsour an "apologist for terrorism," and wants CUNY to withdraw her invitation. Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein agrees with Hikind.

Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo, told Politico New York:

Commencement speakers at CUNY are selected independently by the individual campuses, and the [CUNY Board of Trustees] does not approve the process or have any say in the matter.

We support this CUNY policy, enacted in the wake of the Kushner debacle, and urge the School of Public Health & Health Policy to involve faculty in the selection of commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients.

But most of all, we support Sarsour's right to speak at the SPH commencement. 

#commencement #disinvitation #cunysph #lindasarsour

Jay Weiser is Associate Professor of Law at Baruch College, a member of the UFS Executive Committee and UFS Legal Affairs Chair.

The UFS is preparing a formal statement to affirm our support for academic freedom as it pertains to this matter. We invite comments and posts from the UFS membership, which may be sent to the editor at etai@qcc.cuny.edu

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Image credit: Nick Youngson, The First AmendmentCreative Commons 3 - CC BY-SA 3.0