First Amendment and Academic Freedom Triumph at Brooklyn College

September 14, 2005

BROOKLYN, N.Y., September 14, 2005—In a swift and crucial victory for freedom of speech and academic freedom, Brooklyn College has affirmed that prominent professor K. C. Johnson will not be subjected to an unconstitutional inquisition into his views.  The college surrendered mere days after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) came to Johnson’s public defense.
Since May of this year, Johnson has been speaking out against the use of “dispositions” theory by Brooklyn College’s School of Education (SOE).  Since this theory requires that education students’ commitment to “social justice” be evaluated along with academic performance, Johnson fears its use constitutes an ideological litmus test and invites viewpoint discrimination.
In response to Johnson’s constitutionally protected statements, dozens of SOE professors demanded in a June 20 letter that he cease his “attacks.”  Most chillingly, it was also alleged at an “emergency academic freedom meeting” of the faculty union that Johnson would face an official investigation by an “Integrity Committee.”
Johnson never received any notice of such an investigation, nor did the administration confirm or deny its existence.  Since he faced a similar secret investigation during a 2002 tenure dispute—and the administration dissolved the student government last fall for passing a resolution it did not like—he was not overly confident that his freedom of speech would be protected.
“Professors certainly have a right to disagree about pedagogy,” noted David French, president of FIRE.  “It would have been both illegal and immoral for Brooklyn College to allow K. C. Johnson to face another official inquisition.  Thankfully, this dire outcome has been averted.”
FIRE wrote to Brooklyn College President Christoph M. Kimmich on August 18 to demand that he squelch any investigation of Johnson.  Given the clear threat to Johnson’s expressive rights, FIRE requested a response by September 2 and received nothing.  But shortly after FIRE went public, a letter from Kimmich arrived certifying that Johnson faces no investigation.
“Justice Brandeis was absolutely right that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant,’” remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy.  “As soon as Brooklyn College started to feel the heat from the media, the administration finally affirmed that K. C. Johnson’s rights would be respected.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities.  FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws.
CONTACT:
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david@www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws

Schools: Brooklyn College, City University of New York Cases: Brooklyn College: Possible Investigation of Professor’s Expression