Brooklyn College Chapter Statement on Kristofer Petersen-Overton

Dear Colleagues,

As you've likely heard by now, last week Mr. Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a doctoral student at the Graduate Center, was denied by the Provost an appointment to teach a Political Science graduate course on Middle East politics this semester.

Mr. Petersen-Overton had been recommended for the position by a member of the Political Science faculty at the Graduate Center, was interviewed by the Political Science graduate deputy, and was subsequently offered the class. With Mr. Petersen-Overton's permission, the graduate deputy sent a draft syllabus to the students registered for the course. One of the students in the course raised concerns about the breadth of the course readings, and the graduate deputy and Mr. Petersen-Overton made some changes to the syllabus to broaden the focus of the course. On Monday, January 24, Mr Petersen-Overton signed the hiring paperwork. At the same time, Assemblyman Dov Hikind heard of the student's objection to the draft syllabus and subsequently wrote a letter to President Gould and Chancellor Goldstein expressing his concern about the political content of Mr. Petersen-Overton's scholarship. On Thursday the 27th, Mr. Peterson-Overton was informed that the Provost had blocked his hire the day before. At no time did the administration contact Mr. Petersen-Overton to discuss his qualifications or the contents of the course.

According to College Director of Communications Jeremy Thompson, as quoted in the New York Times, the Provost denied approval of the appointment because of Mr. Petersen-Overton's qualifications and experience. The Provost repeated this explanation in a letter to department chairs.

Regardless of the Provost’s explanations, his actions were clearly taken in response to external political pressure. This sort of capitulation, in contravention of best practices regarding academic freedom and faculty governance, undermines the mission of the college and is inimical to the goal of shaping Brooklyn College into a leading urban public liberal arts institution serving a diverse population. The administration's weak support for academic freedom is demoralizing, if not outright chilling, and we are gravely concerned about future support for the kind of cutting-edge and challenging research and teaching which distinguishes many Brooklyn College faculty.

We reaffirm the primary role of departments in exercising academic judgment about the qualifications of adjunct faculty for teaching courses; we affirm that the principles of academic freedom must hold for all faculty and scholars at the University; and we call on the Brooklyn College administration to issue a public apology to Kristofer Petersen-Overton and the Political Science department, to appoint Mr. Petersen-Overton in accordance with his and the Political Science department’s wishes, and to publicly affirm its commitment to an active defense of academic freedom and shared governance.

We will be holding a meeting on March 1 to discuss the pattern of events of which this is but one example, and we are drafting a resolution to bring to the floor of Faculty Council.

Executive Committee of the Brooklyn College chapter of the Professional Staff Congress

Related article: PSC statement on Petersen-Overton.

Related article: Kristofer Petersen-Overton Gets His Job Back.