Green Party of New York calls upon Bard College not to terminate Dr. Joel Kovel

On The Wilder Side:

Accuses College of Dismissing Kovel for Writings on Zionism and Israel

The Green Party of New York State condemns the recent termination of Dr. Joel Kovel by Bard College after 20 years on its faculty. We agree with Dr. Kovel, a former Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York, that this termination appears to be motivated by political considerations, notably his outspoken criticism in recent years of Zionism and Israeli policy. This incident is part of an escalating attack in America on academics who are critical of Israel’s behavior in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Party calls on Bard College to immediately reinstate Dr. Kovel and restore its reputation as one of the most open and intellectually diverse campuses in the nation.

“A fundamental principle of mine is that the educator must criticize the injustices of the world, whether or not this involves him or her in conflict with the powers that be,” noted Dr. Kovel. “The systematic failure of the academy to do so plays no small role in the perpetuation of injustice and state violence. In no sphere of political action does this principle apply more vigorously than with the question of Zionism; and in no country is this issue more strategically important than in the United States, given the fact that United States support is necessary for Israel’s behavior.”

“I take the view that Israeli human rights abuses are deeply engrained in a culture of impunity, granted chiefly, though not exclusively, in the United States — which culture arises from suppression of debate and open inquiry within those institutions, such as colleges, whose social role it is to enlighten the public,” said Dr. Kovel. “Therefore, if the world stands outraged at Israeli aggression in Gaza, it should also be outraged at institutions in the United States that grant Israel impunity. In my view, Bard College is one such institution. It has suppressed critical engagement with Israel and Zionism, and therefore has enabled abuses such as have occurred and are occurring in Gaza.”

Dr. Kovel, who is Jewish, practiced psychiatry and psychoanalysis for twenty-four years. In 1988 he was appointed to the Alger Hiss Chair of Social Studies at Bard College. He has published over a hundred articles and essays and nine books, including White Racism, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1972. More recently, he has obtained national attention for his writings on ecosocialism, including the acclaimed book, The Enemy of Nature.

While Bard defends its action on the grounds of budgetary constraints, Dr. Kovel said that his problems with the Bard administration began shortly after he published an article in 2002 entitled “Zionism’s Bad Conscience.” In 2003, after the publication of another article on the “one-state solution” in Israel/Palestine — which would grant full equal rights to all residents, whether Israeli or Palestinian — he was informed by the Dean and Executive Vice-President of the college that he would henceforth be employed half-time.

In 2007, after publication by The University of Michigan of his book Overcoming Zionism, Dr. Kovel came under attack by various pro-Israeli groups and the book was pulled from distribution. Bard College did nothing during this period to defend or protect his rights as a faculty member — a highly unusual act by any institution of higher learning. Only public outcry forced the publisher to reinstate the work. Finally, the committee to review his contract this year included the campus’ Protestant chaplain, Professor Bruce Chilton, an outspoken member of pro-Zionist circles.

“This is an act that has disturbing implications for any scholar that questions the orthodoxy on Zionism,” said Green Party of New York State co-chair Peter LaVenia. “Professor Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007 because of his numerous works questioning Zionism and Israeli policies. Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt — both hardly political radicals — have been shunned from numerous speaking engagements because of their book, The Israel Lobby.

“The academy is supposed to be a place where controversial ideas are welcomed as contributing to knowledge, debate, and discussion: the foundation of any involved democratic citizenry,” continued Mr. LaVenia. “This is a systematic attempt by disapproving members of the public and academic administrations to silence a point of view with which they disagree.”


Reposted to IPR by Paulie.

24 thoughts on “Green Party of New York calls upon Bard College not to terminate Dr. Joel Kovel

  1. Chris Moore

    Many colleges are facing huge operation budget shortfalls, which is forcing them to make cuts. Faculty and staff salaries and benefits are generally somewhere close to 75-80% of the operating budget, if not more. There reaches a point where faculty have to be let go, and typically the first thing that happens is faculty already at or nearing retirement are asked to do so, sometimes forced to do so. In this case, apparently Dr. Kovel was only part-time, yearly-renewable contract, anyway. These positions are ALWAYS the first to go in tight economic times.

    Having some knowledge of university budgets and the current strain on those budgets, my guess is that Dr. Kovel is not the only Bard non-tenured professor being let go. Bard not renewing his contract also probably has absolutely nothing to do with his political views, considering (1) they didn’t actually fire him, they just aren’t renewing his contract, (2) they’re giving him emeritus status, and (3) he’s been employed at Bard for two decades while holding the same political views.

    The other side of this story is presented at Inside Higher Ed:

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/02/19/kovel

  2. paulie cannoli Post author

    Chris,

    While what you say is certainly part of the picture, I would not be at all surprised if continually and publicly speaking out about certain aspects of his views is what put him on the chopping block.

  3. HS

    Yes, from what I understand they are just not renewing his contract. It seems the professor has run afoul of a number of students over the last few years as well. If he was tenured, people very likely would have complained about how his tenure protected professors who could no longer perform up to standard. We’ve all had such professors.

    On a related note, there is a campaign by anti-Israel people to force Israeli professors, including Israeli-Americans, out of university teaching positions based solely on their nationality. I very much doubt that the Green Party would lift a finger on behalf of such people. And maybe that is what galls me the most.

  4. Carol Moore

    How many of those students he ran afoul of were IDF volunteers or members or hard core Israeli supporters who summer there on all that land confiscated from Palestinians over 60 years? The good thing about self-employment is no one can fire you. But good luck him and 30 profs getting together and starting their own little university. Statist rules and regulations. But they should try!

  5. HS

    Bard College apparently is a prominent supporter of a Palestinian university. Wonder what evil, statist ploy these university powers are using to further attack the Palestinian cause by supporting their education.

    As for all those IDF volunteers, the article about the students at this US school don’t mention. Of course most people in Israel don’t volunteer for the IDF as it is required after high school.

  6. paulie cannoli Post author

    Of course most people in Israel don’t volunteer for the IDF as it is required after high school.

    One of the main reasons why we ended up moving to the US rather than Israel, as originally planned.

  7. Leymann Feldenstein

    “Many colleges are facing huge operation budget shortfalls, which is forcing them to make cuts.”

    I wonder what influence wealthy donors, if any, might have on this decision. Especially if the donors are pro-Zionist.

  8. Gene Berkman

    Joel Kovel is a socialist who attacks capitalism because he claims it destroys the environment. He apparently has not done research on the destruction of the environment by socialist industry in Russia, China & East Europe.

    It figures he would have the Alger Hiss chair.

    Where I can write the university to show my support for dumping this guy?

  9. paulie cannoli Post author

    Joel Kovel is a socialist who attacks capitalism because he claims it destroys the environment. He apparently has not done research on the destruction of the environment by socialist industry in Russia, China & East Europe.

    It figures he would have the Alger Hiss chair.

    Where I can write the university to show my support for dumping this guy?

    I hope that does not mean you favor universities doing away with academic freedom, and getting rid of any and all professors that get too many complaints about their views?

  10. MDGreen

    I’ve been lurking here since before the election, and maybe posted, but most likely under a different name. I’d like to just chime in that I was in Joel Kovel’s class on Zionism and know him personally. HS’s comments are totally unfounded–He was an amazing teacher and the majority of the class had no issues with him. In fact, several of his former students have started a petition to get him back and I know even more have signed it.

  11. Gene Berkman

    Paulie,

    Academic freedom is like freedom of the press. Joel Kovel has the right to raise money from his Green (or Red) friends to open a university, and noone should have the right to stop him.

    But no university owes him a position as the measure of academic freedom. I dropped out of college because the University of California has a definition of academic freedom that leaves out anyone to the right of Leon Trotsky.

  12. Gregg Jocoy

    HS wrote:

    On a related note, there is a campaign by anti-Israel people to force Israeli professors, including Israeli-Americans, out of university teaching positions based solely on their nationality. I very much doubt that the Green Party would lift a finger on behalf of such people. And maybe that is what galls me the most.

    As an active member of the Green Party since August of 2000, I can say without a doubt that the members of the Green Party would certainly lift a finger to help a faculty member dismissed based only on his or her state of origin. Whether the national party would take up the cause is a different matter. I do think it’s appropriate to point out that this action has been taken by the New York state party.

    If Kovel is an ineffective educator, is engaged in sexual harassment or other serious violations on his authority, or is being removed for other real reasons, then I would say nothing in his defense.

    In fact, since I don’t know the particulars, and seriously doubt you do either, I have made no such defense here, but instead am defending my party from uneducated attack.

  13. Green Ferret

    “On a related note, there is a campaign by anti-Israel people to force Israeli professors, including Israeli-Americans, out of university teaching positions based solely on their nationality. I very much doubt that the Green Party would lift a finger on behalf of such people. And maybe that is what galls me the most.”

    Dr. Kovel and Dr. Finkelstein are both Jewish. They are being railroaded by the academic establishment for criticizing Israel, and the Green Party is sticking up for them. If they were Palestinian, or Mongolian for that matter, the Green Party would still stick up for them.

    It is very ugly to imply that someone is racist just because they stand up for human rights. Please think twice before you do that – it is pretty galling to see good people being labelled anti-semitic by those who can’t think of any other way to defend Israel’s behavior.

    Peace

  14. BBQ

    anyone who is standing against the killing of innocents and racist policies of some extremist lunatics will find a place among the angels
    in heaven.
    joel kovel. this bard college does not deserve you. leave bostein and his clowns.
    any state founded on the idea of one race or one religion does not have its place in our century
    this is obama generation… move on guys!!!

  15. paulie cannoli Post author

    Academic freedom is like freedom of the press.

    Yes, it is. I consider both to be good and important principles to uphold.


    Joel Kovel has the right to raise money from his Green (or Red) friends to open a university, and noone should have the right to stop him.

    Certainly, they should. But, the regulatory climate of the managerial state would, ironically, make the business rather difficult to get off the ground – whether it was non-profit or for-profit.

    I doubt that libertarian professors would last very long in a climate of attrition by complaint.

    Oh, sure, they could start a libertarian college. But how many new minds would they open?

    It’s not so much that I want the state to enforce academic freedom; but, academia and public opinion should self-enforce it.

    And, I wish we’d stop acting as if we already had a genuine free market. Most of the money in higher education – even at nominally private institutions, with very few exceptions – comes from the tax coffers at one level or another.

    I don’t know if the financial necessity reason the college gave is genuine, or a false excuse. But, if they really are firing him for his views, they should be condemned.

    University of California has a definition of academic freedom that leaves out anyone to the right of Leon Trotsky

    Luckily for me, I’m far to the left of that scalawag.

  16. Chris Moore

    Facts:

    (1) Dr. Kovel was VERY outspoken against Israel long before his employment at Bard, and he continued to be VERY outspoken for the 20 YEARS he was employed by Bard.

    (2) Many adjunct professors and non-tenured/non-tenure-track faculty AT Bard did not have their contracts renewed for next year.

    (3) Dr. Kovel was non-tenured faculty at Bard.

    (4) Many adjunct professors and non-tenured/non-tenure-track faculty across the country did or will not have their contracts renewed for next year, whether they teach in fields that breed controversy or they teach physics.

    (5) When Provosts have to balance a shrinking budget, adjuncts and non-tenure-track faculty and staff are the first to go.

    (6) Bard’s president stated in a letter to Dr. Kovel that had the state of the college’s budget been different, they would have retained him.

    (7) The American Association of University Professors has not lifted one pinky in protest.

    These are all facts. The sum of these facts makes it fairly obvious to me that Kovel’s non-renewal had NOTHING to do with his political views. I’m not sure why now, after 20 years, the Bard administration would have decided his political views aren’t acceptable.

    When people constantly attempt to fight battles that do not exist, they severely reduce their credibility.

  17. BBQ

    not sure about the matrix and all that stuff
    cannoli
    i just know that israel lives in the past while most nations today live beyond ethnic and religious divide..

  18. paulie cannoli Post author

    not sure about the matrix and all that stuff

    It was a pun on the different meanings of the word generation

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/generation

    Here’s the Matrix scene for reference:

    i just know that israel lives in the past while most nations today live beyond ethnic and religious divide..

    You mean like India and Pakistan? The Philippines? South Africa? Ireland? Iraq? Canada? Guatemala?

    There are numerous other ethnic and religious divides in the world.

  19. G.E.

    Hey Commie Greens: If we had a free market in education, then supposing the demand for antisemtic professors was high (which it would be), your guy’s job would be safe. Instead, we have politicized firing not based on market demand. That’s what you get, Marxists.

  20. MDGreen

    Let me try to correct some misnomers:

    “(1) Dr. Kovel was VERY outspoken against Israel long before his employment at Bard, and he continued to be VERY outspoken for the 20 YEARS he was employed by Bard.”

    That is not true at all and you have clearly not read his statement and chronology of his termination here: http://www.joelkovel.org/#bardstatement When he first criticized Israel, he shortly afterwards lost the Alger Hiss Chair. The second time he wrote an article on the subject, he received a call asking him to resign. So this point is incorrect.

    ” Many adjunct professors and non-tenured/non-tenure-track faculty AT Bard did not have their contracts renewed for next year”

    Eight did not. There are still some at Bard, but I don’t know the exact statistic here.

    “Dr. Kovel was non-tenured faculty at Bard.”

    He was a presidential appointee, so yes, this point is correct.

    ” Bard’s president stated in a letter to Dr. Kovel that had the state of the college’s budget been different, they would have retained him.”

    I am not sure what letter you are referring to, as this is the first time I’ve heard of such a letter from the President to Joel Kovel. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    ” The American Association of University Professors has not lifted one pinky in protest”

    Not true. Or at least the President of the AAUP has issued a public statement. http://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2009/02/21/academic-freedom-news-ward-churchill-joel-kovel/

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