It's academic (freedom)

When Brooklyn College history Prof. Robert (K.C.) Johnson was turned down for tenure last fall, it was not for lack of teaching ability. Put simply, he didn't work well with others. More precisely, certain others. It was politics that trumped his academic credentials.

Johnson's offense? An alleged lack of collegiality. That is code. Johnson had criticized a campus teach-in on the Middle East because it included no participants who favored U.S. or Israeli policy. That's not a teach-in, that's a propaganda-in. More recently, Johnson challenged a faculty search that appeared to be based on gender rather than merit. For that, he was accused of arrogance and uncooperativeness.

There was not one legitimate reason for denying promotion to this Harvard-educated professor who, at 34, has authored several books on Congress and foreign policy and has another in the works. He also edited Lyndon Johnson's presidential tapes. And he draws raves from students. In fact, some Brooklyn professors and 24 professors from leading universities around the country backed Johnson as he tried to save his job.

Saved, it now is. Thanks to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, who has overturned last year's decision by Brooklyn College President Christoph Kimmich. Courageously, Goldstein had named a high-octane panel to review Johnson's case and, on its recommendation, promoted him this week to full professor, with tenure.

The chancellor has been striving to upgrade CUNY and its reputation. His actions in the Johnson case are testimony to that, sending the right message: Scholarship and teaching ability come first. And academic freedom is worth fighting for.

Originally published on February 28, 2003