December 20, 2002

Rabinowitz blasts Brooklyn College

Today's Wall Street Journal prints Dorothy Rabinowitz's commentary on the botched tenure case at CUNY's Brooklyn College. The case centers on K.C. Johnson, a prodigious scholar and popular teacher who fell afoul of the history department's resident ideologues just in time for them to sabotage his bid for tenure. Rabinowitz's piece lays out in devastating detail the nature of that sabotage: how Johnson walked on departmental water until the fall of 2001, when he angered his colleagues by suggesting that a proposed post-9/11 "teach-in" ought to include a diversity of perspectives (as conceived, all the participants in the teach-in were hostile to U.S. military response, and none were supporters of U.S. or Israeli policy); how he ran even further afoul of the prevailing departmental orthodoxy later that year, when he suggested that the department's search for a woman Europeanist ought rather to be a search for the best available Europeanist; how this second infraction led the department chair to begin building a spurious case against Johnson's bid for tenure; how the category of "collegiality" was leveraged against Johnson, whose principled disagreement with certain departmental and college actions was disingenuously cast as the unprincipled and uncollegial behavior of an arrogant and troubled young man.

Rabinowitz's short but damning piece makes it clear how far unscrupulous academics can and will go when they want to oust a colleague they find threatening (Johnson's productivity and popularity put that of many of his senior colleagues to shame) or repellant (in some academic circles, Johnson's principled objections to biased hiring and teaching practices are ideologically heretical) or both. Brooklyn College's history department is an exemplary instance of the sort of petty, internecine corruption that runs rife in academe, where accountability is minimal and the power to destroy careers is correspondingly high. In this, it is an argument against academic self-governance and an argument for a very large lawsuit from Johnson.