AAUP Pres Irene Mulvey: Columbia Pres Shafik Trampled on Students’ Rights, by Michael Brenner

A statement from AAUP president Irene Mulvey:

Wednesday, before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, President Shafik threw academic freedom and Columbia University faculty under the bus instead of providing what higher education and democracy require: a robust defense of academic freedom and its essential protection of extramural speech. While one can sympathize with the fact that the hearing was a set-up from the get-go and intended to generate sound bites and clickbait to serve a political agenda, any university president worth their salt (and salary) should stand unequivocally for free and open inquiry, especially when topics are controversial and polarizing, and debates are heated and messy.

This performance was extremely disappointing, but what followed was worse: Shafik trampled on students’ associational and free speech rights by declaring a peaceful, outdoor protest a “clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the University.” She then invoked a Columbia statute that allows external authorities to end campus disruptions. Her decision resulted in the NYPD arresting over 100 students occupying an outdoor lawn. Notably, the statute requires consultation involving the University Senate’s Executive Committee which does not appear to have occurred, according to the executive committee’s chair.

President Shafik’s actions clearly fail to meet the standards announced in the Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students:

College and university students are both citizens and members of the academic community. As citizens, students should enjoy the same freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and right of petition that other citizens enjoy and, as members of the academic community, they are subject to the obligations that accrue to them by virtue of this membership. Faculty members and administration officials should ensure that institutional powers are not employed to inhibit such intellectual and personal development of students as is often promoted by their exercise of the rights of citizenship both on and off campus.

Our campuses should be places of learning and education. Our goal should be dialogue and communication in service of understanding. Critically evaluating different points of view and putting up to debate even the most deeply held beliefs are what we should be promoting, modeling and supporting. President Shafik’s silencing of peaceful protesters and having them hauled off to jail does a grave disservice to Columbia’s reputation and will be a permanent stain on her presidential legacy.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which spoke up on my behalf when Yale terminated me for my public speech, has released a cogent joint statement through the Barnard and Columbia Chapters (I reproduce it here in full, as it has received too little publicity):

The American Association of University Professors has defined two central pillars of higher education in America: academic freedom and shared governance: the freedom to teach and do research without interference from entities external to the profession; and the “inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students.” In the last three days, Columbia University President Shafik and her administration have seriously violated both. We are shocked at her failure to mount any defense of the free inquiry central to the educational mission of a university in a democratic society and at her willingness to appease legislators seeking to interfere in university affairs. She has demonstrated flagrant disregard of shared governance in her acceptance of partisan charges that anti-war demonstrators are violent and antisemitic and in her unilateral and wildly disproportionate punishment of peacefully protesting students.

President Shafik’s testimony before the House Education and Workforce Committee on April 17 has profoundly disturbed us. In the face of slanderous assaults on Columbia faculty and students and of gross interference in academic practices by Congressional inquisitors, President Shafik not only did not object—she capitulated to their demands. Academic freedom was formulated from its very beginning to safeguard faculty from political or other non-academic sources of intrusion. President Shafik, the co-chairs of the Board of Trustees, and the former Dean of the Law School allowed this freedom for Columbia faculty to be publicly shredded. They effectively pledged, on the Congressional record, to end academic freedom at Columbia.

President Shafik’s decision on April 18 to call upon the New York Police Department to arrest over one hundred students for engaging in a peaceful protest is a grotesque violation of norms of shared governance. Section 444 of University Statutes, put in place after the police attacks of 1968, requires “consultation” with the University Senate executive committee before anything so drastic as yesterday’s attack would be permitted. President Shafik’s administration did not consult; they informed the committee of its decision. “The Executive Committee did not approve the presence of NYPD on campus,” said the Executive Committee Chair, adding that the Committee came to their decision “unequivocally.” President Shafik’s decision to invite the NYPD to campus was thus undertaken unilaterally, disregarding the very idea of shared governance.

In Wednesday’s hearing, President Shafik repeatedly claimed that she was inaugurating a new era at Columbia. Her actions thus far suggest that this era will be one of repressed speech, political restrictions on academic inquiry, and punitive discipline against the University’s own students and faculty. As the protesters’ chant rightly states, “Protest is democracy; this is a travesty!” AAUP Barnard and Columbia pledge continued support for our students’ right to protest and to speak freely, and for our colleagues’ right to teach and to write freely within their domains of expertise. We have lost confidence in our president and administration, and we pledge to fight to reclaim our university.