The unjust dismissal of Joel Kovel

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(continued)

Of course, Professor Chilton has the right to his opinion as an academic and a citizen. Nonetheless, the presence of such a voice on the committee whose conclusion was instrumental in the decision to remove me from the Bard faculty is highly dubious. Most definitely, Professor Chilton should have recused himself from this position. His failure to do so, combined with the fact that the decision as a whole was made in context of adversity between myself and the Bard administration, renders the process of my termination invalid as an instance of what the College’s Faculty Handbook calls a procedure “designed to evaluate each faculty member fairly and in good faith.”

I still strove to make my future at Bard the subject of reasonable negotiation. However, my efforts in this direction were rudely denied by Dean Dominy’s curt and dismissive letter (at the urging, according to her, of Vice-President Papadimitriou), which plainly asserted that there was nothing to talk over and that I was being handed a fait accompli. In view of this I considered myself left with no other option than the release of this document.

On the responsibililty of intellectuals

Bard has effectively crafted for itself an image as a bastion of progressive thought. Its efforts were crowned with being anointed in 2005 by the Princeton Review as the second-most progressive college in the United States, the journal adding that Bard “puts the ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal arts.'” But “liberal” thought evidently has its limits; and my work against Zionism has encountered these.

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. 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.

The worse this behavior, the more strenuous must be the suppression of criticism. I take the view, then, 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. 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. This notion is of course, not just descriptive of a place like Bard. It is also the context within which the critic of such a place and the Zionist ideology it enables becomes marginalized, and then removed. 

For further information: www.codz.org; Joel Kovel, “Overcoming Impunity,” The Link Jan-March 2009 (www.ameu.org).

To write the Bard administration:

President Leon Botstein: president@bard.edu

Executive Vice-President Dimitri Papadimitriou: dpapadimitrou@bard.edu

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