A.C.L.U. Slams John Bassett Cancellation of Dr Finkelstein Talk at Clark University

This is all too common when universities cancel events to preserve the public relations’ image of an institution. President  John Bassett is just the latest example of an execrable administrator who eagerly sacrifices academic excellence and the pursuit of truth to pacify the thought police of the Israel Lobby and other groups who support an Israel Can Do No Wrong Policy. President Bassett is a disgrace to academia, a disgrace to free inquiry, an enemy of critical thinking, a violator of A.A.U.P. principles on outside speakers and a coward who should resign and accept the opprobrium of enlightened people everywhere. The lesson of DePaul’s inquisition against Professors Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee is not more repression but less and not more refusal to entertain disparate ideas but less. Administrators generally cannot be trusted to enforce and lead on issues of academic freedom and intellectual diversity. Many have to be watched, prodded, and driven from office by faculty and students in order to preserve the academic viability of an institution. NOTE: “Bassett” is frequently misspelled “Basset” as seen in the press and on other venues engaged with this travesty. I went to the Clark University website and the president’s surname is “Bassett.”

John Bassett (President, Clark University) wearing the tuxedo!

Clark University President John Bassett Cancels Finkelstein

04.09.2009 | Original
Finkelstein comments: Part of the Clark University-Boston Globe disinformation campaign is the pretense that I was scheduled to speak on the Nazi holocaust. In fact I was scheduled to speak on the Gaza massacre. Isn’t it too perfect that Clark was using The Holocaust as a pretext to silence criticism of Israel?

The Scarlet – “Letters To The Editor”

04.09.2009 | The Scarlet
Bassett Makes Statement:

To the Editor: As some members of the campus community know, I have told the students involved with the Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights (CUSPR) that a planned talk by Professor Norman Finkelstein will not take place this semester. The University remains committed to inviting a wide range of speakers to encourage diversity of opinions on controversial topics. My decision was predicated on its untimely and unfortunate scheduling. The University began planning for the First International Graduate Students’ Conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies a year ago. While I do not believe that the students who invited Mr. Finkelstein to campus intended it as an affront to those planning the conference, in the eyes of many in the Clark community and our invited guests, it seems to be just that. It is possible that our understanding of the Middle East conflicts would be enriched by conversations with Professor Finkelstein. It is my judgement, however, that having Professor Finkelstein speak on the same evening as our planned conference would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding. By this letter, copied also to the Chair of the Faculty and the President of Student Government, I am asking the campus community — faculty, staff, and students — to engage in dialogues about the right breadth at Clark for visiting speakers on controversial topics, about related matters of scheduling as raised in this case, and about this particular case. I will consult with faculty, staff, and students right after Fall Break in early October and report back to The Scarlet on those discussions. After those discussions have taken place, I will be happy to discuss with interested students the appropriateness of an invitation to Mr. Finkelstein.

If you would like to express your opinion to President Bassett on his decision to cancel my lecture, you can reach him here:

presidentsoffice[at]clarku.edu, or through Clark University President’s Office contact page.

Please forward your letter to Normangf[at]hotmail.com for posting on this website.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Weighs In on Clark Cancellation

04.10.2009 | ACLU (pdf)

By email: presidentsoffice[at]clarku.edu and first class mail
John Bassett, President
Clark University
Geography Building – Room 202
950 Main St.
Worcester, MA 01610

Dear President Bassett:

The ACLU or Massachusetts is very disturbed bv your decision to cancel a talk by Norman Finkelstein who had been invited by a student organization to speak in April on the Clark campus. You have been Quoted in the Boston Globe today as saying that Finkelstein’s presence “would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding” and that you objected to the timing of his speech which was to take place on the first day of a conference on the Holocaust. Finkelstein’s lecture was not about the Holocaust (even though he is the son of two concentration camp survivors), but was to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. According to the Globe, the Jewish student organization Hillel raised objections to Finkelstein speaking at Clark.

I have also been informed that when students who had arranged the Finkelstein event met with you, the Dean, and the Provost, administrators referred to Finkelstein as as “extremist” who was “beyond controversial”, thus warranting cancellation of his speaking engagement.

In an email on this issue, you have stated:

There is no question that Clark University stands for full freedom of inquiry in the pursuit of truth and of the good. My decision in this case was based solely on the unfortunate timing of the propsed talk…. Clark’s Difficult Dialogues series next year is focusing on Israel and Palestine. We need to be good listeners to many perspectives. Perhaps one of those will be Norman Finkelstein’s.

Email from Bassett to Witty available at philipweiss.org

Even if you are now relying solely on the timing of the Finkelstein talk, as opposed to his being controversial or “beyond controversial”, the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship. Certainly the Clark University campus is large enough to accommodate a speech at the same time as a conference on another subject. This is not the kind of “time, place or manner” restriction on a speaker who is seeks to speak in the same location at the same time as another speaker.

Nor may complaints from those disturbed by Finkelstein’s writings about the post-Holocaust “industry” justify a decision to prevent the lecture from taking place. Indeed, even if demonstrators came to protest against Finkelstein’s views, the obligation of a university is to protect the spaeker’s right to be heard and prevent diisruption of the speech by others. By censoring speech because of complains about offensiveness or the controversial nature of the speaker, the university has essentially allowed what the courts call a “heckler’s veto” over what speech can be heard.

Not only does this censorship violate Clark University’s own principles and your statement that “Clark University stands for full freedom of inquiry,” but it also at odds with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) principles, under which Clark University receives accreditation. Standard Eleven: Integrity, at 11.3 provides that the institution must be “committed the the free pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. It assures faculty and students the freedom to teach and study a given field, to examine all the pertinent date, to question assumptions, and to be guided by the evidence of scholarly research.”

The University’s censorship also conflicts with the principles of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The AAUP statement on outside speakers is available at their website and is relevant to the issue of censorship based on objections by others to a speaker:

The university is no place for a heckler’s veto….We have always been clear that colleges and universities bear the obligation to ensure conditions of peaceful discussion, which at times can be quite onerous. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances can strong evidence of imminent danger justify rescinding an invitation to an outside speaker.

There was no such evidence in this case.

These principles are just as important at a private university like Clark University as they are at a public university which is bound by the First Amendment. This was recognized recently by Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow.

While Tufts is a private institution and not technically bound by First Amendment guarantees, it is my intention to govern as President as if we were. To put it another way, I believe that students, faculty, and staff should enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression at Tufts as they would if they attended or worked at a public university….During the McCarthy era, a number of university presidents in the United States failed to defend the principle of expression. Students, faculty, and stuff paid for this equivocation as the government sought to purge University campuses of those expressing particularly unpopular opinions. We must be vigilant in defending individual liberties even if it means that from time to time we must tolerate speech that violates our stadards of civility and respect.

“Freedom of Expression at Tufts” (August 27, 2007)

The Tufts president is not alone. The Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences has adopted free speech guidelines which include a similar statement:

Because no other community defines itself so much in terms of knowledge, few others place such a high priority on freedom of speech. As a community, we take certain risks by assigning such a high priority to free speech. We assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the short-term unpleasnt effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not permit censorship of noxious ideas. We are commited to maintaining a climate in which reason and speech provide the correct response to a disagreeable idea.

https://www.fas.harvard.edu/~secfas/public/FreeSpeech.htmlWe urge you to acknowledge, as President Bacow did at Tufts, that mistakes have been made by Clark University in canceling the Finkelstein lecture. AS the U.S. Supreme Court has noted: “[t]he vigilant protection of constitutional freedom is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.” Shelion v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479,487 (1960). The Court has emphasized that the “college classroom with its surrounding environs is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas,’ and we break no new constitutional ground in reaffirming this Nation’s dedication to safeguarding academic freedom.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180-81 (1972), quoting Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967).

I look forward to hearing from you about these important issues.

Sarah Wunsch

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