City University of New York Chancellor James B. Milliken yesterday strongly condemned all forms of bigotry and discrimination on CUNY campuses, and ordered a review of current policies in response the City Council Jewish Caucus’ call for an overhaul to CUNY policies regarding anti-Semitism.
But at the same time, Milliken noted that higher education needs to protect the need for discourse on issues of the day and freedom of speech.
“As a public university, CUNY cannot infringe the constitutional rights of free speech and association of its students, faculty and staff. Indeed, as an institution of higher education, CUNY is committed to the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, which are at the very foundation of American higher education,” wrote Milliken in a letter to the City Council Jewish Caucus, including Brooklyn Council Members Mark Treyger and David Greenfield.
“The ideas and opinions of members of the University community will often conflict, and the University cannot shield individuals from speech they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even offensive. To ensure that our policies appropriately, consistently and clearly reflect these principles, we recently established a working group of administrative, faculty and student representatives to review University policies on speech and expression at CUNY and make recommendations,” he added.
Milliken’s letter was in response to a Caucus letter to him earlier this week asking for policy changes and expressing their concerns “over recent reports of anti-Semitic incidents at CUNY schools, which have created campus environments where Jewish students feel threatened, unwelcome, and afraid to display their identity or beliefs.”
Milliken did write of his deep concern with some recent activities on CUNY campuses and said the administration was committed to ensuring that no CUNY students are subjected to conduct that would interfere with their opportunity to exercise their rights, obtain an education and participate fully in the life of the University because of their religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or personal or political views.
“We take seriously our responsibility to promote and encourage tolerance and civility and to respond to allegations of prohibited harassment or intimidation so that all our students may enjoy an environment in which they can learn and thrive. We have engaged outside counsel, former federal judge Barbara Jones and former federal prosecutor Paul Schectman, to review incidents and University responses and provide recommendations following their review.”
Milliken wrote that at the same time, the CUNY administration firmly believes that all members of the University community share responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect and civil discourse, and we are working with college leadership, faculty, staff and students with this in mind.
“As you know, many campuses across the country are facing some of the same issues that CUNY faces and are similarly engaged in efforts to promote and maintain respectful and civil campus environments. We will appoint a task force of administrators, faculty and students to review the ways CUNY colleges promote a campus climate that supports a respectful exchange of ideas, identify best practices across CUNY and learn from the experiences of other universities. The task force will make recommendations for appropriate campus and University action.
“These actions, some well underway and some new, reflect our commitment to ensure that The City University of New York provides a safe and welcoming environment for all members of the University community, while preserving the University’s essential role as a center for open inquiry, robust debate and learning.”