FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 4, 2014
New Yorkers Fight to Protect First Amendment Rights and Academic Freedom
Donna Nevel - firstname.lastname@example.org, 917-570-4371 Leslie Cagan - 347-581-1782
In a surprising development that seems to have reflected an outpouring of constituent concern, the New York State Assembly delayed an effort to pass legislation that would undermine academic freedom and free speech.
On January 28th, the New York State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill targeting the American Studies Association (ASA) because, in December, the ASA had passed a resolution supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. This legislation would prohibit public universities and colleges from using any taxpayer money on groups that support boycotts of Israel. For instance, such funds could not be used for travel or lodging for a faculty member attending a meeting of a group that supports a boycott of Israel.
A similar bill was slated to be discussed and voted on in the Higher Education Committee of the New York State Assembly on Monday, Feb. 3rd. From there it was to be immediately taken up by the Assembly's Ways and Means Committee, followed by the Rules Committee. But at the 11th hour, the bill was taken off the agenda of the Higher Education Committee, thereby slowing the process for the moment. A New York Times editorial Tuesday morning strongly makes the case that the legislation "should be voted down by lawmakers, or, if they prove feckless, Gov. Andrew Cuomo should veto it."Deborah Glick, the chair of the Higher Education Committee, has indicated that the legislation will be reviewed and possibly modified, although no date for this was announced.
Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the CUNY faculty and staff union, said, "This dangerous legislation must not become law. Its passage could lay the groundwork for other attempts to silence debate and opposition on controversial issues. The free exchange of ideas is essential to a meaningful college education, and New York’s students are entitled to colleges where academic freedom thrives. This bill purports to defend academic freedom while actually attacking it. Our members, in coalition with many others, are proud to have helped to slow down this fast-tracked legislation, but we will not stop until the bill is defeated.”
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said, "The reality is that this legislation is a direct assault on our First Amendment right to freely and openly speak our minds in opposition to the policies of any government, including the Israeli government. Imagine if legislation like this was passed during the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa!"
Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "We hope that New York legislators have realized that it is inappropriate for them to deny state funds to universities in an effort to silence political speech activities that they personally disagree with. The right to engage in human rights boycotts, used to oppose segregation in the U.S. South, the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and now aimed at achieving equal rights for Palestinians, is protected by the First Amendment. The threat to this right will remain until the New York bill and similar bills in other states are entirely defeated."
Alan Levine Center for Constitutional Rights
Maria LaHood Center for Constitutional Rights
Barbara Bowen President of the PSC, the CUNY faculty and staff union
Lisa Duggan Professor at NYU in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, and President Elect of the ASA
Rebecca Vilkomerson Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace
The Ad Hoc Group in Support of Academic Freedom and the First Amendment - the coalition working to ensure the defeat of this or any similar legislation - includes the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, the National Lawyers Guild, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC - CUNY faculty and staff union), Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No!, the American Studies Association and others. In addition, very strong work came from NYSUT (NY State United Teachers), AAUP, NY Civil Liberties Union, and many individuals.
See NYCLU Statement here.