Monday, March 2, 2009

Dear President Botstein

Leon Botstein, President
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Dimitri Papadimitrou
Executive Vice President
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Dear President Botstein and Executive Vice-President Papadimitrou:

I am writing regarding Bard's decision to terminate the contract of Joel Kovel.

I know that others have written before me, dismayed at what certainly seems to be a politically motivated choice not to renew Professor Kovel's contract. I know that in your form reply letter, you claim that the decision was based not on Professor Kovel's political views and work, but rather on fiscal constraints brought about by the current economic climate.

Whatever the real reason, there was certainly a flagrant conflict of interest in Professor Kovel's evaluation process due to the inclusion of Professor Bruce Chilton on the evaluation committee. Having gleaned a reasonable amount of information about Professor Chilton's work and affiliations from some online research, I find it manifestly unreasonable that a person with strong ideological leanings toward Zionist ideology should have been involved in the evaluation of an outspokenly anti-Zionist intellectual. Professor Kovel has, furthermore, in his own statement highlighted other institutional affiliations that call the objectivity of this decision into doubt (such as your, President Botstein's, relationship to the Jerusalem Sympthony Orchestra and the circumstances of their 2006 performance at Bard).

As an academic myself, I am well aware of the effects of the current economic crisis on higher education, and will not dismiss your own allegations as altogether implausible. At the same time, I am familiar with the pile-up of cases nationally in which academics who challenge Zionism have become the casualties of serious weaknesses in the process of academic freedom (much as those who were accused of "communist" sympathies once were). Professor Kovel's case certainly appears to be amongst them. Thus, in order to legitimately make your own case, avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest, you would need to conduct and respond to an evaluation process that was transparently fair and impartial. This you have not done.

I would strongly urge you to dismiss the recent committee's findings and either renew Professor Kovel's contract or, at the very least, convene a committee composed of external, independent and objective members whose ideological differences with Professor Kovel don't cloud the credibility of their findings.

I also hope you know that I, as well as many of my colleagues, feel that this episode calls into serious question Bard's very reputation as a site of excellence in liberal education. Whatever the perspective on Zionism that the Bard administration and Professor Kovel's colleagues may have, I had imagined that the ideal of academic freedom still meant something at Bard--even as it is eroding on campuses elsewhere. Your decision to terminate Professor Kovel calls the academic integrity of your institution deeply into question.

Sincerely,
Harriet Malinowitz
Professor of English
Long Island University
Brooklyn, NY

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