Voldemort Comes to CUNY

by Corey Robin on September 22, 2013

Monday, September 9, was David Petraeus’s first class at CUNY. As he left Macaulay Honors College, where he’s teaching, he was hounded by protesters. It wasn’t pretty; the protesters were angry and they didn’t hold back.

The protesters’ actions attracted national and international media attention—and condemnation. Not just from the usual suspects at Fox but from voices at CUNY as well.

Macaulay Dean Ann Kirschner issued a formal statement on the Macaulay website and then took to her blog in order to further express her dismay:

Before and during Dr. Petraeus’ class, however, a group of protesters demonstrated in front of the college.  That demonstration ended before the conclusion of the class.  Sometime later, while walking off campus, Dr. Petraeus was confronted by a group of protesters, who surrounded him and persisted in following him, chanting as a group, shouting at him, and pounding on a car that he entered.


Harassment and abusive behavior toward a faculty member are antithetical to the university’s mission of free and open dialogue. Although this may be obvious, this kind of behavior strikes more deeply at the heart of our cherished American right to express our beliefs without threats or fear of retribution.


CUNY Interim Chancellor Bill Kelly issued the following statement:

During the first two weeks of the semester, demonstrators — from within and outside the University– have gathered near the Macaulay Honors College to protest the presence of Visiting Professor David Petraeus.  By nature, universities nurture the reasoned expression of dissent, including the right of peaceful protest. CUNY has long embraced the responsibility to encourage debate and dialogue. Foreclosing the right of a faculty member to teach and the opportunity of students to learn is antithetical to that tradition, corrosive of the values at the heart of the academic enterprise.  We defend free speech and we reject the disruption of the free exchange of ideas. Accordingly, CUNY will continue to ensure that Dr. Petraeus is able to teach without harassment or obstruction. In so doing, we join with the University Faculty Senate in defending the right of CUNY faculty members to teach without interference.


Even the University Faculty Senate weighed in, sending all CUNY professors the following statement:

Protestors, reportedly including CUNY students, have harassed new Macaulay Honors College Visiting Professor (and former CIA head and general)  David Petraeus on his way to class, using epithets, shouting “You will leave CUNY,” and chanting “ Every class David,” expressing an intent to continue their verbal attacks. Because they disagree with Professor Petraeus’ views, these demonstrators intend to deprive him of his ability to teach and the ability of his students to learn from him.


CUNY has long-established policies  to protect the academic freedom of faculty, which are essential for the University’s operation as a center of learning.


The Executive Committee of the University Faculty Senate deplores all attacks on the academic freedom of faculty, regardless of their viewpoint.  In the past, we have been strong advocates for the freedom of Kristofer J. Petersen-Overton to teach at Brooklyn College without harassment or retaliation.


Professor Petraeus and all members of CUNY’s instructional staff have the right to teach without interference.


Members of the university community must have the opportunity to express alternate views, but in a manner that does not violate academic freedom.


(In an excellent response to the Faculty Senate statement, Petersen-Overton set the record straight about what the Senate did and did not do during his travails.)

That was two weeks ago.

This past Tuesday afternoon, students held another protest against Petraeus, this time outside a Macaulay fundraiser. About 75 people participated, and eyewitnesses say that the cops quickly got rough. According to one report:

“Protestors were marching in a circle on the sidewalk and chanting, but the police forced them into the street and then charged. One of the most brutal things I saw was that five police officers slammed a Queens College student face down to the pavement across the street from Macaulay, put their knees on his back and he was then repeatedly kneed in the back,” said Hunter student Michael Brian. “The student was one of those pointed out by ‘white shirt’ officers, then seized and brutalized. A Latina student was heaved through the air and slammed to the ground.”


This post from Gawker, with video, confirms much of these claims.

Six students were arrested, held in jail for 20 hours, and have now been charged with disorderly conduct, riot, resisting arrest, and obstructing government administration.

The CUNY 6

And where are Kirschner, Kelly, and the Faculty Senate? Nowhere. What have they said about this police brutality and its relationship to academic freedom? Nothing.

Indeed, Kelly posted his statement in defense of Petraeus yesterday, September 20, four days after the students were beaten up and arrested by the cops. And all throughout the day yesterday, as the intrepid Steve Horn reports, Macaulay’s Twitter feed was filled with bubbly affirmations of free speech and the free exchange of ideas—which are most threatened, apparently, by the strident language of student protesters rather than the brutality of the NYPD.

So that’s where we stand. The delicate flowers of academic freedom at CUNY wilt before the jeers and jibes of a few students but warm to the blazing sun of the state. A four-star general who led two brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in Eurasia, a former head of the CIA whose hazing rituals at West Point alone probably outstrip anything the NYPD did to these students, requires the fulsome support of chancellors, senates, and deans. But six students of color beaten by cops, locked up in prison for a day, and now facing a full array of charges from the state, deserve nothing but the cold silence of their university. So much tender solicitude for a man so wealthy and powerful that he can afford to teach two courses at CUNY for a dollar; so little for these students, whose education is the university’s true and only charge.

It’s a depressing scene, reminiscent of that moment in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments where Smith compares the grief people feel over the discomfort of the powerful to their indifference to the misery of the powerless.

Every calamity that befals [the powerful], every injury that is done them, excites in the breast of the spectator ten times more compassion and resentment than he would have felt, had the same things happened to other men…To disturb, or to put an end to such perfect enjoyment, seems to be the most atrocious of all injuries. The traitor who conspires against the life of his monarch, is thought a greater monster than any other murderer. All the innocent blood that was shed in the civil wars, provoked less indignation than the death of Charles I. A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of death more terrible to persons of higher rank, than to those of meaner stations.


This morning, my five-year-old daughter floated the proposition that “David Petraeus is Voldemort.” She may be onto something. In the same way that dark wizard turned around so many heads at Hogwarts, so has Petraeus turned our sensibilities upside down at CUNY.

A group of CUNY grad students and faculty have organized a petition against the police brutality; email cunysolidarity@gmail.com to add your signature. And there’s going to be a rally in support of students’ right to protest on Monday, September 23, at 2:30 pm, at Macaulay Honors College, 35 W. 67th Street (between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue).

{ 60 comments }

1

QS 09.22.13 at 2:45 am

“You have the right to free speech as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it.”

2

Meredith 09.22.13 at 3:27 am

When I arrived in Ann Arbor to begin grad school in 1972, landmarks on campus still bore popular names like the Ho Chi Minh Bridge, and the campus was very fresh from BAM — tender from it, I’d say. Most of the middle-aged -to-old faculty in my department seemed, well, not hostile to campus political activism, just tired from and of it. You could even understand their fatigue. The CUNY faculty and administration have no such excuse.

But I comment mainly to remember one elderly professor, a Jewish woman who had been making her way up in the German academy in the 1920’s and 1930’s until her fellow faculty started giving her the silent treatment. No outright firing or anything, since her colleagues were anti-Nazi and “nice” people who wished her no harm. They just acted as if she no longer existed, much as they pretended they could proceed with their own work, ignoring what was going on at the Bundestag and in the streets.

She got out “in time.” (Of course, she had family and many friends who did not.)

I remember her telling me and another student one day — we were reading the Aeneid with her, just for the pleasure and benefit of reading it with her, not in a course, and unexpectedly intimate moments would sometimes just happen — I remember her tellings us how strongly she approved all the student activism of recent years, including BAM (even if she didn’t always agree with every goal or method). If only there had been some serious political activism on Germans campuses in the 1930’s, among students, professors, she said.

Yes, yes, I know, the German-Hitler analogies get way overdone. But I always remember Gerda Seligson at moments or events like this, I think in large part because she had such a wonderful laugh and laughed so easily. (Often laughing till she cried.)

3

afinetheorem 09.22.13 at 3:32 am

Police brutality and lack of respect for free speech is a serious problem, especially in New York; there is no doubt about that. Bullshit “free speech zones”, stop-and-frisk, trumped-up charges before the NATO Chicago summit, the spraying of UC students, what was essentially routinized torture on the part of a police district on Chicago’s south side in the 1990s: all are absolutely outrageous, and there should be no complacency about the willingness of police to abuse their power.

But watching the video on Sparrow Media and the one on Gawker, frankly, I don’t see anything that looks like outrageous police brutality. The most objectionable thing is at :30 in the Gawker video, when you see a cop in a white shirt throw a punch at the stomach of the guy being arrested, though it’s unclear from the video what instigated it. At 1:59 on the Sparrow video, the young man in the white shirt and the cop in the white shirt get in a shoving match, which leads to a handful of arrests, but I don’t see anything from the cops at that point that looks troublesome. I have no idea if this video is the same event as the written description, but if so, the “Latina…heaved into the air and slammed to the ground” is a really misleading description of what happens at 2:52. Further, it is clear that at least a dozen people were recording this protest, so if there was another point where the events described by the Hunter College student happened, it surely was recorded by someone. (I don’t see the students doing anything worthy of arrest, either, and I have no idea why cops do not all wear cameras when working so that we can settle he said-she said situations like this.)

As for the protest of Petraeus when he is leaving class, free speech gives you the right to be a jackass, but not the right to complain when someone calls you a jackass. Imagine Petraeus were a normal professor and not a celebrity, and a group of students followed him home after every class yelling that he was “a piece of shit” and screaming at him 6 inches from his face. I can’t imagine any world where the administration wouldn’t be outraged by those actions.

4

QS 09.22.13 at 4:08 am

If an anti-Zionist professor was followed down the street by Zionists who chanted at him and yelled various things, I’d be pretty indignant. In this case, it might be argued that the Zionists were trying to have a chilling effect on anti-Zionist teachings on campus. So maybe you have a point, #3. There’s a thin line between protest and harassment when your tactic is to follow a guy down the street. Also, I’m not sure what following him around does for us politically. Better to stage protests in front of his building and protest the politics than follow the person and make the protest personal. I don’t care about Petraeus per se, I care about the policies he helped enact and carry out.

The problem is when the police does not let you stage public protests of the “gather in this public place and make your voice heard” variety. In NYC, it seems that it’s virtually illegal practicing this form of speech. It’s interesting that following a guy is allowed but gathering and chanting in a circle is forbidden.

5

Meredith 09.22.13 at 4:28 am

I see afinetheorem’s concern. It’s the “civility” thing, which is easily exploited by the powers-that-be as a concern but remains a legitimate concern for all of us — it does, if we truly believe in democracy. But, at least as the OP presents events, why were POLICE called to the scene (Petraeus is a general, after all, not some poor beleaguered schmo) and where is the Faculty Senate on behalf of students’ exercise of free speech?
We’ll see how this plays out. Maybe lots of good players here, yelling at each other right now. Could be. We’ll see.

6

Ellie Kesselman 09.22.13 at 6:41 am

QS says

“If an anti-Zionist professor [were] followed down the street by Zionists who chanted at him and yelled various things, I’d be pretty indignant… it might be argued that the Zionists were trying to have a chilling effect on anti-Zionist teachings on campus. So maybe you have a point…”

I’ll turn that around a bit: If a Zionist professor were followed down the street by anti-Zionists who chanted at him and yelled things, I’d be pretty indignant. It could be argued that anti-Zionists were trying to have a chilling effect on Zionist teachings on campus. I am led to draw the same conclusion as QS: “Maybe you DO have a point”. CUNY is a publicly funded university. I hope that there is coursework in a variety of past and present political regimes and ideology. “Teachings” are not (should not be) advocacy. CUNY presumably offers instruction, without endorsement, about anti-Zionist AND Zionist thought.

It is unacceptable for protesters to “pound on a car that he [Petraeus] entered”. They could have damaged it. Yelling and jeering is not nice, but physical harm to person and/or property should not be acceptable. If it is deemed acceptable behavior, CUNY will be establishing a dangerous precedent, not to mention scaring away other individuals who might consider teaching at CUNY in the future!

The students (be they of color or not, Crooked Timber! those were YOUR words) are wasting their time and energy, as well as the NYPD’s. The latter should have others things they could be doing that would have a more positive impact on public safety.

Who invited former General Petraeus to be a visiting professor at CUNY? He didn’t arrive as an uninvited guest. Presumably, he was invited to teach by Macaulay Honors College Dean Ann Kirschner, with the approval of CUNY Interim Chancellor Bill Kelly. Harassing Petraeus will accomplish nothing. Dean Kirschner, Chancellor Kelly and perhaps the executive faculty senate are the responsible parties here. That is where, to whom, students should direct their ire, or better yet, their rather legitimate inquiries about the rationale for Petraeus’s visiting professor appointment.

7

Ellie Kesselman 09.22.13 at 7:38 am

Crooked Timber Collective,
I am no fan of former General Petraeus. He betrayed his devoted, very intelligent and well-educated wife of many years AND the public, given his lofty appointments as a general and mission leader. I refer specifically to his poor decision to philander with a self-important woman who already had a husband of her own (a dermatologist!) and two children. We should all be so lucky to have what she carelessly tossed aside in order to be Petraeus’s “embedded” [gak-gak] biographer in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever their adulterous liaisons occurred.

Pro-tip regarding encryption: Do not choose a mistress whose irrational jealousy is so all-consuming that she sends malicious e-mail to her imagined rival for your affection. Especially not when the e-mails are sufficiently outre that they cause said rival to contact the police and FBI in fear.

Petraeus having a mistress is not the issue; rather, it is his poor judgement. As the head of the CIA, Petraeus should have had better insight into human nature. He would have been more satisfied, and his wife less likely to be hurt, not to mention the rest of the world, if he were to have had an affair with a childless, unmarried woman who was half his age, rather than long-in-the-tooth (Phillipa Broadswell?) what’s-her-name.

The protesters might want to add, “Adulterer!” to their litany of epithets. What would Macaulay Honors College Dean Ann Kirschner have to say about THAT!

P.S. Meredith, I loved your comment, about your elderly professor at University of Michigan. It was so sweet, and sad, that I cried. I am certain that you were a good student, and that she enjoyed reading the Aeneid with you. I wish there were more people like you in this world.

8

NomadUK 09.22.13 at 11:34 am

Petraeus having a mistress is not the issue

One certainly wouldn’t have guessed that reading your post.

9

I.G.I. 09.22.13 at 11:38 am

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in a country that was back then part of the Eastern Block. If one changes/ignores the names in the OP that could easily have happened there and then. Specifically, the perfidious language of the official statements is pretty much the same from what I remember; and the methods of the state are the same too, employing the police and the legal apparatus not just to punish, but also to intimidate and suppress dissent through self censorship. I am inclined to think that far more students agree with the protests privately, but didn’t/won’t go public for fear of reprisal from the officialdom.

10

EH 09.22.13 at 12:49 pm

afinetheorem @3 writes: ” is a really misleading description of what happens”

A “misleading description” is unfortunately not uncommon in what this writer posts, but it’s helpful for you to mention it.

CR’s is a curious rhetorical strategy, because some of the material he blogs about is genuinely disconcerting and important to draw attention to. But sadly he loses quite a bit of legitimacy through his tactics. Too much of his writing includes disingenuous elements, which then detract from the important material to the point where one has to question everything he writes. Again, it’s very unfortunate, because some of the larger points really do warrant discussion and reflection (and perhaps action as well), but once you’ve lost trust in an author, it’s hard to take anything they write at face value.

11

PatrickinIowa 09.22.13 at 3:05 pm

1. Pounding on a car is uncivil, and should be prevented.
2. Pounding on a student is the student’s fault, and should be applauded, or at best ignored.

I think I’ve got it.

I remember Ann Arbor in the early seventies–even undergrads got to hang with professors in informal seminars (Ralph Williams and Dante for me). And yeah, the students were intemperate assholes. But I don’t remember mealy-mouthed invocations of academic freedom and civility before the cops beat the crap out of them.

12

The Raven 09.22.13 at 4:32 pm

I too was struck by the corrupting power of the Bush II administration. And it goes on and on. Our leaders seem to have become incapable of honest moral reasoning and honest repentance. The list of people who have been corrupted and destroyed by the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia goes on and on—Petraeus is, in the end, only a tool, and of what? Nobody seems to know.

Yet…if we defend the harassment of Petraeus, we end up having to accept harassment of people on our side. I do not believe this is a wise trade.

afinetheorem@3: “The most objectionable thing is at :30 in the Gawker video, when you see a cop in a white shirt throw a punch at the stomach of the guy being arrested,”

Take a closer look. It was a kidney punch, which hurts like hell and can do lasting damage. And the student was already down. If it was a real punch in the abdomen, the student would probably have been spitting blood and have been hospitalized.

Dear gods, don’t you know anything about your own body?

Imagine Petraeus were a normal professor and not a celebrity, and a group of students followed him home after every class yelling that he was “a piece of shit” and screaming at him 6 inches from his face.

But he is not a normal professor; he is in the view of the protesters a war criminal. On top of which he is teaching outside of his discipline. None of this makes any sense. Why did CUNY take him on?

13

adam.smith 09.22.13 at 5:14 pm

I’m on team pearl-clutcher wrt to Petraeus. The whole concept of workplace harassment (sexual and otherwise) is based on the idea that people have a right to not be in a hostile work environment and I hope no one is going to argue that isn’t the case here. Most universities and other workplaces have – rightly imho – rules in place that restrict free speech where it amounts to harassment. Do we really want to argue against such rules?

The second part of Corey’s post I agree with though. For whatever reason, college administrators/officials are consistently weak in speaking out against police brutality/aggression against their students.

14

PatrickinIowa 09.22.13 at 8:35 pm

When someone can post pictures of sexual harassers being beaten down, we’ll talk equivalence.

The point isn’t whether or not the protesters were jerks. Let’s stipulate that they were. Being a jerk is manifestly legal in this country, as it should be. But calling David Petraeus a disgrace on the public street is, to my mind, political speech. (I am in the same boat with the anti- and pro- Zionists, btw.) If they threatened him with harm, that’s one thing that changes the situation. If they trespassed that’s another. But neither seems to have occurred here, yet they were arrested.

When political speech gets you arrested and beaten, something’s wrong. And when a university defends the right of one member of its community to speak and ignores the others, that compounds the wrong.

15

PatrickinIowa 09.22.13 at 8:49 pm

Actually, Kristofer J. Petersen-Overton’s response, linked to in the OP, says it best of all.

16

Collin Street 09.22.13 at 9:39 pm

Yet…if we defend the harassment of Petraeus, we end up having to accept harassment of people on our side. I do not believe this is a wise trade.

We do? I’m pretty sure we can use the rest-of-the-context to disambiguate between situations we like and situations we don’t like.

I mean, presumably it’s that context that lead us to like one situation and dislike another. Ultimately we believe what we believe for reasons: if we think there’s a difference between things we can articulate that difference. It’s only arbitrary if we ourselves are arbitrary… which is something we’ve got to look out for, yes, but we shouldn’t just presume irrefutably that we’re being arbitrary because that’s denying the validity of our own positions and the merit of the rationality that we used to come to them.

You have to trust your own conclusions, because you’ve got nothing better and will never have anything better. You also have to distrust your own conclusions, yes, because you are fallible: we’re clever, we can manage. If you think there’s a difference between A and B, hey, maybe there is a difference?

17

poco 09.22.13 at 9:58 pm

Thanks Corey,

Signed the petition. The police are manifestly wrong and it is shameful that the upper admins in CUNY are too mealymouthed? chickenshit? credulous? hypocritical? (choose your term) to voice their objections to police brutality of their students.

18

Meredith 09.22.13 at 10:04 pm

That photograph: such fine-looking young men and women, standing straight and tall. Is that their lawyer at the right? He is standing straight and tall, but he looks awfully young, too. A little younger (and therefore probably less experienced and lacking in the legal resources necessary in a situation like this) than these young students need, perhaps?

Whatever the status of their legal representation: Any move afoot to help out these students out on that front?

19

Meredith 09.22.13 at 10:54 pm

And P.S. to Ellie Kesselman, I completely get your discussion of Petraeus and adultery. We humans are frail and need to give one another space to make mistakes and then to recover from them; in fact, we need to help one another not just recover but become better people as we learn from our mistakes. But there’s something so tediously predictable about Petraeus’ adultery story, which in a military and diplomatic context is especially problematic. And if he had learned anything of value from this adulterous affair, would he be continuing to pursue the trappings of scholarly or civic achievement rather than its substance?

20

MPAVictoria 09.22.13 at 11:20 pm

“I am no fan of former General Petraeus. He betrayed his devoted, very intelligent and well-educated wife of many years AND the public, given his lofty appointments as a general and mission leader. I refer specifically to his poor decision to philander with a self-important woman who already had a husband of her own (a dermatologist!) and two children. We should all be so lucky to have what she carelessly tossed aside in order to be Petraeus’s “embedded” [gak-gak] biographer in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever their adulterous liaisons occurred”

What a bunch of judgemental crap. Petraeus’s love life should be no ones business but that of those directly involved. We have quite enough reasons to criticize the man without going all Catholic Church about it.

21

MPAVictoria 09.22.13 at 11:21 pm

“He would have been more satisfied, and his wife less likely to be hurt, not to mention the rest of the world, if he were to have had an affair with a childless, unmarried woman who was half his age, rather than long-in-the-tooth (Phillipa Broadswell?) what’s-her-name.”

Also this is sexist garbage as well.

22

js. 09.22.13 at 11:48 pm

The whole concept of workplace harassment (sexual and otherwise) is based on the idea that people have a right to not be in a hostile work environment and I hope no one is going to argue that isn’t the case here.

But surely the underlying power relations matter for something. The thing that’s particularly insidious about workplace harassment is that it is typically wielded by someone in a position of (at least nominal) authority against those below them. Nothing like that holds here obviously, the students have no institutional leverage against Petraeus. So I’m not sure how comparable the two are even if you think the students’ behavior counts as harassment.

More importantly, as PatrickInIowa says, the students were engaging in political speech, and sure it was uncivil political speech. But it would seem to be an extraordinarily bad idea to impose a “civility” requirement on expressions of political speech. Point being, it’s not at all obvious to me that this should count as harassment at all—in the sense of “harassment” where you can bring legal or institutional sanction against the actions in question.

23

Meredith 09.23.13 at 12:07 am

We don’t know the underlying power relations, do we, when MPAVictoria goes off as s/he does. I read those two comments after reading Eszter Hargittai’s Ugh post and experienced an unpleasant whiplash effect.

24

adam.smith 09.23.13 at 12:11 am

So y’all would really have been OK if Students for Israel had followed Edward Said around campus, yelling at him at closest distance about how he was a terrorist?
And you’d have thought it right if Columbia’s admin and faculty senate wouldn’t have said anything about that? If that’s the case, I guess we really disagree. I don’t think anyone should have to go through that type of experience at her/his workplace.
I agree that you don’t want to regulate the _content_ of political speech, but I do think that the _nature_ of speech – even political speech – is within what unversities should regulate. I find the thought of a group of people following me around and getting in my face to yell at me rather terrifying.

25

GiT 09.23.13 at 12:45 am

Having lefties yell at you whenever they have the opportunity seems like an entirely foreseeable consequence of taking on a job where you tell the US military to kill people. If you don’t want that to happen, avoid taking on a job which consists in the main of commanding people to kill. It seems like a pretty reasonable trade-off.

26

James Wimberley 09.23.13 at 12:51 am

Meredith in #2: in the Weimar Republic and the Second and Third Reich, it was the Reichstag not Bundestag.
Idle question. How did the elected Nazi deputies behave in the Weimar Reichstag between 1928 and 1933? Did they ignore it as contemptible, or disrupt proceedings with colourful stunts and procedural manoeuvres? Was what they did there covered in the press as important?

27

Meredith 09.23.13 at 4:46 am

Yes, James Wimberley, of course. Thank you for the correction. I could hazard some answers to the questions you pose, but why do you pose them? Please expand. I am not feeling very clever and in fact am feeling suspicious of cleverness.

Is anyone else feeling weirded out by the “hatorade” everywhere these days? Were Weimar analogues to today’s liberals and leftists too busy showing off to one another how clever and insightful they were to figure out ways to counter the evil beginning to envelop them and others much less powerful or influential than they? Perhaps I should be posting this at Ugh. Curious mix of CT posts at the moment.

28

PatrickfromIowa 09.23.13 at 5:17 am

Said had more than a student group to worry about. He was surveilled by the FBI most, if not all of his public life. David Price got the file, heavily redacted of course. Read about it here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2006/01/13/how-the-fbi-spied-on-edward-said/.

Of course, Columbia was vigorous… Oh, wait, “Employees at Princeton and Columbia Universities gave FBI agents biographical and education information on Said, and the Harvard University Alumni Office provided the FBI with detailed information.”

Edward Said paid a far higher price for legitimate political advocacy than David Patraeus ever will for participating in aggressive war, a crime. His university, as far as I can tell, said nothing in his defense and in fact helped the FBI.

And yes, I believe Students for Israel had the right to confront Said, as long as they remained non-violent. My sense of him is that he had faced down far scarier people in his time.

29

Meredith 09.23.13 at 5:26 am

And Said (the grandson of a Baptist minister, btw, though he refused to parade his Christian background to an anti-Muslim public) was deeply sympathetic to Jews and Israelis, even as he lamented the loss of his own home in Jerusalem to (of all people!) Martin Buber.

30

js. 09.23.13 at 5:48 am

We don’t know the underlying power relations, do we, when MPAVictoria goes off as s/he does. I read those two comments after reading Eszter Hargittai’s Ugh post and experienced an unpleasant whiplash effect.

Meredith,

I guess I’m not sure what you mean. I’m generally a big fan of your comments, but it seems about right to me to characterize the quoted bit in 21 as “sexist garbage”. “[L]ong-in-the-tooth what’s-her-name”? Seriously? And anyway, at least to me adultery seems like a pretty minor offense in this context, whether DP’s or Broadwell’s.

adam.smith @24:

Yeah, I think Students for Israel would have been perfectly within their rights to yell at Said. And I think it would have been particularly despicable for Columbia to release a statement berating the students after they’d been needlessly beaten up by the cops. Look, it’s one thing if the CUNY had non-bindingly censured the students/protestors in the absence of the police action—I could get that, even if I wouldn’t fully support it. But to censure the protestors after they’ve been beaten up by the cops, and not to condemn the police brutality at all—that I find unconscionable. Same goes with not speaking up about the police brutality after having censured the protestors.

31

js. 09.23.13 at 5:53 am

Oh, but also, this is a bunch of bullshit:

Foreclosing the right of a faculty member to teach and the opportunity of students to learn is antithetical to that tradition, corrosive of the values at the heart of the academic enterprise.

How are the protestors foreclosing the right of a faculty member to teach? How could they possibly come close? If you’re going criticize the protestors, make your criticism half-way plausible.

32

Hector_St_Clare 09.23.13 at 6:07 am

Between Edward Said’s Islamophilic multiculturalism and Students for Israel’s Zionist advocacy for an apartheid rogue state, I’m not sure who I find more contemptible.

33

prasad 09.23.13 at 7:37 am

*Very* glad to see MPAVictoria’s comments on the adultery stuff. It’s such a transparent pretext too, ostentatious moralism (about sexual ethics or power relations or security implications or telling the truth under oath/to the people or whatever) serving wholly different political ends. Someone one dislikes for independent reasons is in a bit of a soup, and this can be used against him. That’s pretty much it. You’d think anyone who lived through the Clinton Lewinsky episode would have a bit more self-awareness about this.

34

MPAVictoria 09.23.13 at 10:36 am

“when MPAVictoria goes off as s/he does.”

Did I go off? Wasn’t Eszter’s post full of moralizing and sexist content? I would have thought pointing that out would be applauded by you Meredith.

35

Tim Wilkinson 09.23.13 at 1:44 pm

Foreclosing the right of a faculty member to teach and the opportunity of students to learn

Just to expand on js.’s retort, let’s also remember that Petraus has no academic or pedagogic credentials or experience, and that his appointment to teach this ‘course’ is a flagrant travesty.

In case there’s anyone to whom this isn’t already agonisingly obvious, here is a couple of relevant links to assist in deliberation:

http://mikethemadbiologist.com/2013/07/27/this-really-doesnt-sound-like-teaching-the-petraeus-seminar/

http://www.desmogblog.com/2013/07/18/david-petraeus-course-syllabus-features-frackademia-readings

36

NYPD C student honor roll 09.23.13 at 3:47 pm

You have to look at this from the General’s point of view. Professor Petraeus is a little squirt. Any of those young ladies could beat him to a pulp despite his secret ninja skills. He’s a coward, too, he ran the CI torture mills, after all, so he could let the tough guys bring em in and tie em up and then he could beat em up in safety. And for the rest of his life he has to look over his shoulder for crimes against humanity charges in universal jurisdiction, with no statute of limitations. That makes you very jumpy. He is easily traumatized so we must not bully him.

37

Andrew F. 09.23.13 at 4:10 pm

Yes, the administration didn’t speak up in defense of grabbing and pushing police officers as a form of expression, but did speak out against the targeted harassment of a teacher.

Perhaps it’s because protesters who do so simply endanger those who are lawfully exercising their right to free speech.

Perhaps it’s because the administration doesn’t think that screaming in the face of a teacher as he walks to work is conducive to an environment of free thought.

The real fictional wizardry here is in the description of the “police brutality” portrayed in the videos. Another case of the written work outstripping the film, I suppose.

38

Mao Cheng Ji 09.23.13 at 4:29 pm

“Perhaps it’s because the administration doesn’t think that screaming in the face of a teacher as he walks to work is conducive to an environment of free thought.”

Hi Andrew. What if someone you really-really despise was hired to teach – I dunno, Charles Manson? – would you still feel this way?

39

Jon Butter (@JonButter2) 09.23.13 at 6:12 pm

I have no idea why cops do not all wear cameras when working so that we can settle he said-she said situations like this.

Are you friggin kidding? I hope this is just a rhetorical statement.

40

ISOK 09.23.13 at 6:31 pm

@36, which is less conducive to an environment of free thought — shouting and following someone after he has already freely made his thoughts known during a private class session? or hiring cops to physically restrain and intimidate people while they are in the act of expressing their thoughts?

free thought is the principle here, right? regardless of the source? it can’t be that CUNY is just trying to save face before such a GREAT MAN. cannot possibly have anything to do with that.

- ISOK

41

The Raven 09.23.13 at 6:39 pm

adam.smith@24: “I find the thought of a group of people following me around and getting in my face to yell at me rather terrifying.”

Stalking and harassment—and that is what we are talking about—is terrifying. There is always the possibility, far too real, that the verbal abuse will escalate to physical abuse. I am not convinced we can write either law or rule that will unambiguously allow this as political speech while at the same time protecting people from stalking or harassment.

Andrew@36, kidney punching someone who is already down is police brutality—all it does is hurt someone who’s already lost the fight.

PatrickfromIowa@28: “Edward Said paid a far higher price for legitimate political advocacy than David Patraeus ever will for participating in aggressive war, a crime. His university, as far as I can tell, said nothing in his defense and in fact helped the FBI.”

How is this a defense of additional harassment? I don’t see the reasoning here.

I think you’ve hit on the key point, though: student activists feel, probably correctly, that Petraeus is a criminal and beyond punishment through normal legal channels. Does this give them the right to take the law into their own hands, in this way? Is this even an effective method of activism? Petraeus is unlikely to fold; whatever his faults I doubt they include weakness or cowardice. What goal is this intended to accomplish? Or is it just abuse masquerading as activism?

“Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”—Robert Bolt

42

JanieM 09.23.13 at 6:56 pm

Did I go off? Wasn’t Eszter’s post full of moralizing and sexist content?

Eszter? Really? Maybe you mean commenter Ellie Kesselman.

43

JanieM 09.23.13 at 7:04 pm

I mention Ellie Kesselman’s comments because they’re the ones you originally seemed to be objecting to. Eszter hasn’t commented in this thread AFAICT.

44

Steve 09.23.13 at 7:19 pm

“Just to expand on js.’s retort, let’s also remember that Petraus has no academic or pedagogic credentials or experience, and that his appointment to teach this ‘course’ is a flagrant travesty.”

Doesn’t he have a doctorate from Princeton? And some life experience? I guess he hasn’t published enough original research to have anything to add to the question of where North America is headed in the next decade. And the government office he worked in must have been one of those backwater bureaucracies with an arcane, myopic scope. Your right, Tim, this professorial work is best left to the 26-year-old CUNY adjuncts with the necessary expertise.

45

MPAVictoria 09.23.13 at 7:20 pm

“Eszter? Really? Maybe you mean commenter Ellie Kesselman.”

“I mention Ellie Kesselman’s comments because they’re the ones you originally seemed to be objecting to. Eszter hasn’t commented in this thread AFAICT.”

Oops. I stand corrected. Yes I did mean Ellie Kesselman’s comments. My apologies.
/I wish there was an edit button.

46

Patrick C 09.23.13 at 9:42 pm

“Because they disagree with Professor Petraeus’ views, these demonstrators intend to deprive him of his ability to teach and the ability of his students to learn from him.”

I’m pretty sure that they disagree with his actions more than his views…

47

PatrickfromIowa 09.23.13 at 10:14 pm

The comment was in response to #24, which assumed that Columbia would defend Said’s free speech with the vigor that NYU and the NYPD have defended Patraeus’s. I’m sure Columbia said the right things when Said’s office was set on fire. When the government came around looking to dig dirt on him, not so much.

Which is pretty much the difference between Patraeus and Said. Everybody, except the people yelling in the street, has his back.

He may be an interesting teacher. $200,000 for one class? You could hire four better than that, and they’d teach three and three. Give them health insurance and they’d call it a great deal. Give them health insurance and a modicum of job security and you’ll get 300 per opening applying, most of whom will teach better than he does.

By the way, I don’t need David Patraeus to tell me that in the future, the US will invade whatever countries it choses, for whatever reasons it can gin up and abuse the people who live there. The kids on the street in NYC could tell you that.

And, by the way, if you want to see harassment, death threats and so on, all protected by the First Amendment, toddle down to your local women’s clinic. I bet you don’t see anyone arrested for yelling. And the difference between those folks and the students in NYC? Scott Roeder.

48

Meredith 09.23.13 at 10:21 pm

I think Maria’s most recent post, as well as the Ugh post and Belle on vengeful feelings (really? Book xxii? where Odysseus brings the ruthless violence of the Iliad into his own home but none of that other poem’s pity and sadness? though I greatly appreciate her identifying for me why I have so little interest in most American male novelists of the last 50 years), was on my mind when I posted above, not meaning to offend anyone, esp. commenters I greatly respect. Anger is a good thing when aroused for good reasons and then directed well. It can be hard to know how to direct it well, though. We rely on one another for good direction. In short, I am feeling warm and kind toward all except the CUNY administrators who hired Petraeus in the first place and who now call in the police to “protect” him from some yelling people (this is NYC, for god’s sake! I hope Petraeus never needs to make his way through Union Square to the subway) — and except the faculty senate, if it doesn’t come through with a new statement that recognizes students’ right of free speech on public streets.
Was the Free Speech Movement for nothing? Mario Savio may have been a Berkeley student, but he was a NYC boy, btw.

49

Meredith 09.23.13 at 10:26 pm

I recognize that I am contradicting myself. I want kindness and civility and I applaud yelling New Yorkers and thick skins. Well, there you have it.

50

adam.smith 09.23.13 at 11:19 pm

Basically what the Raven @41 says. I don’t think anyone should take Andrew F. seriously on police brutality, I honestly believe he lacks the ability to even conceptualize police brutality, as do most other people who have never been at least close-up witnesses to police beatings.

@47 – I didn’t assume that Columbia would do that, I asked whether people were OK if it didn’t, which I take it you’re not.
Re: First amendment – as I’ve tried to express above, I do not believe this is a first amendment question, it is a question of university policy. Not everything protected by the 1st amendment is OK on campus (cf. McGinn, Colin). As for the women’s clinic: I think it is the job of a university administration to make sure that its faculty feels safer than an abortion provider in Kansas. I’d also expect any women’s clinic to condemn any protests that amount to harassment of either its staff or its patients.

FWIW, Petraeus isn’t getting 200k anymore, he’s getting 1$, but I don’t think that’s material to the question at hand.

51

Marc 09.24.13 at 3:35 am

I find it pretty damn disturbing that we’re seeing advocacy of stalking and yelling at someone that some of the students don’t like. No, the ends don’t justify the means – and if you want the university to back professors who do things that are unpopular, this doesn’t apply only to the politics that you prefer. And this isn’t abstract sermonizing – things like this do happen to professors on the left, probably more often than they happen to Petraeus and his clan.

If you’re interested in effective tactics, by the way, yelling at a guy crossing the campus makes him look more sympathetic, not less.

52

The Raven 09.24.13 at 6:03 pm

Thank you for the support. However, I remind everyone of this, which I also said in the first article: “Student activists feel, probably correctly, that Petraeus is a criminal and beyond punishment through normal legal channels.”

Harassing Petraeus seems to me not productive, and likely to backfire on the protesters. But never forget what he has done.

53

Andrew F. 09.24.13 at 9:49 pm

Mao @38: Especially in the case of those whose views I might despise, out of fear that my contempt for their views might silently sabotage my principled support for their freedom to have and express their views.

Raven @41: The fiction I’m referring to is the description of someone being “repeatedly kneed” in the back, and the tale of a female student being “picked up and slammed to the ground.”

As to the two punches I can see on the video, it’s very unlikely that they rise to the level of excessive force. The individual resisting the attempts of three officers to arrest him is on the ground holding his arms underneath his chest and moving around in order to avoid being handcuffed. Three cops are having some difficulty holding him still, and are gamely trying but unable to pry out the individual’s arms. The plainclothes officer kneels down with them, attempts to pull out the individual’s arms from the other side, cannot do so, and punches the individual twice in the back in an apparent effort to obtain better access to the individual’s arms. Unless the two strikes were delivered extremely hard, they’re not unreasonable measured against an excessive force standard.

And the idea that Petraeus is a criminal is quite simply absurd. Anyone who thinks so is grossly mistaken either as to the law or as to the facts or both. But college is a good time to try out absurd ideas. My problem here isn’t with the views of the students, or their speech, but with their actions.

54

PatrickinIowa 09.24.13 at 10:41 pm

Absurd?

The US thought differently about the criminality of wars of aggression at one time: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” said one of the prosecutors at Nuremburg.

It also thought differently about the responsibility of general officers of countries that engaged in wars of aggression: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him”.

The Iraq War was a war of aggression. None of the reasons advanced for its initiation were sufficient under international law, even if they were true. As it happened, they were lies. Patraeus willingly participated in a military action which was manifestly contrary to international law.

During that war, he countenanced torture by his direct subordinates and Iraqi paramilitaries: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/06/pentagon-iraqi-torture-centres-link. (That’s just one. There are many.)

Maybe he’d be acquitted by an international tribunal. But it’s not “absurd” to think of him as a war criminal. It fits the facts nicely. In fact it reminds me of where Jim Steele, Petraeus’s and Rumsfield’s link to the death squads got his start: Vietnam. As a high school student, I tried out absurd ideas around that time: “The US can’t win in Vietnam, for example.” Or “The US shouldn’t be spraying poison (Agent Orange) on civilian populations.” Or “The US prevention of elections in Vietnam and subsequent violence maintaining its clients is illegal and immoral.” Guess what? I got patronized and my peers got beaten. Same story. Seen it before. And my absurd ideas held up pretty well. I predict these young folks will feel the same way in 45 years.

What’s absurd is portraying David Petraeus or free speech as the victim of demonstrators in the streets.

55

PatrickinIowa 09.24.13 at 10:53 pm

If they were on campus, by the way, that’s covered by “trespassing,” in my first (I think) response. I would think differently about it if they invaded his classroom, for example, or the halls of the building. (Or firebombed his office, natch.) I’ve only been on the periphery of NYU, but it’s my feeling that if you walk out most of the doors, you’re on the street.

It’s my understanding they were on the public street.

I wouldn’t harass somebody on the street this way. As widely noted above, it’s not productive, and it’s not civil; it’s not rhetorically effective and it’s not good manners. Plus, if you’re a scruffy kid, demonstrating is physically dangerous. But I think what they’re doing was legal, and should be, and I think NYU is more sinning than sinned against in the matter of free speech here.

Speaking of free speech, I’m delighted to discover that the exercise of free speech by, among others, the original poster got Petraeus’s stipend reduced. (Not that I believe that’s all he’s getting out of the deal. But at least Corey made them blush a bit.)

56

mclaren 09.24.13 at 11:05 pm

Isn’t it fascinating how many comments remark on Petraeus’ marital infidelity, while no one has mentioned “Petraeus linked to torture units in Iraq”?

But after all, those silly students yelling about alleged “war crimes” can’t actually have been onto anything, can they? Because, after all, they’re low-income and powerless and not famous, and in America circa 2013, power and money and fame are really all that count.

By all means, let us have more commenters heaving their bosoms in their leather bustiers and decrying the denial of our heroic general’s “right” to teach a college course. (Which “right” was that, again? Which amendment in the constitution of the united states guarantees a disgraced ex-mass-murderer and torturer and compulsive sociopathic pathological liar the sacred ‘right’ to teach college courses…?)

Oh, never mind, the guy’s just a pig walking upright while carrying a whip: Ch. 10 of Orwell’s Animal Farm redux.

57

william wesley 09.25.13 at 7:08 am

Where were the rights of the detainees tortured to death under his watch, when were they able to express their opinions? Did we not hang people guilty of similar crimes against Americans after world war II in both Germany and Japan? Why not hire someone like Charles Manson as a professor then, after all he only ordered the killing, he did not carry it out himself. When the universities of of pre world war II Germany defended fascism and antisemitism should we have defended their right to an opinion? When you act as an accessory to murder you are just as guilty as the murderer, in court rooms words have been held just as liable to kill just as weapons, condoning and promoting a monster is not expressing an opinion, it is a criminal enterprise, Cuny and Petreus should both be brought up on charges of aiding and abetting in mass murder. Controversy over his sexual affairs reminds me of the turmoil surrounding Hitlers Eva Braun, it highlights an incredible level of National subterfuge, it speaks of an immensely and shamefully shallow national character.

58

Tangurena 09.25.13 at 5:35 pm

It is my understanding that the police reaction is typical for post-Occupy protests. Much of what used to be legal for street protests are now illegal.

59

Andrew F. 09.26.13 at 1:27 pm

Patrick, can you point to the international treaty under which Petraeus would be criminally liable for participating in the 2003 Iraq War?

As to torture, there’s no question that some Iraqi security forces engaged in torture, accepted bribes, extorted money, embezzled funds, and sometimes became insurgents themselves. But Petraeus certainly didn’t direct any of that, didn’t condone any of that, and all of it was both opposed by him and manifestly antithetical to the counterinsurgency strategy he forcefully advocated.

Also, as far as I know, the students weren’t arrested for harassing Petraeus. That incident occurred a few weeks ago. The arrests occurred when a group of individuals gathered to protest outside a fundraising dinner. The police set up barricades along the edges of sidewalks to keep the streets clear, and to keep the entrance to the building clear. But I can’t quite tell what happened after that from the videos. It appears that most of the protesters stayed within the lines (which went up to the building itself).

60

xaaronx 09.26.13 at 7:31 pm

Patrick: This is CUNY, not NYU–and specifically the Macaulay Honors College. NYU is a private institution, while CUNY is public.

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