WASHINGTON, DC—In a resounding victory for academic quality and academic freedom, the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York yesterday voted to grant tenure and promotion to outstanding scholar and teacher Robert “KC” Johnson of Brooklyn College.
The board’s action accepted the recommendation by CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein to reverse the college’s decision not to grant tenure. Goldstein’s decision was based on the report of a special review panel of three CUNY professors outside Brooklyn College, as well as having met with Johnson and read one of his books.
KC Johnson has been at the center of media attention since last fall when the Brooklyn College History Department denied him tenure and promotion on the grounds that he was not adequately “collegial”—a new standard nowhere to be found in CUNY rules.
Senior faculty in his department—some of whom were described as “academic terrorists” by the department chairman because of their insistence on applicants’ ability to pass an ideological litmus test rather than academic quality—opposed Mr. Johnson’s hiring after he objected to a one-sided panel on the terrorists’ attack and voted against hiring someone he regarded as unqualified.
The firing prompted a firestorm of opposition across the country, including a letter by 21 distinguished historians from across the country expressing “shock and dismay” at the college’s denial of tenure to “one of the most accomplished young historians in the country.” The letter was spearheaded by Akira Iriye, chairman of the Harvard History department and included Alan Brinkley, chairman of the Columbia University History Department, and Yale history professor Donald Kagan. A group called Students Against Academic Terrorists mounted a protest supporting the professor, and the Brooklyn College student government passed a unanimous resolution calling the tenure denial a violation of their academic rights.
Members of the Board of Trustees spoke publicly in defense of academic freedom and asked the chancellor to review the case. Normally, tenure denials do not require the approval of the chancellor or board. Goldstein, who has worked to raise standards in the CUNY system, responded to the clear need for further review of the case. The decision is a major rebuff to Brooklyn College president Christoph Kimmich, who sided with the “academic terrorists.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni supported Johnson vigorously, contacting media outlets and sending trustees information about his extraordinary qualifications.
“This victory is a major win for academic quality and academic freedom,” said ACTA president Jerry Martin. “This was a test case with national implications. If a scholar and teacher with Johnson’s outstanding record could be denied tenure under the phony guise of ‘collegiality’ just for refusing to ‘go along get along,’ it would be ‘open season’ on anyone who thinks independently. One of the most important duties of boards and chancellors is to protect academic freedom—from enemies inside academe as well as outside. The CUNY board and Chancellor Goldstein rose to the challenge and set an example for boards and administrators everywhere.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality and responsible stewardship.