Professor fired over views on Israel gets job back

A Brooklyn College professor who was allegedly fired for his pro-Palestinian views has been rehired

Published February 1, 2011 12:06AM (EST)

Kristofer Petersen-Overton
Kristofer Petersen-Overton

(UPDATED)Kristofer Petersen-Overton, the adjunct professor who lost his job teaching a Middle East politics course at Brooklyn College after a student and a local politician criticized his views on Israel, has now been rehired by the college.

Brooklyn College, which had maintained that Petersen-Overton was fired because he was found not to have the credentials to teach a graduate-level course, has not commented on the decision. A spokesman told me tonight that the college will release a statement at some point. 

Petersen-Overton said in an e-mail to supporters: 

I just received phone call from Sally Bermanzohn and Mark Ungar informing me that Brooklyn College has decided to rehire me unconditionally! ...

Thanks to everyone for their hard work and emotional support during this ordeal. It was a victory for academic freedom and an outcome I think we can all be proud of.

The firing of Petersen-Overton last week came after Assemblyman Dov Hikind, after being alerted to the syllabus of the Middle East politics course by a student, accused Petersen-Overton of being biased and a supporter of terrorism (despite Petersen-Overton's clear denunciation of terrorism).

Corey Robin, an associate professor of political science, tells Salon that the department voted unanimously today to hire Petersen-Overton for the Middle East politics course that he was originally slated to teach. "We provided the administration with a blizzard of evidence of his qualifications," Robin says, adding that members of the department also met with the president and provost of Brooklyn College this afternoon.

Robin pointed to personal letters from prominent political scientists around the U.S. as "helping to open the eyes of the administration." 

An academic freedom watchdog group also criticized Brooklyn College, and students at the CUNY Graduate Center, where Petersen-Overton is a student, circulated a petition to publicize the case.

UPDATE: And here is the statement from Brooklyn College President Karen Gould. Among other things, it blames the media for mischaracterization of the facts of the case, without specifying which facts were mischaracterized:

Over the past several days, as a result of a provostial decision about an adjunct appointment, Brooklyn College has been thrust into a debate about academic freedom. This debate has been fueled at times by inflammatory rhetoric and mischaracterization of the facts. It is unfortunate that matters of utmost importance to our college community can be so rapidly co-opted by those with a political agenda and distorted by the media.


I stand united with you: We must never allow decisions about our students’ education be swayed by outside influence. In the matter at hand, this certainly has not been the case. On behalf of every member of this institution, I reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the principles of academic freedom, faculty governance, and standards of excellence.


Today, the Department of Political Science and its appointments committee voted unanimously to recommend Kristofer Petersen-Overton to teach a graduate course on the Middle East. Based on information that has come to light, they are confident he has sufficient depth of knowledge and the intellectual capacity to successfully lead a graduate seminar. The provost now supports their recommendation, and I am in full agreement.


Brooklyn College continues to have a strong commitment to academic freedom. As one of the most diverse campuses in the United States, we value civil discourse on even the most difficult topics. We believe that open, substantive dialogue between those with different points of view is an essential component of a 21st-century education.


Equally essential are academic standards that ensure an excellent education for all students at all levels. During this calendar year, we will work together as faculty and administrators to ensure that our graduate programs are of the highest caliber.


It is now time for us to come together as a community and welcome Mr. Petersen-Overton to Brooklyn College. We wish him and his students a productive, rewarding semester of graduate study.

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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