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News About Robert David "KC" Johnson

HNN: The Case of KC Johnson

Nearly two dozen historians, among them Alan Brinkley, have rallied in defense of Brooklyn College historian Robert David"KC" Johnson, who was recently denied tenure. This page will keep track of media accounts of the controversy. Entries are listed in reverse chronological order.

  • Daily News editorial in favor of the decision granting Johnson tenure.

  • Vice Chancellor Shaffer issued a memo describing the procedures in the case.

  • Johnson gets tenure (NY Post)

  • Johnson gets tenure (NY Sun)

  • Johnson gets tenure (NYT)

  • Johnson sets up a website to keep track of developments.

  • Editorial in favor of Johnson. (New York Sun)

  • Dorothy Rabinowitz,"The Battle of Brooklyn: A Talented Scholar, A Bitter Tenure Controversy (Wall Street Journal)

  • Adam Dickter,"Tak[ing] on 9-11 forum started problems, says denied Brooklyn College prof, who is getting support from Jewish students." ( Jewish Week)

  • Joshua Wiznitzer,"Campuses Need True Free Speech" ( Brandeis Free Press)

  • Dorothy Rabinowtiz,"The Battle of Brooklyn: A talented scholar, a bitter tenure controversy" (Wall Street Journal)

  • David Orland,"Refusing to Play the Game"; an article sympathetic to KC Johnson; on Boundless.org

  • Star Scholar Fights for His Future at Brooklyn College (New York Times)

  • Brooklyn College has reappointed Johnson for another year after scholars and students protested his dismissal (subscribers only).

  • Twenty-eight members of the faculty and administration of Brooklyn College have come to the defense of the department chairman who denied tenure to KC Johnson. (11-27-02):

    We, the undersigned members of the faculty of Brooklyn College, want to assure our colleagues within the City University of New York–and around the country–that Robert David Johnson’s tale of persecution must not be taken at face value. Brooklyn College has not yet responded to Johnson’s allegations because it plays by the rules, and the rules do not permit the public airing of confidential personnel information–not even to defend the good names and reputations of the people Johnson has impugned, among them the widely-respected chairman of our History Department. As scholars, moreover, we have not forgotten that the search for truth often requires a suspension of judgment until all the evidence has been produced, which you may be certain it will be, in due course. Brooklyn College’s commitment to the very highest standards of academic integrity and intellectual honesty remains as strong as ever.

    Note: Jerome Sternstein has posted a lengthy comment on this petition on HNN. Click here.

  • The CUNY Association of Scholars (11-21-02):

    The CUNY Association of Scholars strongly . . . denounce[s] the denial of promotion and tenure to Brooklyn College Professor Robert David Johnson, and we urge Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to reverse this unjust and untenable decision with all possible speed.

    Brooklyn College president Christoph M. Kimmich effectively fired Dr. Johnson by recently declining to recommend him for promotion with tenure. However, extensive documentary evidence shows that Johnson, a history professor, is eminently deserving of both tenure and promotion by virtue of his stellar scholarship and accomplishments as an educator. Twenty-four leading national scholars have attested to Professor Johnson’s scholarly credentials; his teaching evaluations from both students and colleagues are glowing; and the college itself has termed Professor Johnson’s performance as a scholar and teacher “extraordinarily productive.”

    Professor Johnson’s difficulties at Brooklyn College started when he adopted public positions questioning the desirability of affirmative action quotas in hiring and the suitability of a college-sponsored “teach-in” containing no known supporters of U.S. or Israeli policy in the Middle East. When Professor Johnson championed the need for quality in academic and hiring standards within his own department, the department chairperson termed this position “preposterous, specious, and demeaning.” Extensive evidence documents that this chairperson then launched a campaign of retaliation designed to taint Professor Johnson’s reputation and ultimately, with the aid of numerous violations of due process ignored by the college, deny him tenure.

  • Harvard Crimson (11-19-02):

    The chair of Harvard’s history department has come to the defense of a longtime friend and colleague who learned last month that Brooklyn College would let him go after several confrontations with his department chair.

    Warren Professor of American History Akira Iriye spearheaded a drive by two dozen prominent historians who sent a letter last week to the chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY) protesting the system’s decision not to reappoint Robert David “KC” Johnson ’88.

    Iriye joins a fray that has embroiled students and faculty members across the Brooklyn campus.

    Students have flocked to Johnson’s support, forming an organization on his behalf called Students Against Academic Terrorism and planning a protest rally for Dec. 4, which could attract up to 150 students, said Daniel W. Weininger, one of the group’s founding members.

  • Eugene Volokh blog (11/17/02): Reports comments by Jerome Sternstein, who retired from Brooklyn College.

    Johnson (whom Sternstein doesn't know personally) is indeed"regarded as a highly accomplished scholar."

    Sternstein's contacts at Brooklyn, however, suggest that the" collegiality" concerns are quite real, and many of them have nothing to do with politics."[Johnson] has somehow alienated practically everybody, no matter what political orientation, whether left-wing, right-wing, or no wing." Sternstein"seriously doubt[s] that the opposition to Johnson is based on his politics, whatever they are."

    Sternstein goes on:"As far as Johnson eventually getting tenure, I predict that he will. The process is far from over, and Brooklyn College made several procedural errors that are crucial whenever faculty members at CUNY appeal tenure and promotion denials. The most glaring apparent error in Johnson's case is that in his annual evaluation in 2001, he was told that he had 'performed in an exemplary manner,' and he thus can argue he didn't receive the necessary direction to improve his performance, if that performance indeed needed improving. I speak from experience in these matters, since I was once very active in the CUNY faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), representing faculty members in grievance hearings over tenure and promotion issues. Invariably, such procedural errors resulted in negative tenure or promotion decisions being overturned on appeal."

    Note: Since this comment was posted Mr. Sternstein has revised his views. He now believes that Johnson is the victim of a" corrupted tenure process."

  • New York Sun (11/15/02):"The furor heated up yesterday over Brooklyn College’s decision to deny tenure to a historian that colleagues describe as an accomplished scholar and popular professor."

    Two City University of New York trustees spoke out about the case, students announced plans for a rally in the professor’s defense, and more details emerged about the hiring process in the college’s history department. In one e-mail about a search for a professor, the history department’s chairman, Philip Gallagher, suggested “finding some women that we can live with, who are not whiners from the word go or who need therapy as much as they need a job.”

    Twenty-three of the nation’s most prominent historians — including Donald Kagan of Yale and Ernest May and Akira Iriye of Harvard — have written a letter to the CUNY chancellor describing the decision to deny tenure to Robert David “KC” Johnson as “disastrous” and “unjust,” The New York Sun reported yesterday. The historians’ letter calls Mr. Johnson “one of the most accomplished young historians in the country,” and says the college’s decision was based not on scholarship or teaching but on a newly invented category of “collegiality,” which the professors said “poses a grave threat to academic freedom.”

    The collegiality category was troubling to at least one City University of New York trustee. “This is not a country club. This is a university,” Jeffrey Wiesenfeld told The New York Sun. He said that scholarship should be the overriding issue in tenure decisions. Mr. Wiesenfeld said he was confident that the CUNY chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, would make “the right decision” after reviewing the matter.