The Times has taken a look at a controversy brewing over Brooklyn College's choice to assign all incoming students to read How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America (a different book is selected each year as a "common reader" for new students). The book, written by Brooklyn College associate English professor Moustafa Bayoumi, profiles seven Arab-Americans in the wake of 9/11. The paper notes, interestingly, that most of the “outcry” over the selection has come from those outside of the community, whereas the “response in the neighborhood itself is more muted.”
Several alums have made their displeasure with the required reading loud and clear, though most have used the Internet as their pulpit.
After learning of the choice, Bruce Kesler, an alumnus living in California, wrote a blog post last Friday, entitled “I Just Disinherited My Alma Mater.” “I just updated my will and trust and, with heavy heart, cut out what was a significant bequest to my alma mater, Brooklyn College,” he wrote. In his post, Mr. Kesler described Dr. Bayoumi as a “radical pro-Palestinian professor” who, in his book, asserts that the American government “limits the speech of Arab-Americans in order to cement United States policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
A New York Post editorial Wednesday by City University of New York professor emeritus Ronald Radosh argued that the decision “force-fed [students] one point of view, without even a pretense of providing a conflicting assessment.” Brooklyn College Jewish history professor Jonathan Helfand similarly told the Times he thinks it “sets a bad precedent to only allow one voice to be heard and not to really allow students to be part of the dialogue.”
Meanwhile, the book — which the Times notes was chosen before the “intense national debate over the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero” — does not seem to have caused much of a stir on campus. Bayoumi said his book “reaffirms the bedrock values of the nation,” and claimed he has not received any critical comments from students. (The most controversial response he has heard, he said, was from a student who said she was not a fan of the title.) Undergraduate Dean Donna Wilson added: “We knew that it could create some difficult conversation, but we are used to handling difficult conversation.”
Brooklyn College Furor Is More Heated Online [City Room/NYT]