[Updated at 10:39 a.m. on February 1 to include comment from Brooklyn College.]
In the face of protests from scholars who accused it of trampling academic freedom, the administration at City University of New York's Brooklyn College abandoned on Monday a decision to block the hiring of an instructor whose work has offended some advocates of Israel.
Karen L. Gould, the college's president, and William A. Tramontano, its provost and vice president for academic affairs, signed off on the hiring of the instructor, Kristofer Petersen-Overton, soon after a unanimous vote by the political-science department to give him the job teaching a course on Middle Eastern politics.
The move came following days of mounting criticism of a decision last week by Mr. Tramontano to rescind the college's previous offer to hire Mr. Petersen-Overton, a doctoral student, to teach the class.
In explaining their earlier decision to rescind the job offer, officials of the college had argued that the hiring decision had not gone through proper channels and that, as a fourth-semester graduate student, Mr. Petersen-Overton was unqualified to teach the master's-level class.
Mr. Petersen-Overton, however, accused the college of caving in to opposition to the appointment from people who viewed his work as slanted against Israel. And the leadership of CUNY's faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, had issued a statement that accused the college of bowing to political interference and argued that CUNY routinely hires doctoral students to teach courses at the same level as the one Mr. Petersen-Overton had been asked to teach.
As of Monday evening, more than 1,700 people were listed as having signed an online petition that denounced the college's decision not to hire Mr. Petersen-Overton as "a clear violation of academic freedom."
Mr. Petersen-Overton and many of his supporters pointed out that the provost's decision to rescind the job offer had come hours after Dov Hikind, a Democratic state assemblyman from Brooklyn, sent President Gould and CUNY's chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, a letter challenging the appointment of Mr. Petersen-Overton and accusing the doctoral student of showing bias against Israel and support for terrorism in his writings and the course syllabus.
Among Mr. Petersen-Overton's works is an unpublished paper titled, "Inventing the Martyr: Martyrdom as Palestinian National Signifier." Although his writings have criticized Israeli policy, many scholars in his field dispute the idea he has a strong bias, calling his views fairly mainstream.
Department's Unanimous Choice
The administration's decision to allow the hiring of Mr. Petersen-Overton after all came after the college's political-science department voted unanimously to recommend that he get the job and the department's appointments committee unanimously voted to make the job offer official, thereby appearing to head off any concerns about whether the appointment had gone through proper channels.
President Gould issued a statement in which she denied that outside influences had played any role in the original decision to rescind the job offer, and argued that the debate over the college's actions had "been fueled at times by inflammatory rhetoric and mischaracterization of the facts."
"Brooklyn College continues to have a strong commitment to academic freedom," she said. "As one of the most diverse campuses in the United States, we value civil discourse on even the most difficult topics."
Sally Avery Bermanzohn, the political-science department's chair, said on Monday that she was "thrilled" with the college's decision to hire Mr. Petersen-Overton. "This is a scholar who has done important work, that we feel has a lot to teach our students," she said. "We are happy to have him on board as part of our adjunct faculty, and we feel confident that this is going to be a great course."
Corey Robin, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said that "the administration, I think, understands very clearly the principles and issues that were at stake.".
But Mark LeVine, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California at Irvine and a supporter of Mr. Petersen-Overton, argued that the college's earlier decision not to hire the doctoral student might have done lasting damage, by leaving others in academe reluctant to make appointments that could generate controversy.
"We need to prevent this from happening again," he said. "Who knows how many department chairs, or departments, when they think about hiring adjuncts, are going to have this kind of fight in the back of their mind?"