“As many of you already know, I represent a philosophy professor at City College of New York who engages in “Philosophical Practice” or “Philosophical counseling” which involves discussing issues from the viewpoint of philosophy. On November 7, 2000, he was ordered by his Dean to “cease immediately all philosophical counseling activities on campus.” The law says that public employees may not be silenced if their activities involve matters of “public concern” which means of any “political, social, or other interest to the community.”
Yesterday, Federal District Judge Sidney H. Stein dismissed our complaint against the Dean and his fellow administrators holding that there was no matter of public concern in philosophical counseling. I had to ask to be heard as the judge never allowed for oral argument, instead reading from a pre-written decision, but when I interrupted I argued the following constitutes philosophical counseling: “one of Prof. Marinoff’s students comes to his office, upset over the 9-11 attacks and seeks input as to what Aristotle would say about it.” This, I said, is an example of philosophical counseling. The discussion that would ensue would clearly be one of public concern. Yet the judge would not admit this would be a protected activity, admitting only that it is part of his job. My friends, it is much more than his job…it is protected by the First Amendment. The Judge did not agree….these conversations are literally forbidden by the November 7 letter, and the Judge had no problem with that letter which prohibits these conversations until a “legal review” of philosophical counseling being done by the school is concluded.
It is interesting and disturbing to note that any student can go to the Campus Ministries and seek the counsel of a minister on campus without any such restriction, and without the campus ministries counselors ever having been subjected to such a legal review.
My client and I left the courtroom determined to appeal, although appeals such as these rarely succeed. The principle is vital…To me, this indicates the death of reason itself. To rule as he did, the Court must also have found that there is a “reasonable possibility of significant harm” from the conversations the school has forbidden. In other words, thinking can cause harm. My client can teach ABOUT philosophy, but cannot teach students how to USE it.
From a mailing-list about philosophy.