The International Youth and Students for Social Equality — a socialist group on campus mobilizing students against capitalism — grapples with another defeat this semester with its second consecutive rejection for club status from the Student Activities Board.
Members of the IYSSE have resisted this decision, saying that they do not accept the SAB’s reasons for rejection. The club appealed the rejection, but the decision was not changed. A number of faculty members have written to the university to voice support for the IYSSE. Politics professor Bertell Ollman, a prominent left-leaning professor at the university, has been exchanging emails with the SAB in support of the IYSSE.
Ollman is the author of a number of academic works centering on Marxist theory, published dozens of articles on socialism and has held teaching fellowships at Oxford University, Columbia University and the University of Chicago. Washington Square News spoke with Ollman about his support for the IYSSE, his thoughts on why the club was rejected and his views on freedom of speech at NYU.
Washington Square News: Why do you think the IYSSE deserves official club membership at NYU?
Bertell Ollman: One of the advantages of being at a university is that you can get together with people who share interests with you on all sorts of subjects, including politics. Clubs were as important to my understanding of the world, and what career I chose to go into and how I have developed, as anything I learned from my teachers or even the books I read. I can’t believe that those opportunities are not something relatively easy for any university to provide. Their reasons for not doing so don’t make sense to me.
WSN: Why do you think the SAB rejected the IYSSE’s application?
Ollman: One possibility is that they feel that the university is not a socialist university and they know that the Socialists call themselves communist groups. They simply don’t want to lose control. I think the more the merrier should be the motto in terms of clubs. Students should join more clubs, even clubs which they are not 100 percent in agreement with, because that’s where we can talk about what’s happening in our world without the interference that comes with the presence of your professor. Students should talk among themselves about these matters and learn more from their fellow students. This is a terribly important part of education. The university is displaying ignorance in terms of what a desirable education should be like.
WSN: What implications does this rejection have for free speech on campus at NYU?
Ollman: The suspicion that it has to do with the fact that this is a very left-wing group can’t be completely dismissed, and that is worrying in itself because suspicions can affect how people think. It could affect what they worry about and what they don’t want to get involved in.
WSN: Are you aware of any other political organizations that have been facing similar problems at NYU?
Ollman: I have been here for 50 years, and I have never heard of this before. I have not looked into it, but I have been assuming that it is pretty easy to start a new club. From what I’ve heard about IYSSE’s prior experiences with several universities around New York, this was not the situation — it was much easier to get funding as an official club. These places were much smaller and not anywhere near as wealthy as NYU, but it seemed that they were more supportive of new clubs.
Email Herman Lee at [email protected].