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Head of First Judaic Studies Program in City’s University System Resigns

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Dr. Marvin Fox has resigned his appointment as chairman of the first full department of Judaic Studies in the City University system, at Brooklyn College, charging interference in academic affairs by a member of the Board of Higher Education, the policy-making body for the university system. However, informed sources at the Brooklyn school told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the resignation by Dr. Fox would not affect plans to open on schedule the new department in September. Dr. Fox, currently visiting professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, on leave from Ohio State University, accused board member Herbert Berman, an attorney, of the interference. Dr. Fox, a leading Orthodox Scholar, made his charge and withdrew from the appointment in a letter dated Feb. 16 to Brocklyn College President John Kneller and Dean Harry G. Albaum. The texts of Dr. Fox’s letter, and of a letter from Berman to him, dated Feb. 4, on which Dr. Fox based his charge, were published in the April issue of the Reporter of the Legislative Conference of CUNY, a bargaining agency for faculty members in the city university system. According to that publication, the Legislative Conference referred both the Fox and Berman letters to Frederick H. Burkhardt, BHE chairman, calling for an investigation and “the action demanded by your findings.”

In his letter, Dr. Fox charged that Berman “explicitly injected himself into such matters as selection of faculty and other areas of academic policy.” Dr. Fox cited a passage in the Berman letter complaining that Dr. Fox apparently was approaching his new assignment “on the basis of an academician accustomed to the leisurely processes of the academic world. If you think this is in that category, you are sadly mistaken and we may have chosen the wrong man for the job.” In his resignation letter, Dr. Fox replied that “I did think it was in that category” and that “it seems that I was clearly mistaken and, in that case, I am surely the wrong man for the job.” He added that “to build a department in haste, without proper planning, development of a curricular master plan, survey of needs and development of priorities–to proceed only out of concern for publicity, or even in part out of such concern,” he asserted, was “unworthy of any academic standards with which I am familiar.” He declared that he “categorically” refused to serve as a professor and chairman “under policies set by Berman or any lay board member, or to have to deal with him on academic matters.”

Berman had written that he had not been able to impress on Dr. Fox “sufficiently the need for immediate and strong decisions” on the new department which, he said, “has been widely publicized” as a “pilot program in the City University.” He charged Dr. Fox with “vacillation and indecision in the face of the urgency of the program.” The BHE held an unpublicized meeting on the issue on May 3 and prepared a statement on “functions and duties of board members,” which declared that “any effort to elaborate a fixed code for the Board of Higher Education would be difficult and, since standards of propriety are relative to circumstances and time, probably unwise.” But, the statement added, “some examples of conduct can be mentioned which we think we would agree, are clearly improper.” One item in that category was when a board member “interferes in any degree with the freedom to teach and to learn, or when he intervenes in the affairs of a college at any level without the knowledge and consent of the President.” A spokesman for the BHE declined to comment on whether any part of the BHE statement was meant to refer to the actions by Mr. Berman about which Dr. Fox had complained. He said that the statement preparation was the response of the BHE to requests for an investigation.

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