Protect Academic Freedom at Riverdale Country School

To the Riverdale Community:

As alumni of Riverdale Country School, we write to express our outrage and profound disappointment regarding the recent cancellation of Joel Doerfler’s Israel/Palestine seminar, and to affirm our absolute support of Mr. Doerfler, a deeply committed, talented and beloved teacher who served as head of the history department for most of his 26 years at Riverdale.

A few weeks ago, Shawn Redden, a Riverdale history teacher, was suspended over an alleged dispute with students that took place in his classroom on the subject of recent events in Gaza. While the precise details of that incident remain unclear, we question whether Mr. Redden would have been suspended had the dispute centered on an issue other than Israel/Palestine.

However, one thing is certain: Joel Doerfler had no involvement whatsoever. He was neither in the classroom, nor in any way implicated in how another teacher responded to a discussion with his students. There is no reason why an incident involving Mr. Redden should have had any bearing on Mr. Doerfler.

Nonetheless, a group of Riverdale parents, some of whom no longer have children at the school, used the incident as an opportunity to attack Joel Doerfler. Following Mr. Redden’s suspension, this group of parents launched what appears to be a smear campaign against Mr. Doerfler and his course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their efforts culminated in a forum of parents and administrators in the school auditorium, where Mr. Doerfler was attacked on political grounds.

Two days later, the Riverdale administration acquiesced to the parents’ demands and cancelled Mr. Doerfler’s Israel/Palestine course. Faced with a stunning assault on academic freedom and the integrity of the school, Mr. Doerfler resigned, ending his storied teaching career at Riverdale.

Mr. Doerfler’s Israel/Palestine course was not a mandatory part of the Riverdale curriculum. Rather, it was an elective offered every few years to a group of 8–16 students who voluntarily signed up for the class. Nonetheless, though less than five percent of Riverdale students actually took Mr. Doerfler’s class, dozens of parents, most if not all of whose children had never taken the class, mobilized to ensure its cancellation.

It is worth noting that the seminar was the only class at Riverdale to engage specifically with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — absent his course, students will have no opportunity to study the subject. We find it disturbing that, for certain parents, the mere existence of such a class was apparently intolerable, and that the Riverdale administration folded under the pressure of their unjustified outrage.

Though we are particularly appalled by what has happened to a beloved former teacher, we recognize that what has happened at Riverdale is not unique. The pressure campaign against Mr. Doerfler fits into an ongoing pattern of intimidation directed at any individual, organization or course that is perceived to question the actions of the Israeli government, meaningfully delve into the intricacies of Palestinian and Israeli history or depart from an unequivocally pro-Israel reading of current events.

As alumni, we are grateful for the many wonderful teachers we had at Riverdale, and the privilege of such an extraordinary education. Our teachers’ commitment to the values of inquiry, openness, and academic rigor provides the foundation of our current academic and professional pursuits. And while we are deeply angered by what has transpired and call on Riverdale to ensure that such basic assaults on academic freedom never happen again, our letter is written primarily out of love and support for Mr. Doerfler, an extraordinary teacher whose dedication to his students is unrivaled. We refuse to be silent as members of the parent body seek to cleanse our alma mater of ideas that they may find disagreeable and call on the Riverdale administration to ensure that such basic assaults on academic freedom never happen again.

Riverdale considers itself a leader in “building character” through education. According to its official website, the school seeks to “give students the confidence to develop independence,” and is committed to the values of “open-mindedness,” “curiosity,” and “integrity.” Recent events constitute nothing less than a flagrant failure to live up to those ideals.

Riverdale can — and must — do better.

Sincerely,

Daniel Levine-Spound (Class of 2008)

Joseph de Jonge (Class of 2009)

Sophia Yapalater (Class of 2009)

Lee Eames (Class of 2010)

Lauren Levine (Class of 1978)

Clara Fischman (Class of 2009)

Julia Attie (Class of 2016)

Anna Attie (Class of 2016)

Annie Rasiel (Class of 2011)

Tovah Liebowitz (Class of 2007)

Katie Schaffer (Class of 2007)

Audrey E. Levine (Class of 1978)

Sophia Posnock (Class of 2008)

Ben Orbison (Class of 2008)

Ben Charles (Class of 2008)

Anna-Elisabeth Scheidt (Class of 2008)

Hilary Levine (Class of 1986)

Rachel Schragis (Class of 2004)

Sid Gurung (Class of 2007)

Laura Berman (Class of 2011)

Erik Goyenechea (Class of 2009)

Jack Masterson (Class of 2009)

Bronwen Schumacher (Class of 2011)

Griffin Schumacher (Class of 2011)

Jason Brandner (Class of 2012)

Jack Rasiel (Class of 2012)

Emma Weiss (Class of 2009)

Daniel Weiss (Class of 2009)

Carla Diaz (Class of 2009)

Nina Tager (Class of 1978)

Johnathan Appel (Class of 2012)

Michelle Goodman (Class of 2009)

Andrew Wynne (Class of 2009)

Georges Clement (Class of 2008)

Ben Nortey (Class of 2009)

Peter Eames (Class of 2008)

Nadia Ahmed (Class of 2010)

Samantha Shalowitz (Class of 2010)

Caroline Grueskin (Class of 2010)

Catherine Rolfe (Class of 2010)

Ben Wexler-Waite (Class of 2010)

Karen Wexler (Class of 1978)

Lisa Franklin (Class of 2010)

Ariel Lesnick (Class of 2010)

Julia Grueskin (Class of 2007)

Adam Sands (Class of 2010)

Lily Adler (Class of 2010)

Ethan Gracer (Class of 2010)

Emma Horwitz (Class of 2010)

Jess Coles (Class of 2010)

Will Morrison (Class of 2010)

Aaron Horwitz (Class of 2010)

Noah Kernis (Class of 2010)

Carolyn Levine (Class of 2010)

Josh Wexler-Waite (Class of 2013)

Melvin Rodriguez (Class of 2010)

Allison Gross (Class of 2014)

Keifer Ludwig (Class of 2015)

Aaron Horwitz (Class of 2013)

Ben Kesslen (Class of 2014)

Alexander Spatt (Class of 2008)

Jeff Hechler (Class of 2008)

Ariel Stein (Class of 2008)

Oleander S. Furman (Class of 2011)

Noah Brick (Class of 1999)

Maggie Cicco (Class of 2013)

John Cicco (Class of 2016)

Michael Shelton (Class of 2010)

Ethan Rodriguez (Class of 2017)

Giordano Salvador (Class of 2010)

Soo Ji Lee (Class of 2012)

Rebecca Selch (Class of 2013)

Cathy Skulnik (Class of 2007)

Katherine Corwin (Class of 2008)

Anna Radinova (Class of 2008)

Damone Johnson (Class of 2008)

Emma Michelson (Class of 2008)

Suhaydee Tejada (Class of 2008)

William Dana (Class of 2008)

Jonathan Rolfe (Class of 2014)

Julia Millison (Class of 2008)

Joanna Petrone (Class of 2001)

Oliver Chemtob (Class of 2016)

Will Kahn (Class of 2008)

Zach Schwinder (Class of 2010)

David Fischoff (Class of 2009)

Anna Radinova (Class of 2008)

Jared Newmark (Class of 2010)

Gabriel Murray (Class of 2014)

Kay Cohen (Class of 2006)

Ryan Picard (Class of 2013)

James Klingensmith (Class of 2008)

Margaret Stone (Class of 2014)

Becca Schwartz (Class of 2007)

Daniel C Eghdami (Class of 2013)

EJ Dickson (Class of 2007)

Monique Reichenstein (Class of 2014)

Dustin Taylor (Class of 2013)

Gabriela Gamez (Class of 2018)

Elena Golub (Class of 2016)

Kathy Franklin (Parent — Class of 2010)

Rachel Grimmelman (Class of 2007)

Sugeidy Ferreira (Class of 2018)

Luke Landis (Class of 2017)

Don Fischman (Parent—Class of 2009)

Andrew Lemchen (Class of 2008)

Alex Korman (Class of 2018)

Judith Bram Murphy (Class of 1977)

Leila Murphy (Class of 2015)

Theodore Casparian (Class of 1978)

Jake Nusbaum (Class of 2013)

Li Goldstein (Class of 2018)

Olivia Irby (Class of 2014)

Matthew Weinberger (Class of 2017)

Philip Joseph (Class of 1985)

Paul Ryan (Class of 1985)

Erica Moroz (Class of 2006)

Peter Feld (Class of 1976)

Mellora Ansbro (Class of 2012)

Brian Swift (Class of 2014)

Meredith Scholl (Class of 2006)

Georgia Stockwell (Class of 2007)

Bonnie Berman Stockwell (Parent—Class of 2007)

Ryan Claffey (Class of 2018)

Milad Momeni (Class of 2012)

Andrew Simon (Class of 1975)

Molly Byrnes (Class of 2001)

Kate Clifford (Class of 2000)

Mariely Hernandez (Class of 2002)

Kayla Soyer-Stein (Class of 2000)

Gabriel Pincus (Class of 2001)

Julia Eshaghpour (Class of 2013)

George Niedermayer (Class of 2013)

Esther M. Tejeda (Class of 1998)

David Rosenbloom (Class of 1967)

Anne Clark (Class of 2006)

Eamon McCormick (Class of 2001)

Chloe Malle (Class of 2004)

Sam Feldman (Class of 2009)

Sarah Fuentes (Class of 1997)

Jaccqueline Wachter (Class of 2004)

Charlie Davidson (Class of 2000)

Michael Schneider (Class of 2000)

Peter Hechler (Class of 2010)

Jeff Deutchman (Class of 2001)

Kate Finnegan-Prans (Class of 2001)

Maia Safani (Class of 2011)

Madison Blais (Class of 2013)

Emily Greene Madden (Class of 2002)

Reva Minkoff (Class of 2004)

Ben T. Brown (Class of 2002)

Amanda Quaid (Class of 2001)

Ben Kruger (Class of 1997)

Karin Paredes (Class of 1997)

Daniel Pomerantz (Class of 2003)

Andrew Kaplan (Class of 2004)

Serena Pomerantz (Class of 2006)

William Schragis (Class of 2008)

Stephanie Gonzalez (Class of 2004)

Rebecca Kirchheimer (Class of 2000)

Diana Fleisher (Class of 2000)

Jake Siegal (Class of 2008)

Alexis Densen Higgins (Class of 1993)

Jacob Richman (Class of 2012)

Douglas Kawka (Class of 2000)

If you are a member of the Riverdale community and would like to sign this letter, please email dlspound@gmail.com or comment accordingly.