Ending University Tolerance of Antisemitism
“The one place in America where antisemitism is still considered acceptable is in the university.” I wrote in 2005. Sadly, nothing has changed. One need look no further than this week’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference at UCLA, where students will be allowed to foment antisemitism, call for the destruction of the Jewish state, and try to use the university mascot to demonstrate support for terrorist attacks on Israeli Jews.
Today, thousands of professors, some monopolizing departments at elite universities, espouse antisemitic views. Academic departments routinely organize programs where antisemitic views are promulgated without objection. University presses publish antisemitic claptrap that allows propagandists masquerading as scholars to obtain tenure. If anything, the situation is getting worse.
We rightly focus our attention on groups such as SJP, but more scrutiny should be devoted to the far more dangerous and influential faculty. The naïve expectation has been that university officials would refuse to tolerate antisemitism on their campuses and faculty would police themselves. The reality is that we continue to allow academic foxes to guard college henhouses.
Can anything be done to force administrators to treat attacks on Jews as they would any other form of bigotry? Is it possible to make faculty accountable to ensure that courses, lecturers, panels, and publications have scholarly merit?
When it comes to administrators, they are moved primarily by two things — publicity and money. They must pay a price for tolerating antisemitism or they have proven they will do nothing.
A positive image of a university is critical to the survival of presidents and chancellors. Just ask the presidents who lost their jobs at Michigan State and Penn State after scandals tarnished their schools’ reputations. Administrators who fail to act against antisemitism should be shamed in the media. High school guidance counselors should be notified about which schools allow Jew-hatred in their classrooms and quads.
An even greater motivator of administrative behavior is money. University presidents are judged by the amount of money they raise. Donors and trustees need to be willing to withhold their contributions so long as administrators sit on their hands. If an alumnus really cares for their alma mater, they will not allow it to become a haven for antisemites. Trustees should go further and threaten presidents with termination if they fail to implement changes to the university culture.
Administrators must be willing to punish faculty for abuses of power as it relates to Jewish students. The University of Michigan, for example, disciplined a professor who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad after he learned that she planned to attend school in Israel.
The dean at Michigan rightly said that “a student’s merit should be your primary guide for determining how and whether to provide a letter of recommendation. You are not to use student requests for recommendations as a platform to discuss your personal political beliefs.”
Less publicized was the professor’s misuse of his classroom, another all-too-common occurrence among anti-Israel faculty. The dean admonished him for using class time in two courses unrelated to the Middle East to discuss his views on the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. “You did not honor your responsibility to teach your students the material on your syllabus related to your field of expertise,” the dean said. “This use of class time to discuss your personal opinions was a misuse of your role as a faculty member.”
As punishment, the professor will not get a merit raise during the 2018-19 academic year and can’t go on his upcoming sabbatical in January or another sabbatical for two years. These measures were taken after Michigan was heaped with scorn (note the impact of bad publicity) when the story about the professor was exposed.
I don’t know if it is legal, but the university should have also considered stripping him of tenure and possibly firing him. Non-tenured faculty certainly should be denied tenure, if not fired, for similar abuses.
This case would have gone unpunished if the professor had not openly admitted the reason for his actions. We don’t know how many other professors quietly discriminate against Jewish students in grading or recommendations based on antisemitic or anti-Israel opinions.
The Michigan dean also noted that this professor behaved differently before he got tenure. Preventing people from getting near-lifetime academic appointments is perhaps the most critical step in keeping antisemites out of the classroom. Readers are undoubtedly familiar with the adage “publish or perish.” To get tenure, faculty members need to publish their research in refereed academic journals and books published by university presses.
The problem is that the peer review process is broken. Rather than serious scholars reviewing research submitted for publication, their peers are too often people with similar political views. How else can you explain, for example, Duke University Press publishing a book that claims Israel intentionally maims Palestinians to maintain control over them? It was less surprising that the National Women’s Studies Association, which voted to support the BDS movement in 2015, awarded the book a prize for scholarship.
Books and articles related to Israel need to be reviewed by scholars who know the subject matter. If professors are unable to publish, they won’t get tenure (though they can have careers speaking to anti-Israel groups). This is not a panacea, since some antisemitic faculty are in fields unrelated to Israel and can obtain tenure legitimately by writing about topics for which they have expertise, or, like the Michigan professor, hide their true feelings until they are tenured.
Another issue that would not be a problem if faculty were able to police themselves is the politicization of the classroom. It is inexcusable, for example, that faculty reviewing curricula could allow a course such as “Colonizing Palestine” to be taught as it was this semester at Tufts.
It is time to put the academic back into academic freedom.
Mitchell Bard, Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library, has written 24 books including, The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.