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October 11, 2019 10:36 am

Sut Jhally’s Occupation of UMass Amherst’s Classrooms

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

Opinion

Baker Hall at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Sut Jhally, professor of communications at UMass Amherst, has made it perfectly clear that he regards college classrooms as indoctrination zones.

He revealed this in 2017, when he spoke at an event sponsored by the Media Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut. Jhally asked his audience to help him get his one-sided and dishonest movie, The Occupation of the American Mind, into college classrooms, because “the main place we want to get to and that we encourage is the classroom. And it’s the college classroom, because that is a captive audience.”

“Students have to watch.” Jhally continued. “If a professor says, ‘We’re gonna watch this, we’re gonna talk about it and it’s on the test,’ they have to watch. We want to make use of that captive audience.”

Jhally has done exactly that at UMass Amherst. He has shown his movie to his students, and then required them to affirm the misinformation it contained in a final exam. Students who don’t affirm Jhally’s agenda get a lower grade.

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In a 70-question final exam recently obtained by CAMERA, Jhally devotes the last 20 questions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In order to get the “right” answer on many of the questions — which closely track the script of Jhally’s movie — all students must do is determine the choice that affirms the film’s distorted anti-Israel and anti-Western narrative.

For example, question 62 asks students, “What happened to President Barack Obama when he said that the borders of Israel/Palestine should be based on the 1967 borders?” The possible answers range from “he was accused of encouraging a second holocaust (sic),” to “he was applauded by everyone as taking the steps necessary for peace,” or “he won the person of the year award from AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee).”

Of course the “right” answer on Jhally’s test is that Obama was accused of encouraging a second Holocaust.

In Jhally’s disgrace of a film, anti-Israel academic Stephen Walt laments that it has “been hard for government officials to have an honest discussion” about Israel. After Walt makes this statement, Jhally appears on screen to say “Just look what happened to President Obama when he made the mistake of simply saying out loud what the international consensus is.”

Then President Obama is shown standing behind a podium as he says, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

Jhally then declares that when Obama made this statement, “he was immediately accused by right-wing groups of setting up Israel for another Holocaust.” To prove this point, the film displays a portion of a 30-second ad produced by the Freedom Center that asks, “Has President Obama abandoned Israel?” and ends by asking “[W]ith Obama’s waffling, can a second Holocaust be on the way?”

But Jhally’s chronology is wrong. The Freedom Center’s ad was released in late July 2010, nearly 10 months before President Obama made his declaration about Israel’s borders on May 19, 2011. A search on Nexis shows no reference to accusations of a “second holocaust” directed at President Obama in response to his borders statement.

It’s possible that someone did, in fact, make such a statement; but if they did, why did Jhally have to use a false chronology to prove it in his film? And even if one or a few people did make such a statement, that certainly was not the consensus of American, Israeli, or Diaspora Jewry.

Another example of how Jhally uses his test to coerce his students into accepting his narrative is the last question of the test. It asks, “According to Mark Miller, what characterizes movements such as Zionism, Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism and Germany fascism?”

The correct answer is that they are afflicted with “a belief that they are victims and under threat.” The notion that Zionism is the moral equivalent of jihadism and German fascism is a dishonest slur that Jhally’s students must affirm if they want to score points on his final.

Jhally engages in this indoctrination under the protection of academic freedom, which even in the broadest definition does not allow professors to coerce their students into accepting propaganda the way that Jhally does. He uses his control of the classroom and his power over students to affirm his personal view of the conflict, which is a clear abuse of authority as a professor.

Sadly, Massachusetts taxpayers — who pay the freight at UMass Amherst to the tune of $360 million a year — and the families who pay the cost of sending their children to the school at the cost of more than $30,000 a year, are expected to foot the bill for this indoctrination.

It’s a violation of the social contract between tenured professors at publicly-funded institutions, the students they serve, and the taxpayers. The failure of the academy to self-police, which has been so evident at UMass, invites intrusion and oversight from outsiders. The best solution would have been for Jhally’s colleagues to insist he stop abusing academic freedom, but they haven’t.

The fault doesn’t end with the faculty, however. None of the dozens of people who are charged with managing the school have had the nerve to step in and hold him accountable.

UMass Chancellor Dr. Kumble R. Subbaswamy, can’t or won’t act.

The same goes for UMass President Marty Meehan.

Jim Peyser, the state’s secretary of education, has done nothing.

The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and the Trustees of the University of Massachusetts haven’t done anything either.

When Jhally said he views students in college classrooms as part of a captive audience, he made it perfectly clear that he is intent on teaching students what — not how — to think.

Jhally’s cynical abuse of the classroom is a disgrace to the UMass system. Everyone who has allowed this disgrace to continue should be ashamed of themselves.

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