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April 19, 2021 12:15 pm
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How Tufts University Can Prevent Another Antisemitic Fiasco

avatar by Susan Price

Opinion

Eaton Hall at Tufts University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Max Price recently joined an involuntary club that includes USC’s Rose Ritch and UCLA’s Rachel Beyda. All three had their suitability for student leadership questioned — purely because of their Zionism. Max retained his position, but if Tufts and other universities do not implement significant reforms, it is only a matter of time before the club grows.

In his role as a member of the Tufts Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ), Max pointed out inaccuracies in the wording of an anti-Israel referendum about “Deadly Exchange.” Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) agitated for him to recuse himself from the proceedings due to a “conflict of interest,” despite a unanimous decision by the other members of the TCUJ that he had no need to do so.

SJP launched a vicious campaign against Max. He was forced to mute himself during the Zoom meeting where the TCUJ finalized and voted on the referendum’s wording. Despite the fact that Tufts students ultimately voted in favor of the Deadly Exchange referendum, SJP filed a complaint against Max with the TCU Senate, seeking his impeachment and removal, and a hearing was set for February 28, 2021. Max sought the representation of Alyza Lewin of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. The Brandeis Center wrote a detailed letter to the administration on Max’s behalf, but the administration’s response was not to intervene. The Brandeis Center went public with Max’s story. On February 26th, the complaint was withdrawn.

The Tufts situation pains me on multiple fronts. As leader of the Tufts Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF) chapter, I work to protect Jewish students from the bias and unfair treatment Max endured. But for me, Max’s story was not simply another distressing news item.

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Max is my son.

Watching him over the last few months, I was concerned about the constant stress he was under, as well as the time he had to spend on these issues while working at his job and maintaining his grades. I am proud of him for using his knowledge and strength of personality to stand up for the truth, while conducting himself with dignity throughout the entire matter. However, his situation reminds me why, as a parent, I have chosen to remain involved. It makes me redouble my efforts to protect Jewish students who do not want to have to fight or suppress part of their identity in order to be accepted on campus.

One significant factor that caused this debacle is the impregnability of the Tufts Community Union’s independent functioning. While the student government has policies in place to preserve fairness and due process, the university needs to implement a standard process for the administration to take action when the student government oversteps or violates university policy. In the wake of Max’s incident, the TCU Senate itself has recognized its “lack of preparedness for inter-governmental disciplinary actions,” according to a Tufts Daily article.

The Senate is considering various options. One is that future complaints against TCU members be heard by the Committee on Student Life (CSL), a body composed of both students and faculty. Placing inter-governmental hearings under the jurisdiction of the CSL could be a wise solution if it is implemented with modifications. The CSL includes several non-voting, ex officio members; these members ought to vote in TCU member hearings, since they have a bigger picture of the university’s goals, standards, and reputation, and are therefore more likely to represent the university’s best interests objectively and reliably.

In addition, such cases ought to follow the full, formal Student Conduct Resolution Procedure (SCRP), rather than the TCU Constitution and Bylaws, as they currently do. If Max’s case had been governed by this robust procedure, Max would have been aided by an advisor of his choice. A conduct officer from Tufts’ Office of Community Standards would have determined how best to resolve the case; a baseless complaint like this one never would have proceeded to a hearing.

Moreover, there are steps that the administration should take to actively prevent Jew hatred on campus, such as training about antisemitism during freshman orientation, as well as periodically for faculty and student government. This could be separate from or included with other anti-bias training programs. The administration and board of trustees should also adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism for use as a reference and educational tool. Finally, the “Group of Six” (the six centers within the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion) could be amended to include a seventh group — Jewish students or Tufts Hillel.

As alumni, we can ensure that the future will be different by actively involving ourselves in happenings at our alma maters. Universities rely heavily on their good reputations to attract students and donors — so they are very conscious of press and public opinion. In Max’s case, once the media became aware of what was happening at Tufts, the attention may have persuaded SJP to drop its complaint.

I am sorry my son had to undergo months of this ordeal, but if his case makes a difference for future Jewish students, it will have served a purpose. Together, we must make sure these reforms come to pass, so that the list of student government members who suffer for their Zionism — at least at Tufts — ends with Max.

Susan Price is the Alums for Campus Fairness chapter leader at Tufts University.

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