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Randa Jarrar case at Fresno State has attracted national attention, much of it arguably undue

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

Randa Jarrar’s celebratory tweets about the death of former first lady Barbara Bush last week clearly hit a nerve. But does the case of the California State University at Fresno English professor really represent a new low in faculty online expression, as the glut of news stories and opinion pieces about it -- along with Fresno State's changing public stances -- suggest? No, say a number of experts on academic freedom and free speech. Instead, they say, the case is a textbook example of how political provocateurs from the left or right exercise free speech on social media, and, at the same time, supposed “proof” of the right’s deepest fears about professors’ political leanings. Far from the worst faculty Twitter-gone-wild case, it is “the perfect one, in that Professor Jarrar seems to be proving just what a lot of crusty commentators think goes on in college already,” said Adam Laats, a professor of teaching, learning and educational leadership at the State University of New York at Binghamton who specializes in academic history. “When something satisfies what people are trying to prove, they’ll pick it up and blow it out of proportion,” he said, arguing that Jarrar has become a stand-in for the academic left. Beyond Jarrar’s message, she’s also the perfect messenger, Laats said, in that her online persona -- with references to 1970s-era radical activism -- evokes “nostalgia for true leftist radicalism, when you didn’t hurt people but you didn’t care about hurting their feelings.” ‘The Witch Is Dead’ Jarrar, who teaches creative writing, quickly saw thousands of angry replies to her tweets last week saying Bush was an “amazing racist” who raised a “war criminal.” Undeterred, the professor also said she was “happy the witch is dead” and that she couldn’t wait for the rest of the Bush family to “fall to their demise the way 1.5 million Iraqis have.” Jarrar later tweeted that she couldn’t be fired because she is an associate professor with tenure -- and a $100,000 salary. Hank Reichman, professor emeritus of history of Cal State’s campus at East Bay and vice president of the American Association of University Professors, said Jarrar’s later tweets amounted to a kind of taunt -- “na-na-na-na-na-na.” Still, Reichman never thought Jarrar’s comments would come under such scrutiny, he said. That’s because her politically oriented speech on a personal Twitter account was, in his view, clearly protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, he said, it just wasn’t that newsworthy. “I just thought it was another incident.” Robert O’Neil, professor of law and president emeritus at the University of Virginia, called the case “bizarre.” But he said he agreed with “academic freedom regulars” that Jarrar’s free expression is protected against any sanction by a public university -- especially one in California, where policies are relatively sensitive. Few who have defended Jarrar have defended her actual sentiments or style, and O’Neil was no exception. He noted that the timing of her tweets -- within hours of Bush’s death -- seemed designed to “deliberately hurt or wound” and were “arguably and irresponsibly defamatory of a prominent and just deceased public figure.” Yet Jarrar was speaking of a “very prominent public figure and was not speaking in any sense within the scope of her employment,” O’Neil said. So he offered a “word to the wise," to those who should “know better,” to avoid similar incidents going forward, instead of any hard case for discipline. O’Neil said that applied even to what is arguably Jarrar’s most offensive tweet: one offering her critics her supposed phone number, which turned out to be a crisis line at another univers[...]

Goshen's new president knows the campus well: her father once held the job

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

When Rebecca Stoltzfus was offered the president’s job at Goshen College in spring 2017, she talked it over with her husband and children and also sought the opinion of a former president of the institution whom she greatly respected and admired -- and with whom she’d always had great rapport. To her surprise, the “very expressive” and “naturally curious” former president declined to share his opinion or discuss any aspect of the job. He thought it best to keep his own counsel. “I said, ‘Daughter, this is your decision -- we will support you if you take it or if you walk away,’” Vic Stoltzfus, president of Goshen from 1984 to 1996, recalled. By “we” he meant himself and Marie, his wife and mother of their daughter, Rebecca, who became Goshen’s 18th president Nov. 1. She was formally inaugurated Feb. 17, becoming one of a handful of college presidents to follow in a parent’s footsteps and lead the same college their fathers once led. Rebecca Stoltzfus may be part of an even rarer breed as a woman leading a college where her father was president. And unlike the 22-year interval between Stoltzfus and her father’s presidencies, successions by sons have tended to be more immediate. For example, Jerry L. Falwell Jr. was appointed president of Liberty University in June 2007, just one month after the death of Jerry L. Falwell Sr., who founded the Christian university in 1971. Kevin M. Ross became president of Lynn University, a private university in Boca Raton, Fla., in 2006, after his father, Donald E. Ross, retired from the job he’d held for 35 years. The leadership of Bob Jones University is perhaps the starkest example of familial lines of succession. Robert Reynolds “Bob” Jones Sr. founded the nondenominational evangelical Christian university in Greenville, S.C., in 1927 and was its first president. He was succeeded by his son, Robert Reynolds “Bob” Jones Jr., who served as president for 24 years and then as chancellor until his death in 1997. His son Robert Reynolds “Bob” Jones III followed and remained president until 2005, when his son Stephen Jones took over and served as president until 2014. (Steve Pettit, the current president at Bob Jones University, is its first leader not related to the Jones family.) Rebecca and Vic Stoltzfus don’t see themselves in the same light as the father-and-son presidents of those other colleges. Vic was recruited to Goshen, a Mennonite institution in Indiana, in 1981 as academic dean. Rebecca enrolled at Goshen that same year. Her father was appointed president in 1984, a few months after she graduated with a degree in chemistry. Father and daughter are still getting used to this new aspect of their relationship and trying to figure out how best to negotiate it. He says he’s being careful not to use his past experiences as college president to influence her decision making. He’s also trying not to let his heart get in the way, which is why he passed on giving her advice about taking the job. “If I would have disobeyed my own internal gag order, I would have said, ‘It’s the right time, you’re the right age and you have the right experience. Goshen College needs you, please take the job,’” he said. “That’s very sweet to hear,” Rebecca Stoltzfus said when told of her father’s comments. “He trusted my discernment to know what was right for me and Goshen College. I could sense his curiosity but also his respect and restraint for my process. I never felt he was imposing his views.” And even though she wanted his input, “I tried not to put too many expectations on him for this particular decision, or draw him in too much,” she said. When she came to interview for the job, she stayed with her parents, who live across the street from the campus. Her father relented -- but just a littl[...]

Author discusses new book on how Americans respond to discussions of race

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

“Dear White America” was the headline on a column George Yancy wrote in 2015 for The New York Times. The essay argued that white Americans, even those who are well intentioned, benefit from racism and are racist in ways that they may not understand. (Yancy also wrote that, as a man, he is sexist and benefits from sexism even if that's not his intent.) After the column ran, Yancy, who is African-American, received a barrage of hate mail, full of racist slurs and threats. That experience is the jumping-off point for Yancy's Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly About Racism in America (Rowman & Littlefield). Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Emory University, responded via email to questions about the book. Q: How bad were the attacks you received after your piece in the Times was published? How fearful were you for your safety? A: The attacks were horrible, despicable and vile. It wasn’t enough that many white readers completely distorted the message of “Dear White America,” which was one of love and vulnerability; they also pulled from an ugly history of white racist epithets and white racist imagery. I was called a “hoodrat” and a “pavement ape,” which pulled from the ways in which black people have been denigrated as subhuman animals. I was also called a “nigger” more times than I can recall. So, they pulled from that ugliest of racist terms. One white reader said that his only regret was that he didn’t call me the N-word to my face and then beat me until I was half dead. Other white readers also fantasized about “beheading me ISIS style,” of putting a meat hook in my body, of knocking my head off my shoulders, of leaving me on a cold slab and shutting my mouth permanently. Others expressed that I should go back to Africa. I was very fearful. White racism, after all, is a form of fanaticism. Things got so bad that it was necessary for me to be escorted by campus police to my classes to teach. I also had to have police presence during the times that I traveled to give public talks at other universities. Part of my fear now is informed by the fact that white racism has become so unabashedly threatening due to the moral equivocation regarding racism that plays out from the highest office in this nation, which indicates a form of moral forfeiture and moral ineptness. Q: Were you surprised by the depth of the backlash? A: Yes, I was. I knew that there would be white people who would disagree with “Dear White America” and those few, or so I thought, who might express anger. What I didn’t expect was the pervasiveness of the negative responses and the fact that the anger took the form of hatred directed at me. It was as if I was guilty of some ethically atrocious deed committed against white people. Then it occurred to me: the reality was that so many white people began to feel hatred toward me and threaten acts of violence against me because they were asked to examine their own white racism. They exclusively reserved that term for, let’s say, the KKK. So, for many white people, they can’t be said to be racist because they don’t hold outward and explicit racist beliefs against black people or people of color. Yet “Dear White America” was designed to disrupt any clear demarcation between “good whites” and “bad whites,” where that distinction obfuscates the various ways in which white people, pure and simple, have internalized white racist ideas, emotions, images and the ways in which they are embedded within a white systemic racist structure and are thereby complicit in the process of perpetuating racialized injustice. So, the hatred seems to have been projected onto me because I had put my finger on the pulse of their denied racism. Q: Inside Higher Ed has reported on a number of scholars who have been attacked in similar ways -- many of them black professors who write about white racism/wh[...]

At trustees' meeting, a focus on free speech

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

SAN FRANCISCO -- Virtually every major conference of higher education leaders in the last two years has had a session on the sexy and contentious topic of free speech, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, meeting here this week, was no different. What distinguished the panel here, if anything, may have been the high wattage of its participants -- moderator Frank Sesno, the former CNN anchor (and Middlebury College trustee), and as panelists the presidents of two institutions that have been the focus of some of the most visible confrontations and disputes in recent years, the University of Virginia and the University of California system. Teresa Sullivan, the University of Virginia's president, Janet Napolitano, who heads the University of California, and their fellow panelists (a Dartmouth College lawyer, a University of Michigan trustee, and representative of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group) didn't plow a lot of new ground in their fast-moving hourlong conversation. But given that free speech issues continue to vex college campuses, as evidenced just this month by disputes over a professor's social media statements about the late Barbara Bush, a faculty member's Twitter comments about Jewish students at a small private college, and yet another campus speaker shouted down, it's probably the case that the issues can't be discussed (and written about) too much. In case you were wondering, no one came out against free speech in the discussion. To the contrary, the panelists took turns expressing their advocacy for the importance of free speech generally and the key role colleges and universities should play (if they aren't always successful) in modeling free expression and educating tomorrow's citizens and civic leaders how to participate in a democracy. "I believe that universities are institutions that should embody the highest values of free speech. Once you start dictating what kinds of speech and content of speech you allow, you are quickly on a slippery slope," said Napolitano. Many of today's students "have grown up having been educated against bullying and bullying speech, and haven’t been necessarily exposed to rigor of what free speech means, and that it’s not always comfortable speech." One key role higher education institutions can play, she said in discussing a new center the university has created to study and advocate for free speech and civic engagement, is to help understand "where do students of today get their views of the First Amendment, where do they derive their values, how do we best educate the next generation about free speech, and how it’s been used in the past" -- not "as a tool of the alt-right," as it often is today, "but as a tool of the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement." Shauna Ryder Diggs, a regent at the University of Michigan, said that many of today's young people see the First Amendment as "favoring white supremacists" and others hostile to minority students of various types. She described how as a young black woman her parents told her about how religious leaders in Montgomery, Ala., sought to block Martin Luther King Jr. from speaking there because of fears his appearance would incite violence. When Richard Spencer -- "the person who shall not be named," she called him -- sought to speak at Michigan this spring, Diggs found herself arguing for letting him speak, prompting someone to call her a "white supremacist/Nazi sympathizer" on Twitter. (Spencer ultimately did not speak at Michigan after he and university administrators could not agree on a date and location for him to appear.) William Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy at FIRE, noted that "no party or ideological base has control" over the free speech mantle. Citing this month[...]

Facebook bids adieu to anonymous student group over anti-French post

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

A University of Chicago student group that published a Facebook post describing all French people as “assholes” has been banned from the social networking site. The UChicago Secrets page served as a way for students to anonymously ask questions, make observations and air grievances about life on campus. Like many anonymous platforms before it, the Secrets page was controversial, and some students had called for it to be closed. But the death knell for the Secrets page came last week when student moderators approved a post describing French culture and history as “absolutely repulsive” and French people as “the biggest assholes on earth.” A spokeswoman for the University of Chicago said that while the institution was aware of this online community and others like it, it was not actively monitored for potential regulations of university policy. The page was taken down by Facebook and remains off-line, apparently because of the flagged post. Speaking to the University of Chicago’s independent student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, the page’s moderators said they were appealing the decision. The students told the Maroon they believed the anti-French post was satirical -- a copy-and-paste meme. They said they had “no reason to believe it constituted hate speech.” Under Facebook’s community standards guidelines, content attacking people based on their national origin is prohibited, but humorous comments are allowed. The students said that they hoped Facebook would conclude that the decision to close the page was made in error. There are pages on Facebook that consistently publish much “worse” content, said the students, though they admitted they sometimes approved posts that were “inflammatory.” A successor Secrets page has already been created, with a new tagline: “Keep it civil.” The page also pledges to moderate posts more carefully, in line with Facebook’s guidelines. Daisy Delogu, chair of the department of romance languages and literatures at Chicago, said that to her knowledge there was not an issue of discrimination against French faculty or students on campus. Delogu said it was plausible that the post was a spoof, and that Facebook “displayed an excess of zeal in this case.” Referencing a recent New York Times article about the role Facebook has played in inciting violence in developing countries, Delogu said that there was evidence of “inconsistency” in Facebook’s policing of inappropriate material. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has said the platform has difficulty walking the line between protecting free speech and prohibiting hate speech. Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free speech advocacy group, said the Secrets ban is a “great example of why regulation of so-called hate speech is always doomed to fail.” “While most Americans would ridicule the idea that jokes about the French constitute hate speech, the authorities, whether they be at Facebook, in governments or on college campuses, have to apply the rules equally, leading to absurd results like this,” said Shibley. John Drew, assistant professor of communications at Adelphi University, said Facebook has a poor track record regulating hate speech. “For every instance of questionable speech that Facebook removes from its platform, there are dozens of others that remain visible, and this is because Facebook has yet to prioritize ethical standards across the board,” said Drew. Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University, agreed that Facebook’s standards lack clarity and consistency, and as such “will not satisfy anyone’s needs.” Eric Stoller, a higher education consultant and blogger for Inside Higher Ed, said that given the scrut[...]

Colleges announce commencement speakers

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

Arizona State University: Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Governors State University: Carol Marin, the investigative journalist; and others. Helene Fuld College of Nursing: Cynthia Nixon, the actress and New York State gubernatorial candidate. Hudson County Community College: Christopher Jackson, the actor. Lorain County Community College: Michael J. Brown, president of Barrick Gold of North America. Lower Columbia College: Max Anderson, former women's soccer coach. Northwest Technical College, in Minnesota: Jerry Bauerly, a retired entrepreneur and state legislator who is board chair of Sentry Bank. Nyack College: Julio Aponte Acosta, executive director of Seminario Teológico de Puerto Rico; and others. St. Cloud State University: Zhang Dongsheng, president of Binhai College, Nankai University, in China; and Heidi MacPherson, president of the State University of New York at Brockport. State University of New York Empire State College: Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. University of Rhode Island: Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Editorial Tags: Commencement speakersIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: [...]

When college goes under, everyone suffers, but Mount Ida's faculty feels a particular sense of betrayal

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

Bad news is often obvious in retrospect: unremarkable events become harbingers; seemingly unrelated developments become signs. That isn’t the case, however, for the faculty at Mount Ida College, which announced April 6 that it is closing at the end of the semester. Instead, the soon-to-be-unemployed professors say, there were signals -- including from the administration -- that the college was doing well, or at least better than it had in some time. The incoming freshman class had the highest grade point average in years, for example. There were also the 12-month faculty contracts delivered in March, assuring annually assigned professors and, by extension, their tenured colleagues, that the college would at least live to see another year. So the absence of any warning of the abrupt closure has professors feeling an intense sense of betrayal -- along with intense worry about how they’ll pay their bills and support their families come fall. “Not only did they not tell us this was coming, we didn’t even a have a chance for last-minute applications” elsewhere, said a full-time professor of design who did not want to be identified by name, for fear of compromising a promised severance package. Mount Ida has promised all professors -- regardless of length of service -- three months’ pay beyond this academic year. But the instructor said colleagues have focused on trying to get Mount Ida to make good on those 2018-19 contracts in terms of a payout, saying they were written in bad faith. “The faculty believe it was cruel the way they were treated, to give us contracts and not allow us to move forward in our careers -- all because there was a whisper of a chance that the college could be saved,” the professor said. “It was really negligent.” Of the 12-month contracts, the professor added, “I assume the way Mount Ida will try to get around this is that it doesn’t exist anymore.” No Warning There’s reason to be suspicious of Mount Ida’s intentions, the instructor said: while accompanying devastated students on tours to other local campuses to assess transfer options, several deans at other colleges mentioned they’d been communicating with Mount Ida about taking on students, long before the Mount Ida faculty knew the campus was at risk of closing. Mount Ida College announced April 6 that it will shut down at the end of this academic year, with its campus becoming part of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Students were shocked, but so were their professors, who found out via email. They knew that Mount Ida had previously been in merger talks with nearby Lasell College. But in announcing the failure of those talks in March due to disagreement over a mutually beneficial deal, Mount Ida said it would remain open on its own. “The financial situation facing small private colleges nationwide is a difficult one,” the college’s governing board said in a public announcement. “Despite extraordinary growth and progress over the last several years, Mount Ida, like its peers, is vulnerable to the realities of having limited resources. As a result, we have considered multiple options to secure the strongest possible long-term future for our students.” Mount Ida’s students have been promised admission and the opportunity to finish their degrees at the UMass’s Dartmouth campus. Others will transfer elsewhere. When a college goes under, students suffer, along with all employees -- not just the faculty. At Mount Ida, for example, the Service Employees International Union-affiliated janitors’ union marched to the president’s office last week, demanding severance pay and possible placement in the transition to the UMass system. Some of those janitors said they’ve[...]

Nonprofits poised to unseat U of Phoenix as the largest online university

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

Few institutions have topped more than 100,000 students online, but Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University are on the brink. Scott Pulsipher, WGU's president, said the nonprofit, fully online institution's enrollment is roughly 97,000 students. Online enrollment at the nonprofit Southern New Hampshire, which has a traditional campus and an online arm, is about 93,000 students, said Paul LeBlanc, the university's president. SNHU's total enrollment crossed the 100,000 mark earlier this year. Observers said the two nonprofits could soon overtake the University of Phoenix as the largest online universities in the U.S. The only other university that remains within striking range of 100,000 students online is Liberty University. But the Christian institution's enrollment has slipped of late, according to recent reports. Spokespeople for Phoenix declined to comment. But multiple sources told Inside Higher Ed that for-profit Phoenix’s enrollment may have dropped below 100,000 recently, which would be the first time it slid below that number in 15 years. Meteoric Growth for Nonprofits “The for-profit brand has been tarnished,” said Trace Urdan, managing director at Tyton Partners, a higher education consulting firm. He said government scrutiny, negative media coverage and self-inflicted scandals have created the impression that for-profits can’t be trusted. “Not-for-profit is associated with quality now,” Urdan said. “Students think, ‘I can trust Southern New Hampshire University because they told me 17 times in their television commercial that they’re not-for-profit.’” SNHU won’t stop telling people about being a nonprofit in commercials any time soon. “It still matters,” said LeBlanc. “We can debate how fair or unfair the assault on for-profits was, but the market has been educated,” he said, adding that in the past, prospective students didn't ask admissions staff members about the university's tax status. Now it's a routine question. “Sometimes they won’t have the right language, so they’ll ask, ‘Is this a real place?’” said LeBlanc. “We tell them that we’re nonprofit and we have a campus, and they’re reassured." Both Pulsipher and LeBlanc said the decline of the for-profit sector has helped their institutions grow. WGU's expansion is accelerating, according to Pulsipher. He attributes the increase to WGU’s growing alumni network. About half of WGU students find the institution through referrals from friends and family. And Pulsipher said increased respect for WGU graduates among employers and strong community college relationships have also helped. The institution is growing at an annual rate of 20 percent, meaning that in the next year, WGU estimates it will gain another 20,000 students. Asked whether there is a point when it might reach capacity, Pulsipher said, “We don’t foresee a limitation in our ability to scale.” “Our biggest challenge is that with growth and scale we still have to endeavor to deliver an individualized experience for every student,” he said. “We invest significantly to support the growth that we forecast.” The university is investing in “great talent and great technology” said Pulsipher. For example, it adds 80 to 100 new employees per month, many of whom are faculty members. WGU would know quickly if it was growing too fast, he said. Student measures such as course completion and time to degree are monitored closely by the university. If these started to decline (or increase, in the case of time to degree), Pulsipher said, the university would throttle back their student intake. “We would trade off growth for qu[...]

Private colleges look for repeal of endowment tax

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

The fight over the Republican tax bill passed last December is far in the rearview of most colleges and student groups. But a group of private colleges still has its sights set on overturning a new endowment tax passed as part of that bill over the objections of higher ed advocates. The endowment tax was one of a number of punitive measures included in the legislation that either sought to generate new revenue from higher ed institutions or strip tax benefits for students and student loan borrowers. After intense lobbying from college groups and student organizations, almost all of those provisions were dropped from the final legislation. The endowment tax remained, however. And although the scope of the provision was seriously narrowed between the introduction of the bill and its final passage -- the number of affected institutions dropped from 250 to just 28 -- higher ed organizations see the tax as bad policy and precedent setting. They’ve found a handful of lawmakers so far willing to take up their cause. Representative Bradley Byrne, an Alabama Republican, and Representative John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat, last month introduced legislation to repeal the endowment tax, which imposes a 1.4 percent excise tax on all investment income of institutions with $500,000 in endowment assets per full-time student. Last week Byrne and Delaney circulated a letter to House colleagues asking additional members to sign on to the bill. “We lead the world in higher education and it gives us an incredible advantage in today’s high-tech, high-skill global economy,” they wrote. “Colleges and universities rely on endowments to provide essential funding for financial aid, support difference-making research and teaching, and effectively manage complex short-term and long-term costs.” A group of 45 private colleges told congressional leaders in a separate letter last month that the tax could hurt their ability to provide aid to low-income students as well as support for research and innovation. And because the provision was not written to adjust for inflation, it will likely affect more colleges down the line. Byrne and Delaney officially added three new co-sponsors to their bill last week: Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican; Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat; and Representative Michael Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat. A number of higher ed associations have also signed on to back the bill, including the American Council on Education, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the Association of American Universities. “The higher education community, even institutions not at all affected by the endowment tax, were strongly opposed to it, and it should come as no surprise that we are still opposed to it and will look for ways to amend or eliminate it,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education. Hartle said college groups have heard some members of Congress are having second thoughts about the wisdom of the legislation. Higher ed leaders will continue to push for a change, he said, although how that happens remains an open question. A bill like the proposed tax repeal typically requires some kind of larger legislative vehicle to advance. And the likelihood Congress advances any large legislative items this year -- much less a higher education bill -- looks slim. Karin Johns, director of tax policy at National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the group will look for any legislative opportunities to advance the bill, whether that means a large tax or education bill or spending legislation. She said the tax remains a priority even for colleges not currently affected by the criteria included in t[...]

Concerns raised about environment for Jewish students and professors at Knox

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 07:00:00 +0000

A faculty member's tweets -- and an incident that followed debate about them -- have set off discussions at Knox College about whether Jewish students and faculty members face hostility at the Illinois liberal arts college. A Jewish student saw the tweets by Kwame Zulu Shabazz, visiting instructor of Africana studies, and asked the college to investigate. While the college was doing so, a Jewish faculty member who was involved in the campus discussion about the tweets (and who has not been identified) found an anti-Semitic image had been slid under her office door. The college is investigating that incident as well and is condemning the incident but not the tweets. Students and faculty members have been urging the college to take the situation seriously and to speak out clearly against anti-Semitism. Among the tweets that have been questioned are one in which Shabazz responded to another person's tweet about hip-hop and film depictions of black life by referring to "Jews pulling the strings for profit." In others, he compared the actions of Israel's government to Nazis -- but he referred to "Jews" rather than the Israeli government. He also alleged "evidence of overwhelming" Jewish intent to harm others in the Middle East because "Yahweh explicitly commands the Jews to annihilate entire peoples." Shabazz did not respond to requests for comment, although his email address is now forwarded to his department chair, who also did not respond. (Update: Shabazz contacted Inside Higher Ed after publication, and his comments appear in the comment section below, posted by the moderator.) Jewish students have said they find it alarming that a faculty member can make remarks about "the Jews" that are based on anti-Semitic tropes. Jewish students (who make up about 5 percent of students at the college) have held several meetings on campus with other student groups, but the meetings haven't left the Jewish students feeling that their concerns are understood. Jonathan Schrag, a junior who is co-editor in chief of the student newspaper, The Knox Student, wrote an essay there in which he described the frustrations of Jewish students. "When Jewish student leaders went through the proper channels to discuss the tweets, they were told to instead blame themselves, as they have not done enough to help oppressed groups on campus," Schrag wrote. "For many Jewish students, it has felt like they were being told that the oppression they face is not notable because there are groups facing harsher realities. It is absolutely true that the black community faces more oppression and hate than the Jewish one, on this campus, nationally and internationally. However, recognizing and acknowledging the oppression of another group does not cheapen or detract from the oppression you face, nor does it give that group the right to do whatever it pleases. In other words, by condemning the dangers Jews inevitably face, one does not imply that the oppression of other identity groups is justified or less significant, whether by individuals who are Jewish or not." David and Jennifer Bunde, who are co-advisers to the Jewish student group at Knox (where he is chair of the computer science department), responded jointly via email to questions posed by Inside Higher Ed. "We do not believe that the faculty member [who made the tweets about Jewish people] was intending to be anti-Semitic; we believe that he was trying to call out injustice on behalf of people of color the world over," they wrote. "Unfortunately, the language used in some of his tweets played into age-old stereotypes. We do not think he understands that Jewish students, faculty, and the wider community found his words hurtful and dangerous." [...]