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Alums for Campus Fairness

The Jerusalem Post

Mark Banschick

March 22, 2019

Alums for Campus Fairness

Bringing decency back to colleges when it comes to Israel.

Posters of pigs with text depicting hatred of Israel were recently discovered at Tufts University’s Hillel. The president responded, and alumni took note.

Last semester, a University of Michigan professor refused to give a student a letter of recommendation for an Israeli academic institution. The president responded, and alumni took note.

And, in California, faculty at Pitzer College voted to suspend a study abroad program with Haifa University, in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The president responded, and alumni took note.

Alumni simply demand a better, more civil and even-handed conversation.

It’s not asking too much.

Many of us truly grew up in college; we explored different disciplines, discovered passions we never knew we had, maybe even felt the sway of a first love. We were challenged, prodded to reexamine accepted beliefs, which could be unsettling. But for most of us, these challenges took place in an enriching and nurturing environment.

Alumni remember the richness of these memories, and it inspires abiding loyalty. As such, we give money, lend social capital, send our children and support programming at our alma maters.

It is a living relationship.

Yet, on campus today, another challenge is going on – one fueled by intolerance – and alumni are waking up. Rather than fostering analysis from all points of view, too often campus life has become a place where debate is disdained; a bubble, where only one view on important issues is acceptable. Sadly, we’re witnessing a trend to create political echo chambers, while applying demeaning labels to those who disagree with you.

A recent study conducted by the Knight Foundation, showed that 61% percent of college students think the climate on campus stifles speech; this had risen from 54% the previous year.

The street and the Academy are two different worlds.

On the street, the more aggressive party is heard. In contrast, the Academy must be a space where robust yet respectful debate carries the day. It is done through strong hiring, a commitment to diversity of thought, and active governance that fosters radical curiosity. And, yes, sometimes it means that leadership needs to set healthy limits. Speakers who advocate violence, hatred of different groups, or the forceful silencing of opposing ideas should not be invited to the table; however, it is sometimes a difficult line to draw between unpopular speech and so-called “hate speech.”

Sometimes, administrators must broaden the conversation, by inviting speakers or visiting faculty when departments fall short. After all, students benefit from the widest range of fact-based analysis and ideas. For instance, Vassar College, to its credit, invited Bret Stephens to talk about Israel after years in which anti-Israel speakers were routinely invited to campus, an initiative inspired by the administration.

On too many campuses, though, the Academy is losing its way.

It is time for alumni to step up and help.

Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF) is a relatively new organization, founded in 2015. ACF enlists the power of alumni to insist that the Academy adhere to its real mission: to function as a forum for the robust, open and civil exchange of ideas and to eschew propagandizing and indoctrination of students.

It’s an approach that works – which is why, only two years into its founding, ACF’s co-founder and first Executive Director, Susan Julien-Levitt, was honored by The Algemeiner by her inclusion in the J100 List of the Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life.

For the past few years, The Algemeiner has honored remarkable individuals making a significant contribution in the Jewish world.

The J100 List includes influencers from around the globe. Honorees include professors, artists, politicians, activists, and the like. Some are famous, many are not, and there are non-Jews as well as Jews. To be given a spot on this impressive list, one’s actions and achievements must stand out.

By its award, The Algemeiner recognized ACF’s effectiveness in confronting anti-Semitism and bringing civility and balance back to a campus.

Hatred of Israel and harassment of its supporters is made easier by the current political chaos now permeating our lives.

We live in tumultuous political times. Turn to CNN, Fox, or Network TV, read the New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal, slog through the mess that is Twitter, talk to any given person on the street, and you will encounter the angry, polarizing sentiments pervading our culture today.

This volatile political environment has given birth to a new, concerning symptom ailing our culture: an unwillingness to engage with those with opposing views.

Making those you disagree with radioactive kills any need, or excuse even, for dialogue. Let’s be clear. In an atmosphere where delegitimization and political intimidation become accepted, harassment, bigotry and violence will soon follow. This is true for the right and the left.

The BDS movement and its many sub-groups spearhead this disturbing trend, with studies showing that it’s making college life less hospitable for Jews and supporters of Israel. It is also impeding the Academy from its important mission of education, debate and collegiality. Jewish students, for example, are often asked to disown Israel, with anything less portrayed as support for a racist, apartheid regime, simplifying a complex situation with multiple sides – and many protagonists.

This is where alumni can make a difference.

Read the full article HERE


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