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StandWithUs Expresses Concern About Apparent Double Standard at University of Chicago

March 31, 2022


Madhav V. Rajan, Ph.D.

Dean and George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting

University of Chicago Booth School of Business


VIA EMAIL: (madhav.rajan@chicagobooth.edu)

Dear Dean Rajan,


We write on behalf of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. We are concerned about possible administrative lack of support and applying a double standard for Jewish and Zionist students, brought to our attention by students and community leaders. This perception is based upon a recent refusal by the business school’s communication leadership group and the university’s central communications team to affirm a student’s request to post pictures onto official social media pages about a student-led Abraham Accords Israel Trek.


We are concerned that there may be a double standard being applied against the trip’s students because the destination was Israel; no other such trips, to our knowledge, have had requests for picture postings denied. Photos from a recent student-led Ghana Trek were posted and remain on the business school’s social media pages. Rejecting one international trek from your social media platforms but including another is striking and leads to the conclusion that there is a double standard at play against students traveling to the world’s only Jewish state.


As an administrator wrote to one of your students on this issue, “[G]iven the trip’s focus on showing support for the Abraham Accords our communications leadership group as well as the Dean’s Office and UChicago Central communications...decided that we’re not able to do a post because of the university’s policy to remain neutral on an institutional level on political and social matters.” Does this mean that all student requests for picture postings are subject to similar political scrutiny? Every country has political history, and to signal out Israel but not, for example, Ghana, appears to apply a double standard.


There also appears to be a misunderstanding about the Abraham Accords and the purpose of the trip as a possible pretext for denying the trip’s posting on social media. The Abraham Accords are a series of joint statements signed between the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain in 2020, promoting the normalization of diplomatic relations and the pursuit of peace and cooperation. It brings diverse groups, perspectives, and stances together in hopes of peaceful coexistence. The Abraham Accords has since been used to refer to the trend of achieving these peaceful pursuits between Israel and other nations in the larger Middle East and North African region. In a part of the world that knows near-constant conflict, hostility, and tragedy, this effort represents a paradigm shift in the direction of peace and a lifeline for inhabitants of the region. The Israel Trek is an educational trip that seeks to educate participants about this and other timely matters.


Furthermore, in a March 25, 2022, email to Israel Trek student-leaders explaining why the trip pictures could not be posted on social media, Business School Content and Communications Senior Director Sam Jemielity claimed that because the Abraham Accords are an agreement between several governments, it is therefore a political agreement. Mr. Jemielity stated that during the review process, “we recognized its inherent conflict with University policy outlined in the Kalven Report.”


We believe that the administration’s proffered reliance on the Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action (the Kalven Report) may have been applied incorrectly or inconsistently in this situation and in direct conflict with the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression (“The Chicago Principles”). The Chicago Principles state that, “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive” and that “concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”


Even if the Abraham Accords Trek was seen as an explicitly political stance taken by its student organizers, relying on the Kalven Report to deny the social media posts appears to be in direct conflict with the Chicago Principles that depend on the free exchange of ideas, no matter how controversial they may be.


It so happens that Israel is no stranger to being defamed by double standards. But we expect more from an institution of the caliber of the University of Chicago, which has a higher moral ceiling and responsibility to its students, alums, and community. The school also has an opportunity to showcase moral clarity on the topic of promoting peace; failing to do so is a missed opportunity. By both rejecting the desire of these students to be recognized equally and potentially misinterpreting the Kalven Report in light of the Chicago Principles, it is our concern that your students may not be fully included in the fabric of campus life and unable to experience the full spectrum of activities and achievements. We respectfully urge you to reverse course and grant the ability for these students to post about this trek on social media.


Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We raise it because we are genuinely concerned about a hostile environment for Jewish students, which, as you are no doubt aware, is prohibited by Title VI, as is retaliation against students who raise concerns about such issues.


Sincerely,


Roz Rothstein Yael Lerman

StandWithUs StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Saidoff Legal Department


Cc:


Joseph Neubauer Peter May Professor Steve Kaplan Dean Starr Marcello David Rubenstein, Chair, University Board of Trustees

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