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University president on leave for ‘insubordination’ over deal with anti-Israel protesters

Sonoma State leader ripped for 'egregious' deal that would have cut academic ties with Israeli institutions

By: Valerie Richardson | The Washington Times | May 16, 2024

The president of Sonoma State University has been placed on leave for “insubordination” after unilaterally striking a deal with pro-Palestinian protesters that included an academic boycott of Israel.

California State University Chancellor Mildred Garcia said that President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee was placed on administrative leave Wednesday, a day after the release of an agreement granting many of the protesters’ demands but without Mr. Lee getting required approvals.

“The Board’s leadership and I are actively reviewing the matter and will provide additional details in the near future,” Ms. Garcia said in a statement. “For now, because of this insubordination and [the] consequences it has brought upon the system, President Lee has been placed on administrative leave.”

The memo from Mr. Lee said that the university had agreed to establish an Advisory Council of Students for Justice in Palestine; launch a “disclosure and divestment” review of the university’s investments; create a Palestinian Studies curriculum; and call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

In addition, he said Sonoma State would not participate in any study abroad programs or faculty exchanges with Israeli academic institutions, according to the memo posted online by Students for Justice in Palestine.

The lopsided deal was pilloried by supporters of Israel, who accused Mr. Lee of caving to protesters in what the Anti-Defamation League called an “egregious capitulation” and “one of the most offensive and outrageous agreements to date.”

“Not only does the agreement include the establishment of a ‘Advisory Council on Students for Justice in Palestine,’ lending credibility and legitimacy to a group that has glorified Hamas terrorism and seeks to exclude Zionist Jewish students from campus life, but it contains a sweeping academic boycott of Israeli state academic and research institutions,” said Marc Levine, ADL Central Pacific regional director.

Mr. Lee apologized for the message Wednesday, saying that it “was drafted and sent without the approval of, or consultation with, the Chancellor or other system leaders.”

He said he sought to “create a safe and inclusive campus for all,” but later realized that “many of the statements I made in my campuswide message did just the opposite.”

“In my attempt to find agreement with one group of students, I marginalized other members of our student population and community,” Mr. Lee said. “I realize the harm that this has caused, and I take full ownership of it. I deeply regret the unintended consequences of my actions.”

Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Nathan Evans was selected to serve as acting president, effective immediately.

Roz Rothstein, CEO and co-founder of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, praised the California leaders “who acted quickly after Sonoma State’s shameful agreement became public.”

“We hope this case sets an example for all universities that face pressure from anti-Israel extremists,” she said. “Instead of caving to the demands of hate groups and their supporters, campus leaders must enforce their policies and stand up to antisemitism.”

Meanwhile, Students for Justice in Palestine’s Sonoma State chapter responded by accusing Ms. Garcia of “punitive actions” and declaring that “We Choose ‘Insubordination.’”

“Here is a glaring example of the lengths the CSU administration will go to, in the name of profits over justice — war, imperialism, and genocide over disclosure and divestment,” the chapter wrote on its Instagram account.

Based in Rohnert Park, Sonoma State is one of 23 colleges throughout California that belong to the California State University system, the nation’s largest four-year public college system.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at

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