by James C. Sherlock
I read this morning in the latest issue of Chronicle of Higher Education a particularly smarmy article by a Keith E. Whittington.
He is, among other things, “professor of politics at Princeton University and founding chair of the Academic Committee of the Academic Freedom Alliance”.
Good to know.
He addressed in his article the Congressional hearing that put the presidents of Penn, Harvard and MIT on the hot seat for the unaddressed antisemitic turmoil on their campuses.
Other articles in the same issue called the hearings a disaster for the colleges.
“Since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, administrators have struggled to respond. Many issued statements that faculty members, students, and others saw as tepid, while protests drove deep rifts into campus communities.”
Whittington’s was titled:
“Colleges Can Recommit to Free Speech or Double Down on Sensitivity – The congressional hearing on antisemitism presents a stark choice.”
He offered a false, self-serving choice of only two ways forward.
If President Ryan of UVa had joined the others in front of the committee, they could have gotten past statements to actions, and lack of them.
President Ryan. That hearing would have benefited from the presence of President Ryan. He did some of the right things. He made a nice statement after October 7th. He attended a Menorah lighting.
But he has choked on the big issue, the one that matters.
Students for (Peace and) Justice in Palestine (affiliated with national SJP), after its infamous October 8 letter celebrating Palestinian “resistance” and supporting continued resistance “by any means necessary,” is still on the Grounds and still funded by student fees.
UVa Board of Visitors’ University Standards of Conduct “describe behavior generally prohibited to enrolled students at UVa.”
The proscribed conduct includes:
“Conduct which intentionally or recklessly threatens the health or safety of any person on University-owned or leased property, at a University sanctioned function, at the permanent or temporary local residence of a University student, faculty member, employee or visitor, or in the city of Charlottesville or Albemarle County.”
In this case, it is up to the President of the University to enforce. There is no chance at all that the student-run Judiciary Committee will do so.
The letter, and subsequent rallies pictured, unabashedly threatened the safety of Jewish members of the University community.
My comments to the Chronicle. The editors invited comment on Whittington’s article, so I responded.
The choices on offer from Keith Whittington are not the only options. He wrote:
“There are two paths forward (after the Congressional hearings on antisemitism on campuses).
Colleges can reaffirm their core principles on free speech and academic freedom, and can commit themselves to more consistently defend and apply those principles in the future. They can embrace a posture of institutional neutrality and quit picking which political causes they will or will not endorse.
Alternatively, they can give in to demands to take moral stands, and can condemn and suppress even more speech in the name of inclusivity.”
To suggest that those are the only two options apparently serves Mr. Whittington’s personal philosophy, but they are not inclusive (excuse the word) of all options.
He would conflate under free speech calling for intifada in the faces of Jewish students with rallies against the food in the dining hall.
One threatens violence. The other rails against bad food.
It is not a “moral stand” to expel students and fire employees calling for violence against Jews or any other people.
It is rather a matter of providing both actual safety and a perception of safety for all students, faculty and staff on campus.
Jewish students on those campuses are frightened, and they have good reason to be.
Bottom line. Dr. Ryan, and UVa alumni, parents and students, take note.
Check the SJP letter and the pictures above.
What, exactly, are Jews to think of the clenched fist and the white supremacy signs? “From the river to the sea”? The calls for intifada?
Should they ascribe to all of that non-threatening “context”? Would you?
Is that what Dr. Ryan meant by the University being “great and good”?