What should be the response of a university to acts of racism or bigotry on campus? How does one balance free speech and the mandate for universities to take prompt and effective steps to address violations, and prevent future hostilities?
The issue is being debated here in light of several instances of alleged anti-Semitic comments and incidents at four CUNY campuses: Hunter College, Brooklyn College, the College of Staten Island, and John Jay College, including offensive slurs at rallies and swastikas carved into desks. As reported here last week, City University Chancellor James B. Milliken issued a statement, committed to creating a student-faculty task force and hiring outside attorneys to investigate complaints that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has caused Jewish students to feel harassed and unsafe.
Several Jewish organizations, including the ADL, welcomed the move and commended Milliken for “taking these allegations seriously.” However, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), whose letter to CUNY officials detailing the instances of anti-Semitic slurs prompted the Milliken response, feels it was inadequate. “We’re deeply disappointed with Milliken’s actions,” ZOA national president Morton Klein told us last week. He asserted that the chancellor should “condemn the student conduct,” not just anti-Semitism. “No gay, black or Hispanic group would accept the administration saying: ‘We’ll look into it.’”
Equally troubling is that the local colleges are not unique in terms of ramped up anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements and acts on campus. We are mindful that of the approximately 4,000 schools of higher learning in the U.S., only a few dozen have had serious reports of prejudice against Jewish students. But those include some of the top colleges in the country, ones where Jews are highly represented. And no student should feel threatened because of his or her religion or political views