On Oct. 18, I sent the following email to George Mason University President Gregory Washington on behalf of myself and sixteen tenured or emeritus professors at the university’s Anotonin Scalia Law School. I also sent it to the provost, the vice-president for university life, the dean of students, and the associate vice-president for university life.
Nine days later, we not only haven’t received a response from any of the addressees, I did not even get an acknowledgement of the email. So it’s time to make the email public, to show, if nothing else, that not all faculty have been silent in response to university officials’ lack of leadership in confronting the wave of genocidal antisemitism on their campuses.
Dear President Washington:
The famous Kalven Report recommends that university leaders should rarely if ever opine on controversial matters, including publicly expressed opinions on hot-button issues by faculty and students. However, despite your email on Oct. 17 suggesting that the university must be neutral on issues of public concern, during your presidency such neutrality has not been the practice at our university.
The university administration has had no compunctions about opining about a wide range of current events, some only very tangentially related to university affairs. Moreover, a very poorly phrased tweet by one of my colleagues, despite being followed by an immediate, sincere apology, led to a chorus of public condemnation and reprimand by university officials.
Last week, a Mason student group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), announced that it was holding a rally on the Fairfax campus on Thursday, October 12. See SJP’s Instagram post, https://www.instagram.com/p/CyOw0AWvkVj/.
Five days after the worst mass-murder of Jewish people since the Holocaust, the rally was billed by SJP Mason as supporting “the resistance,” i.e., the perpetrators of the massacre, Hamas. SJP Mason also called for the destruction of the State of Israel, the “liberation of our homeland and our people, from the river to the sea. Show up and show out for Palestine, and let GMU know that we will rise against the occupation!” Moreover, SJP Mason suggested that students bring “face coverings or kuffiyehs.”
In short, SJP Mason was proudly organizing a pro-genocide rally, and, like other racist and antisemitic hate groups such as the KKK, sought to mask themselves to hide their identities from authorities. I, and I’m sure many others, last week urged you and other officials in Fairfax to make a statement about an organized student group being poised to endorse genocidal terrorism. I did not get any responses to my emails, nor did any university official say anything publicly before, during, or after the rally, until an oblique, morally neutral reference in your Oct. 17 email.
In that email, you note that the First Amendment prevents the university from shutting down controversial political rallies. But nothing prevents you from publicly condemning the SJP rally.
I have heard from numerous family members, friends, and acquaintances who are shocked by what they see as the university’s lack of moral leadership on this matter, and I agree. Your silence is damaging the university’s reputation, and making it appear as if the university’s announced strong commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion excludes Jews.
It is not too late to reverse course. Better late than never.
David E. Bernstein, Distinguished University Professor (and sixteen other law professors).