Sam Litvin

On the Silence of the Scholars

There’s a saying, where the head goes, the body follows. When it comes to our society, universities are the head. Universities lead thought and where that thought goes, society follows. Thus by observing what universities study, teach and say shows a lot about what that society values. 

There is a reason why one of the first actions in Nazi Germany was taking out Jews out of academia. Why some of the worst ideas about Jews were developed and promoted in German universities first. American universities invented but then outlawed the ideas of Eugenics, German universities on the other hand embraced it and this validated those terrible ideas. There is a reason why the Soviet Union banished scholars who spoke truth about reality and promoted those who published false ideas about communism. 

If you look at Israeli universities and one sees art, engineering, medical science, all towards bettering the human condition. Social science may be left leaning as they are apt to be in universities, but the emphasis is not on demonization but on bettering the human condition. They admit Arabs from Israel and Palestine in huge numbers and many people from around the world, creating a place for idea sharing for the peace and collaboration.

If you look at universities in Gaza you will see focus on the opposite: development of weapons, false narratives, and villainization of one people. A complete ban of research, talking or associating with any Israeli researchers. A complete lack of Academic Freedom.

American universities are on a dangerous path towards Nazi Germany. Jewish students are routinely kicked out of organizations. Antisemitism is now routine on college campuses. False narratives about Israel and the conflict are routine and do not get challenged and are faced with utter silence by the university leadership for fear of angering anti-Israel faculty and students. However, one would think that pure evil and genocidal actions of Hamas this week would spark some sense of moral outrage from Universities. Instead, we see the same: proud support for Hamas and utter silence from universities under the false guise of fairness and free scholarship. 

Why false? Because just like free speech, free scholarship doesn’t exist. When free speech leads to bodily harm we do our best to stop it. The same goes for Universities. While the idea of free speech and free thought on campus is in theory ok, it doesn’t actually happen. A University in America does not research best tactics for terror or how to spread misinformation or how to prove that Jews actually control the world. They don’t hire people who believe that aliens abducted JFK. 

The goal of a university is not to provide a platform for those who seek to undermine truth and those who seek to spread truth just to be balanced and impartial. This means when a University claims that they are apolitical and will not make a statement, they don’t contribute to the truth, the opposite, they enable those who seek to harm and spread lies.

A university is a body of people that hires people not just based on expertise, but based on values too. They allow students based on values as well, this is why there is a student statement that would never allow a student who professes love for Hitler or slavery into that university, at least most universities that we respect.

This is why when universities try to say that they do not speak up on politics, when university presidents claim that they are above the fray of things that they individually condemn but can’t speak on behalf of all faculty, because some faculty might not share the university values, they are not upholding the values of the university, they undermine them. The larger problem is that universities undermine their democratic and human values, they also undermine the democratic and human values as whole, not just theirs. And that can lead to terrible terrible consequences. 

About the Author
Sam Livin was born in Soviet Union and grew up in San Diego. In 2012, he travelled the world photographing Jewish communities publishing a book called "Your Story Our Sipur." Today he continues to write about Israel and Judaism as he lives and studies business and ecology in Tel Aviv.
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