When I was Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, I almost witnessed a riot. I was at a Kent State basketball game and towards the end of the game, a fight broke out.
Players were shoving each other at the end of the court. Students were jumping into the melee. But before an all-out brawl could erupt, the athletic director grabbed the microphone and demanded everyone stand down.
Very publicly, he instructed the athletes and students to return to their seats. He reminded them where they were and what was expected of them.
That was, in my view, what an educational leader has to do from time to time. University officials sometimes need to remind the individual leaders and organizations on their campuses what it means to be part of an educational institution and to uphold the values of the campus. Sadly, we need more of this kind of educational leadership on many campuses.
Molly Harris, a student at McGill University in Montreal, shined a light on the increasing hostility against Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus in her essay in The Washington Post. Jewish students face the double standards of peers who dismiss the historical oppression of the Jewish people and exclude Jewish students from social justice coalitions fighting to defend the rights of other minorities.
There’s no denying this targeting of Jewish communities on campus undermines the values of the university. And that is why it is incumbent on university administrators to take seriously the concerns of Jewish students and their families and teach students how to be part of a respectful and civil community.
This is not about “safe spaces,” or shielding students from opinions they may find disagreeable. Hillel, the largest student organization in the world and the organization I am privileged to lead as President & CEO, takes the obligation to academic freedom and the First Amendment very seriously. But campus codes of behavior routinely expect that students and faculty alike will work to ensure that the academic environment is open to constructive dialogue and free of coercion.
Instead, what we see too often is intimidation – both physical and social – of Jewish students and professors.
It’s found in the careless use of anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power [nytimes.com], newly refashioned as “privilege”. It’s seen in public events that are disrupted[ocregister.com] and speakers shouted down [haaretz.com], in bullying directed at Jewish students [forward.com] and in anti-Semitic graffiti painted on campus structures [cbsnews.com].
These things are happening – and where they happen, the future of the campus as a place of learning is in doubt.
The global Hillel movement takes seriously our responsibility to ensure college campuses remain safe places for Jewish students. Hillel is at the center of vibrant Jewish life on more than 600 campuses around the world, inspiring every Jewish student to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.
As the central address of Jewish life on campus, Hillel’s student leaders and professionals take seriously their commitment to being an indispensable ally to the university community, helping the campuses on which we live, study and work grow in achievement and address the important social issues of our time.
Jewish and pro-Israel students aren’t demanding special rights. But they deserve to take full advantage of the benefits of the university without being targeted. Universities that do not directly address anti-Semitism on campus and take meaningful steps to curtail organizations and students peddling hate will damage their reputations and lose students who could make a strong contribution to campus life.
At Hillel, we are committed to making every campus a place that encourages rigorous debate but ensures the safety of all students. And we stand ready to help any university that sincerely wants to overcome these challenges to its academic integrity and campus climate.