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More on York University

UPDATE:

On May 22, the York University Osgoode Hall’s associate dean, Janer Mosher, issued two reprimands , one to the incoming president of the York Federation of Students, Krisna Saravanamuttu, who also received $150 fine for chanting “racists off campus” at Jewish students from York Hillel. Another student, who can be seen in the videos in the link below, Jesse Zimmerman, was reprimanded but not fined.

To remind you, this is what we’re talking about.

And it’s not as if this was secret. It was reported in a national newspaper.

How did York University respond?

They sent out a letter of warning and fines to four groups. Two of them, incredibly, were Jewish student organizations: Hasbara Fellowship at York and Hillel@York.

Essentially, a hostile environment for Jewish students combined with intense anti-Israel lobbying have become pervasive parts of life on campus at York University. The President is aware of the problem but punishes two Jewish organizations although they did nothing wrong.

The university then offers the world an academic conference, that clearly has a substantial budget by the way, focusing on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict with a binational state of Israel which eliminates its Jewish identity.

They have apparently now completed their investigation, acknowledged the wrongdoing on the part of two people that weren’t connected with the Jewish groups but other than an official reprimand and a small fine to one of them, did nothing more. The individual who was fined, Krisna Saravanamuttu, is the incoming student body president. Shouldn’t that title be stripped away? How can a person who essentially targeted Jewish students with unabashed hostility and lies be permitted to lead the student body? Well, apparently York U. permits it.

Here’s a letter from a York graduate to their administration:

Dear Dr. Shoukri,
(President and Vice Chancellor, York University)

I am Shalom Lappin Professor of Computational Linguistics at King’s College, London, and I am currently a visiting professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, where I am on sabbatical for the semester.

I was recently invited to give a talk on my research on computational modeling of grammar induction in the Colloquium of the Cognitive Science Program of the Philosophy Department at York, on March 25. I accepted the invitation with great pleasure. I received my BA in Philosophy from York in May 1970, and I welcomed this opportunity to return to my first academic home. It is therefore with considerable regret that I must now withdraw from this engagement in light of the York administration’s handling of the attack on Jewish students that took place on the afternoon of February 11.

The reports of this attack that I have read in both the Canadian and the foreign press (confirmed by eyewitness accounts that I have received) converge on a disturbing sequence of events. A group of approximately 100 students supporting the York Student Federation broke up a press conference organized by other students campaigning to impeach the YSF. This group then pursued approximately 40 of the students from the press conference, most of them Jewish, to the offices of the campus Hillel, where the latter locked themselves in for fear of physical assault. The YSF supporters banged on the door and the windows of the offices, shouting threatening comments at the students trapped inside. The students in the Hillel headquarters appealed to campus security for assistance but received none. They then called the Toronto Police, who eventually arrived to escort them out of the offices, through lines of hostile YSF supporters chanting angry slogans and hurling insults at them.

To date I have seen no public statement by any University official on this incident, beyond the expression of an intention to investigate it. I called your office on Monday, February 23 to seek clarification of the administration’s view of the attack. A member of your staff called me back today and graciously listened to my concerns. However, she was unable to do more than reiterate the University’s official position that the matter is still under investigation. Given that the incident took place two weeks ago, I find it odd that the administration has been unable to come to any conclusions on what took place. It is particularly remarkable that it felt no need to release at least a general statement specifying that violence and abuse of any kind will not be tolerated on campus, and confirming that all students have the right to express their views without fear of intimidation.

The fact that the University has not taken up this assault with the students who launched it, nor acted to reassure the students who they targeted indicates a severe failure on the part of the administration to fulfill its responsibility to sustain a campus free of physical violence and harassment. Several of the Jewish students at York claim that the assault was not an aberration, but part of a general atmosphere of extreme hostility that they have been forced to contend with over an extended period of time. I am in no position to evaluate this assertion. But it seems to me that the administration is obliged to address the grievances of students who feel that they are being victimized, particularly in light of a significant incident which lends some credence to their charge.

I do not regard the ethnic identities or the political views of any of the participants in this event as of relevant concern. All sides to a controversial question have an equal right to be heard in a civil environment of tolerance and mutual respect. Nor do I see criticism of Israel as the problem here. I have frequently spoken out publicly against the policies of the Israeli government, most recently in a joint letter and comments critical of Israel’s operation in Gaza, published in the Observer in January.

If one group of students is permitted to engage in violent harassment of another without the decisive intervention of the University’s administration, then the conditions for a free and unfettered exchange of ideas are completely undermined, and the primary purpose of university life is betrayed.

When I was an undergraduate at York in the late 1960s the University was home to lively political activity on a variety of issues. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of these, and discussion was intense, occasionally heated. However, at no time did this discussion degenerate into systematic bullying, intimidation, or expressions of bigotry. Nor would the administration of that period have allowed it to do so. It is a source of great sadness to me that the current administration is either incapable or unwilling to insure the existence of a basic culture of decency, civility, and free speech on its campus. This culture is a necessary feature of any serious institution of higher learning.

Sincerely,

Shalom Lappin
Professor of Computational Linguistics
King’s College, London

There are many excellent universities in Canada other than York.

Just sayin’.

10 Comments

  1. thebookmistress

    5/25/2009 at 2:28 pm

    Sometime in the very early 90s, I used to edit the Letters & Opinions page of the York University newspaper. We used to call it “the unsolvable ethnic conflicts page” — it was the Greeks and Macedonians one week, Kurds and Turks the next, the various constituents of the former Yugoslavia the week after… And yet things somehow managed to not descend to this level.

  2. Pingback: Something’s rotten at York University | Vlad Tepes

  3. Neal

    5/25/2009 at 5:04 pm

    ah, Middle, you know my yetzer hara by now, I can’t stay away from a good discussion.

    FYI I asked President Shoukri, directly, about this incident at an alumni event last week- and I was wearing a big ol’ kippah, so it’s not like he wouldn’t know why I was asking. He pointed out two things:

    1) The incident and some of the students involved were recorded, the university has the videos, and there is a process within the university of bringing students who act unacceptably to account- and sometimes that process takes months with appeals and reviews.

    2) There are stories going around of horrible things that were said to Jewish students, but he (Pres of York U) told me that the University could not verify with eyewitnesses some of what was reported.

    I have no idea if what Pres. Shoukri said is true or not, but it makes a certain amount of sense that if the university was, in fact, in the middle of an academic investigation, they’d keep mum till it was finished, and it also makes sense that these things take months, b/c of due process and all that.

    For now, I believe Pres. Shoukri understands what so many in the Jewish community are upset about.

    I am not in any way sanitizing the nastiness of some of the discourse around Israel at York or other leading universities- I’m only saying that in this particular case I’m now willing to suspend judgment, for a while, that the university dropped the ball.

  4. LB

    5/25/2009 at 5:25 pm

    “There are many excellent universities in Canada other than York.”

    I’m sure there are. But just a reminder – not Concordia.

  5. themiddle

    5/25/2009 at 5:30 pm

    Well Neal, I’m not going anywhere and you are welcome to follow up with us if you see any development that merits attention. As of now, the reporting we’ve provided includes the first-hand videos, the responses by the York administration to date and now this binationalist conference. Shades of Concordia last time Netanyahu was in the PM’s office. I think you can’t complain that we’ve provided misinformation or have misdirected anyone. The worst accusation against us might be that we’ve used some hyperbole in our titles.

    I realize that Shoukri has his hands full, and that this is a very delicate issue because so many people are invested in it. However, it appears from reports I’ve read that some Jewish students have come to feel uncomfortable on that campus. If that’s the case with affiliated and self-identified Jewish students, you can bet that those Jewish students who are ambivalent about Israel or Jewish life or unaffiliated in general, are quietly disengaging from their identity as Jews.

    It’s unpleasant to be called a racist or a supporter of genocide and murder when you’re there to get an education. Yet this is precisely the environment currently fostered on that campus with the full knowledge of the administration and faculty.

    I’d rather be reporting good news about York University and every other university that we cover on Jewlicious (UC Irvine probably gets more attention from us). It would be nice if we actually received some good news about York and such news would be reported immediately by me.

  6. themiddle

    5/25/2009 at 5:58 pm

    Neal, I just stumbled across York’s conclusion to the investigation. I’ve updated the post accordingly.

    Do you believe this is a sufficient response?

  7. thebookmistress

    5/25/2009 at 8:25 pm

    The conclusion just proves that the investigation was a joke. “Please feel free to harass and bully Jewish students. Physical threats are totally acceptable. Nobody related to this university, such as the university president or the campus police, will do anything to stop you. Just try not to get caught on camera too much, if you can help it.”

  8. Neal

    5/25/2009 at 9:08 pm

    hi again. Timely developments here- when I asked Pres. Shoukri about the incident in Feb, the punishments of the students hadn’t yet been announced.

    Do I think reprimands are sufficient? It depends on what they could prove, I guess, and I’m not in a position to judge that. I’m willing to give Pres. Shoukri the benefit of the doubt, for now, because I think he’s in a good position to make a change if he really wants to and really gets it.

    We’ll see.

    thanks and happy shavuot

    Neal

  9. Pingback: Jewlicious » Incoming York University Student President Reprimanded, Fined and Unaplogetic

  10. Modern Girl

    5/26/2009 at 6:37 am

    I know a student at York who chose to wear a baseball cap to cover his kippah for the remainder of the winter semester 2009 because of the February incidents.

    That’s not happening at other Canadian institutions. My institution (though flawed for other reasons) feels safe, whereas York feels like the last place I want to go.

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