LDB Urges Further Action from UW Madison

Today, the Brandeis Center wrote to University of Wisconsin – Madison (“UW”) Chancellor Rebecca Blank, applauding her administration for castigating the Associated Students of Madison’s controversial April 26, 2017 Student Council (“ASM”) divestment measure, and urging further action from her administration.

This past semester, the ASM introduced various versions of BDS resolutions, violating the ASM Constitution & Bylaws in the process and discriminating against and harassing Jewish students and their allies. Though the UW administration castigated the ASM’s April 26 BDS resolution, more must be done to correct the campus environment and discipline certain students. LDB urged action, including:

  • Addressing the statement from former ASM Chair that “All white people are racist.” Such negative racial stereotypes are unacceptable, and is especially damaging to the campus environment when conveyed by a person with official stature, even within the student body. As explained in LDB’s Best Practice Guide, it is necessary for university leaders to exercise moral leadership by expressing their views of difficult subjects.
  • Taking responsive actions consistent with UW nondiscrimination policies and Wisconsin Statute.
  • Requiring orientation and training for all ASM Members on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it. Additionally, requiring orientation and training for all new students on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it.
  • Updating the “UW Student Handbook, Policies on Accommodating Students’ Religious Beliefs” to include that the ASM Student Council should be accommodating to students’ religious beliefs.
  • Creating more academic and extracurricular programming to raise community awareness about global and campus anti-Semitism, making use of valuable UW resources, such as the UW Hillel and the UW Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies.
  • Adopting a uniform definition of anti-Semitism, such as the definition used by the S. State Department or the recently adopted University of California Regents’ Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, in order to avoid and properly identify anti-Semitism should it arise in the future.

The redacted text of LDB’s letter can be found below:

—-
June 21, 2017

VIA EMAIL

Chancellor Rebecca M. Blank
University of Wisconsin – Madison
161 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Drive
Madison, WI 53796

Dear Chancellor Blank,

We write on behalf of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, at the request of our friends at the University of Wisconsin Hillel, to applaud your administration for castigating the Associated Students of Madison’s controversial April 26, 2017 Student Council (“ASM”) divestment measure (hereinafter “Divestment Measure”) and to urge further action from your administration. The Louis D. Brandeis Center is a national public interest advocacy organization dedicated to the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and justice for all.

We appreciate your April 26, 2017 online statement that the Divestment Measure does not control the policies or practices of the University of Wisconsin – Madison (“UW”) or the UW Foundation (“WFAA”) and will not change your approach. You exercised commendable leadership by clarifying your opposition to the anti-Semitic movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (“BDS”). We further applaud the ASM Student Judiciary for voiding a discriminatory bylaw change at the April 12 ASM meeting, which took place on the Jewish holiday of Passover. The Student Judiciary properly voided the bylaw change; suggested that the former ASM Chair attend tolerance training and apologize for her discriminatory actions; and mandated the incoming ASM Chair to send a letter to the Student Council explaining why her motion to waive the rules was wrong, why the nondiscrimination clause of the ASM constitution is essential, and why Passover is important to the Jewish community.

We urge you to build on this good start, keeping in mind your important observation that Jewish students felt targeted by the ASM’s actions. You say that “UW-Madison values and welcomes members of all faiths and identities,” and we take you at your word. We ask that you demonstrate this with further actions to correct the hostile campus environment created for Jewish students on campus, and prevent such discrimination and harassment from recurring.

The comments made during and in the wake of the ASM meetings demonstrate a lack of understanding and respect for Jewish students and the Jewish religion. Some statements demonstrated gross insensitivity, at best, as well as negative ethnic and racial stereotypes. They include, for example, sweeping offensive generalizations. Jewish students present at the various ASM meetings, and students who attempted to speak up on behalf of Jewish students, felt targeted and harassed. Some of the discriminatory statements and actions that occurred include the following:

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