US Legal Tools to Fight Anti-Jewish Discrimination

“There is an essential paradox at the heart of the current resurgence of campus anti-Semitism. Universities should be centers of reason and tolerance, yet in the United States, they are the main source of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.

“There are many ways to address this problem, but one of the most important approaches is based on civil rights law.  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the primary legal tool available to protect Jewish and Israeli university students against discrimination. It is critically important because young people are more vulnerable and more impressionable than others. Title VI prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs on the basis of race, color or national origin.

High Academic Quality Protects Students’ Freedom to Learn

header_audience_students_parentsThe efforts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) to protect academic freedom intersect with and draw strength from our efforts to maintain high academic quality on America’s college campuses. These issues are closely related, and our Free to Teach, Free to Learn guide highlights the potential challenges universities and their trustees face to ensure that freedom to learn is indeed firmly reflected in academic practices and the curriculum.

The notion that academic freedom requires faculty to have complete control of university curricula in simply incorrect. Such a position forgets that academic freedom entails both professors’ freedom to research and teach as well as students’ freedom and ability to receive a quality education.

The Swastika as a Symbol of Happiness

The Polish criminal code, similarly to criminal codes in other European countries, prohibits incitement to racial hatred; public insult due to race, national, ethnic or religious origin; as well as public propagating of National Socialist and Fascist systems. Those who oppose the penalisation of words – including racist and xenophobic words – will most probably not approve of the situation in which it is possible to obtain a 3-year jail sentence for shouting “Hitler should have finished his work.” But the European system of human rights protection, founded on the rubble of a Europe devastated by the Holocaust and totalitarian regimes, applies legal measures for counteracting racism which constitute part of the concept of the “militant democracy”.

Białystok and Wrocław are big Polish cities where racism, anti-Semitism and the activities of extreme right-wing organisations are very visible. In those cities, in the last few months, disquieting and for some even frightening decisions have been passed by the prosecutors and judges. In the case of Wrocław, a judge has absolved of the blame of offending due to racism and calling to hatred due to racism a group of activists from National Rebirth of Poland, whose slogans and calls constitute the purest form of racism one could imagine. The judge’s explanation was shocking indeed: he stated that the opinions of those prosecuted are merely a proof of their fascination with the theory of “the preservation of separation in the rich mosaic of races,” developed by Arthur Gobineau, the author of “An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races”, whose main ideas were borrowed by Hitler and Nazism. If this very fact constitutes in the judge’s opinion an excuse for calls such as “Blacks to Africa,” we need to consider if the judge himself is not, by any chance, fascinated by the “mosaic of unequal human races”?

Not long afterwards, one of the Białystok prosecutors who received a notice of the crime committed by unknown perpetrators who painted swastika symbols on the buildings in public spaces, decided that the case needed to be abandoned because the swastika can of course be a symbol of National Socialists, but in fact should be seen as a symbol of happiness and wealth in the Asian culture (!).  It is possible that  neo-Nazis, who probably painted those swastikas, were themselves outraged by the fact that they were propagating Asian culture, which, as any other “under-culture”, they abhor. A question arises again: is the prosecutor aware of the scale of the problem of racism in his own city? Does he know of the devastations of synagogues, setting the flats of foreigners on fire, neo-Nazi marches? Did his history teachers at school not tell him what the swastika after the Second World War means in our part of the world? Has he ever heard of the crimes committed under the swastika symbol in Poland by the Nazis?

University Trustees Must Step Up and Defend Real Academic Freedom

header_audience_trusteesIn ACTA’s last post here at the Brandeis Center Blog, we noted several examples of how professors abuse and violate the principles of academic freedom. How has the landscape of academic freedom changed over the years and who is best positioned to stand up and fight for it today?

The first “Key Document” in ACTA’s Free to Teach, Free to Learn guide is the 1915 “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure.” This declaration set forth the guiding principles of the American understanding of academic freedom.

Students, Professors, and Academic Freedom

Academic freedom image - raised hands

I would like to begin by thanking Ken Marcus for giving my colleague Avi Snyder and me the opportunity to guest-post for the Brandeis Center.

Avi and I work for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a Washington, DC-based non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education.

Earlier this year, ACTA published Free to Teach, Free to Learn: Understanding and Maintaining Academic Freedom in Higher Education. Free to Teach integrates classic texts in the history of academic freedom—some stretching back nearly 100 years—with commentary from scholars and advocates who work on academic freedom issues. It also incorporates a series of case studies that examine particular controversies which posed challenges to advocates of academic freedom. In this way, Free to Teach aims to offer broad-based guidance to trustees, administrators, and the public on key issues related to academic freedom.

ACTA and Academic Freedom

From the beginning, academic freedom has been a core concern of the Louis D. Brandeis Center.  As civil rights lawyers, we are concerned both when academic freedom is violated and also when the doctrine is abused.  For example, we are concerned when anti-Israel activists suppress the ability of pro-Israel speakers to communicate their messages on campus.  We are also concerned when the doctrine of academic freedom is abused in efforts to justify or protect hateful, harassing or biased academic lectures.  LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus has presented some of these issues in the current issue of the Journal of College and University Law.  See his article on “Academic Freedom and Political Indoctrination.”

In order to share with our readers the latest research on academic freedom, we have asked experts at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) to appear as our guests on this blog.  ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.  Under the inspired leadership of Anne Neal,  ACTA has recently issued an important trustees’ guide on “Free to Teach, Free to Learn: Understanding and Maintaining Academic Freedom in the United States.”  This guide compiles critical source materials, case studies and commentaries from leading experts.  We are pleased that two of ACTA’s key staffers, William Gonch and Avi Snyder, will be our guests over the coming weeks.

Alice Walker Got What She Deserves

Bravo to the University of Michigan for disinviting Alice Walker – and shame on Walker for reportedly spreading false rumors about Michigan’s reasons for doing so.  The University of Michigan recently withdrew a speaking invitation to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple, who is now known not only for her literary work but also for her virulent anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism.  Walker says that the university was pressured to do so, but the university denies it.

Walker and her agent are spreading an apparently false rumor, which some news outlets continue to disseminate, to the effect that Michigan had disinvited her because of pressure from rich donors.  Calling this a “censorship by purse strings,” Walker and her agent insinuate that her disinvitation was brought on by supposedly inappropriate influence by wealthy Jews.  This charge seems to have traction with some media and internet sources, because it resonates with long-held beliefs about Jewish wealth, influence, and control of major instituitons.  

Should a Pro-Israel Student Organization Be Required to Admit People Who Oppose the Existence of the State of Israel? According to a Troubling Campus Trend, They Should

For the final post of my oddly 21-day “week” of guest posting for the Brandeis Center blog, I want to focus on a troubling trend on college campuses which prevents belief-based organizations from excluding people hostile to their core beliefs. I talk about this trend in detail and at length in my book, and for now, the threat mostly concerns evangelical Christian groups on college campuses. For my nearly 12 year career, I have watched universities come up with different rationales for kicking evangelical Christian students off campus, primarily because of evangelicals views on sexual morality and topics like gay rights and marriage equality. I admit to have been surprised by how common this was on campus before I started at FIRE in 2001, but fighting these attempts on campus has become a regular part of my job. You can see a long list of creative approaches to punish religious groups on the religious liberty section of FIRE’s website.

AAUP: Israel Boycott Violates Academic Freedom

In a stinging rebuke to the Asian-American Studies Association, the American Association of University Professors has just strongly reaffirmed its opposition to academic boycotts.  The new AAUP statement responds to both Stephen Hawking’s recent controversial decision to boycott Israel as well as the AASA decision to endorse the anti-Israel boycott.  The AAUP acknowledges that individual…