Tag Archives: Palestinians, Jews, antisemitism

Did the Board of Visitors Illegally Meet in Closed Session?

by James A. Bacon

Last week the University of Virginia leadership dodged and weaved and did everything it could to suppress an open, wide-ranging discussion at the Board of Visitors meeting of how Jewish students are treated at UVA.

Most pointedly, Rector Robert Hardie called a “hard stop” on board member Bert Ellis’ bid to focus on how the administration was allowing Jewish students to be subjected to hostile and discriminatory treatment. Hardie declared that the points raised by Ellis fell under the rubric of “student safety issues,” which the Board would discuss in closed session.

Was “student safety” a legitimate reason to reject Ellis’ call for open debate about one of the most contentious set of issues to afflict UVA in years?

I’m not a legal expert in government transparency, but it looks to me like UVA violated state open-government law in calling the closed session. I’ll make that case below. But I would welcome feedback from anyone with an expertise in this area to guide the Jefferson Council as we ponder whether to escalate our criticism of what was — whether legal or illegal — a grotesque lack of transparency at an institution supposedly committed to open inquiry. Continue reading

UVA Leadership Squelches Debate About University’s Antisemitism Problem

Provost Ian Baucom and Academic & Student Affairs Chair Elizabeth Cranwell: Antisemitism issues best addressed “in another setting.”

by James A. Bacon

During the University of Virginia Board of Visitors meeting Thursday, Provost Ian Baucom briefed board members on what the administration was doing to defuse tensions in the UVA community between Jews and the vocal pro-Palestinian faction over the Israel-Gaza war.

He mentioned “sustained academic programming” to illuminate sources of the decades-long conflict. He took note of the mental health services provided those experiencing mental anguish. He assured the Board that the University was working to bring opposing parties together in dialogue and to understand “the reality of Jewish, Muslim and other religious minorities.” UVA, he said, was committed to “deep engagement” and “freedom of expression.”

The Provost reiterated the administration’s support for free speech. UVA, he said, was a place where “people are free to disagree” but where “everyone belongs.” “We need to listen to people we disagree with,” he added, and concluded by thanking the Board for its “help and wisdom.”

But when board members began addressing the hostile environment for Jewish students at UVA, there was no sign that the Provost, President Jim Ryan, or Rector Robert Hardie were interested in “listening” to anyone who disagreed with them, much less in “engaging” with them on the most contentious issue to afflict the University in recent years. Continue reading

Ryan Appoints Board to Craft University-Neutrality Policy

After vetting the idea with the Board of Visitors in December, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan has announced the creation of the Committee on Institutional Statements to develop principles to guide official university statements on national and global events.

Twelve individuals — nine faculty members, one student, one alumnus and one member of the Board of Visitors — will serve on the Committee. John Owen, a political science professor, will chair the group.

“It seems like a simple question: When, if ever, should ‘the University’ comment on political and social events?” Ryan said, as quoted in UVA Today. “But answering that question is more complicated than it seems, and it brings up a range of additional questions and knotty issues.” Continue reading

UVA Students Want Vote on Israel Divestment

by James A. Bacon

A student group at the University of Virginia is petitioning the student-run University Board of Elections at the University of Virginia to hold a referendum calling for an audit of UVA’s endowment funds to determine how much are invested in companies “engaging in or profiting from the State of Israel’s apartheid regime and acute violence against Palestinians and to immediately divest all funds so identified.”

The petition is backed by UVA Apartheid Divest (UVAAD), which seeks to unite UVA students in the struggle against “imperialism, colonialism, and militarism in pursuit of collective liberation.”

The organization’s vision states, “We envision a free Palestine, where everyone can live as free and equal citizens. We necessarily envision a world free from colonialism and imperialism, and from all the interrelated systems of oppression that hold them.” The initiative mirrors other BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) initiatives aimed at Israel taking place at other universities around the country.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the referendum had been scheduled. Continue reading

Religion and “Belonging” at UVA

This graph shows the percentage of students identifying by various religions as responding that they Somewhat Agree, Agree, or Strongly agree with the statement, “I feel that I belong at the University of Virginia.”

by James A. Bacon

Hindus and Buddhists were the most likely of any major religious classification to say in 2022 that they feel like they “belong” at the University of Virginia, with Christians not far behind. Muslims and Jews were the least likely to say that they belong.

The graph was included with instructions issued by Provost Ian Baucom to members of the religious diversity task force formed in response to the Hamas-Israel conflict that began in October. The Jefferson Council requested the full instructions as well as agenda or minutes of any meetings held by the task force. As is their practice, UVA attorneys withheld almost everything as presidential working papers. However, they did release one of six pages in Baucom’s instructions — the one that contained the graph displayed above.

The underlying data comes from biennial surveys conducted by SERU (Student Experience in Research University) consortium. Continue reading

UVA Needs an Antisemitism Task Force, Not a Religious Diversity Task Force

We publish here a January 5 letter from 29 parents of Jewish students at the University of Virginia to Provost Ian Baucom followed by his response. — JAB

Dear Provost Baucom,

In light of the 337% increase in antisemitism in the United States since October 7, 2023, numerous universities have formed dedicated antisemitism task forces to reduce antisemitism on their campuses. For example, Harvard, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Indiana University and University of Maryland have all established task forces or committees to combat antisemitism. NYU created a Center for the Study of Antisemitism. Those institutions join other universities that already had programs in place to address antisemitism.

Given those initiatives at other universities, and the rise of unaddressed antisemitic acts on Grounds, we were initially relieved to hear that UVA had likewise created a task force to address the current campus climate. We are disappointed to learn, however, that the focus of the task force is not aimed at addressing antisemitism but rather to “examine religious diversity and belonging.” The announcement of the initiative included a vague acknowledgement of Jewish hate on Grounds. It did not state that an objective of the initiative is rooting out antisemitism at UVA. Even worse, the entity states it will not have any recommendations until the end of the academic year. There is pervasive antisemitism on Grounds now; therefore, recommended actions are needed now. Continue reading

A Hostile Environment for Jews

by James A. Bacon

Matan Goldstein is a rarity at the University of Virginia — a Jewish student unafraid to openly defend Israel in its war with Hamas and oppose Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a pro-Palestinian group that praised Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks on Israeli citizens. The Israeli student has appeared on local talk radio and published an op-ed in the local newspaper. He wears a kippah, openly identifying himself as a Jew, and he was one of the two students who waved an Israeli flag on the steps of the Rotunda during an SJP rally. 

Goldstein, who was drawn to UVa by its classics program, was surprised upon coming to Charlottesville by the prevalence of antisemitism and the impotent handwringing of the UVa administration in dealing with it. University officials have declined to criticize the eliminationist rhetoric of pro-Palestinian students and faculty. Instead, the University has created a religious diversity task force to investigate discrimination against Jews… and Muslims… and other religions. Two of the eleven task-force members had signed a faculty letter faulting Ryan for his failure to sufficiently acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinians.

Goldstein’s account is echoed by other members of UVa’s Jewish community contacted by The Jefferson Council, although he was the only one willing to speak on the record. A law school student spoke off the record, while parents, alumni, a professor and a rabbi conveyed the sentiments of many other Jewish students whom I was unable to contact for first-hand accounts. Jewish students are so reticent to speak publicly that the signatories to a letter in The Cavalier Daily identified themselves only as “a group of Jewish students.”

During his first-year orientation in September, Goldstein participated in a group discussion in which students told others about themselves. He mentioned that he was Israeli. A classmate, a student from Egypt, spoke up. He said he was angry at the Jewish state and the Israeli Defense Force. He thought Abdul Gamal Nasser, an Egyptian dictator who sought to destroy Israel in the Six Day War, was a hero. “He said we could never be friends.” Continue reading

How Unbiased Is UVa’s Religious-Diversity Task Force?

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia task forced assigned the job of ensuring that UVa is “welcoming” to all religions includes two faculty members who signed an open letter criticizing UVa President Jim Ryan for failing after the October 7 terrorist rampage afflicted upon Israel to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Ryan denounced Hamas terrorism but declined to take sides in the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Jews. The task force’s aim, according to the announcement in UVa Today, “will be to understand how Jewish and Muslim students, faculty and staff, as well as those of other religious backgrounds, experience life on Grounds.”

“We want every student, faculty member and staff member to understand that they are a vital part of this place and how profoundly they enrich our common life as we take on that fundamental work of the University,” Ryan said.

The task force is headed by College of Arts & Sciences Dean Christa Acampora. She will be supported by 10 faculty, staff, students, and other members of the UVa community. Christians, Muslims and Jews are all represented. A challenge will be keeping the focus on how Jewish and Muslim students are experiencing UVa without getting infected by the emotional debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that gave rise to the task force. Continue reading

The Asymmetrical Application of Free-Speech Principles

by James A. Bacon

Clifford S. Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, did a masterful job of distilling the free-speech debate on college campuses to its essence. Though he had in mind the disastrous testimony of the three Ivy League presidents last week regarding Palestinians and Jews, his Wall Street Journal op-ed describes the dilemma at the University of Virginia as well.

Alumni donors like me don’t object to free speech. What we can’t abide is the extremely asymmetrical application of free-speech principles. For years these schools, [the University of Pennsylvania] prominently included, have actively suppressed ideas disagreeable to the progressive worldview of their administrations, faculties and hard-core student activists. Now that those groups are talking about wiping Israel off the map, these college presidents are wrapping themselves in the First Amendment. …

Unacceptable is the current status quo of free speech for those chanting slogans that amount to “death to the Jews” but not for those committing alleged microaggressions against the politically favored.

That is precisely the problem I have with the UVa administration.

The day after Hamas terrorists slaughtered thousands of defenseless Israeli citizens and abducted hundreds more, the Students for Justice in Palestine at UVA were free to say the following (my bold): Continue reading

Time for Moral Clarity, Mr. Ryan

Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends!

It is particularly ironic on the first night of the “Festival of Lights” that I feel compelled to address the rampant antisemitism existing at our American college campuses. I am writing this email expressing my personal views, not necessarily speaking for all of our Board since this was not reviewed by them.

Jim Bacon has already chronicled the “Students for Justice in Palestine” horrific October 8 statement and their marches on the Lawn afterwards. For those of you who missed it, please take a moment to read the articles and view the video links I provide below of the congressional testimony from the Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania presidents this past Tuesday. Each one of them steadfastly refused to unequivocally condemn the Hamas genocide or their students’ protests praising the “intifada” while chanting “from the river to the sea.” That is the terrorist Islamist euphemism for the eradication of Israel and Jews worldwide.

Recall that the Penn president is Liz Magill, former UVA EVP and Provost. As you will see below, she is now facing mounting pressure to resign over her comments last Tuesday, as are the presidents of Harvard and MIT. All have attempted to walk back their statements given alumni blowback, but the damage is done. Continue reading