Was it a matter of academic freedom or just an instructor who sided with Hamas using his authority to teach the Jewish students a lesson?
An instructor at Stanford University has been suspended for what the president and provost called “identity-based targeting” of students in connection with the Israel-Gaza war.
Rabbi Dov Greenberg, director of the Chabad Stanford Jewish Center, said he was told by three students who were in the room that the instructor asked Jewish and Israeli students to identify themselves during a session for a required undergraduate course called “Civil, Liberal and Global Education.”
The teacher told the Jewish students to take their belongings, stand in a corner, and said, “This is what Israel does to the Palestinians,” Greenberg said, citing the student accounts. The instructor then asked, “How many people died in the Holocaust?” When a student answered, “Six million,” the lecturer said, “Colonizers killed more than 6 million. Israel is a colonizer.”
The unnamed instructor was suspended when these actions were revealed, and the president and provost issued a statement.
We have received a report of a class in which a non-faculty instructor is reported to have addressed the Middle East conflict in a manner that called out individual students in class based on their backgrounds and identities. Without prejudging the matter, this report is a cause for serious concern. Academic freedom does not permit the identity-based targeting of students. The instructor in this course is not currently teaching while the university works to ascertain the facts of the situation.
The class in which this happened was called “Civil, Liberal and Global Education.” a title that conveys little meaning on its surface. The generic first-year course description isn’t much more illuminating.
Our first-year classes encourage you to consider what ideas, scientific evidence, and art can contribute to your personal development. How might a novel affect how you view others? What can a scientific study teach you about social hierarchy and stress? Does a philosophical argument about free speech change your mind about censorship? These are the kinds of questions we invite you to dwell on. The point is not to get the right answer on a test, it’s to let your mind explore alternative views.
At VC, Eugene Volokh considers whether there is a connection between the course and the instructor’s conduct such that it can arguably fall within academic freedom.
There is also the separate question of what discussion of supposed Israeli misdeeds—or, for that matter, Hamas’s misdeeds—has to do with “Civil, Liberal and Global Education.” But perhaps there is some such connection, since the title seems to refer to several different classes, which might be quite broad. And in any event, rightly or wrong modern universities generally give instructors a good deal of flexibility to bring in discussion of even unrelated current events into the classroom (and indeed sometimes encourage it). That’s why, I think, the Stanford president’s and provost’s message focused on targeting rather than on the instructor’s using the class to spread his own ideas on political topics unrelated to the subject.
While “targeting” seems far easier to condemn, this is hardly the first time students have been “targeted” in classrooms to make a social justice point. Consider the practice of segregating white students to point out their “privilege” of having two parents. Not only were teachers not suspended for engaging in racial targeting, but their efforts were lauded for teaching white students about social justice.
I agree that universities may indeed generally forbid targeting individual students for hostile treatment because they’re Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Palestinian, white, black, or anything else, and probably should do so. (I say “for hostile treatment” because we can all think of friendly and productive requests that relate to background and identities—for instance, when an instructor discussing some question related to, say, some religion’s theology or life in some foreign country asks whether some students can speak to that based on their personal knowledge, which is often closely correlated with their religion or national origin. This case, however, doesn’t seem to fall within that mold.)
As the Stanford segregation of Jewish students happened upon the heels of the Hamas slaughter, it might seem easy to file it in hostile treatment. But as many misguided progressives tenaciously argue, what about the Palestinians? If that’s one’s perspective, is the issue of hostility not reversed in their minds? Are they not making an illuminating point about the suffering of Palestinians at the expense of Jewish students? After all, it’s not as if the instructor raped, beheaded, burned or murdered them as well, as Hamas did to women, children, babies and the elderly.
As an aside, this instructor was hardly the only person on the Stanford campus supporting Hamas.
The Stanford Daily reported Tuesday that pro-Palestinian banners went up on campus over the weekend, with one reading, “The Illusion of Israel is Burning,” and another showing a Palestinian flag and the words, “The Land Remembers Her People.” The Daily said the banners were taken down by Monday. Students reported seeing chalked anti-Israel slogans around campus.
An op-ed in the Daily by Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine described Saturday’s attacks in Israel as “part of the protracted struggle against settler-colonial oppression,” adding that “no conversation about Palestine can be conducted without the context of the decades of systematic oppression, discrimination and violence the Palestinian people have faced.”
It should come as little surprise that an instructor used his authority in the classroom to teach what, to his mind, was a lesson in colonialism, even if the distinction between Jews and Zionists reveals the lie that it’s not about anti-semitism. But the distinction of whether targeting is hostile or not is subjective. Targeting based on race, religion, gender has become commonplace in academia where identity inherently distinguishes oppressed and oppressors. It’s an easier question here given the circumstances, but that this instructor put the Jewish students in a corner should shock no one anymore.