Tuesday, June 18, 2024 -
Print Edition

CU Ethnic Studies’ vile statement

Twenty-five years ago, as a student rabbi, I presented a paper to the Society for Biblical Literature. I confided my apprehension about appearing before a room full of university professors to my advisor. “Don’t worry,” she reassured me, “they won’t understand anything you are saying.”

Another graduate student spoke right before me. He presented his paper and promptly suffered exactly the kind of inquisition I feared. He was torched so severely that vapor trails still hung in the air when my name was called to start speaking. Terrified, I presented my paper and waited for a similar reception, but there was silence. The moderator asked a second time if anyone had any questions and finally declared the meeting adjourned.

What happened? The paper I presented was an examination of the economic and fiscal policies enacted by Nehemiah in chapter five of that Biblical text using the lens of Keynesian economics.

When my adviser first asked me to work on this project, she explained that up to that point in time, the only academic analysis of economics in the Bible was through a Marxist lens. Thus, my approach would be a novelty that few people in the room would expect and none had previously considered, leaving them no questions to ask.

The bedrock of academic freedom is the right to cut against the grain of a body of scholarship and the ossification of thought it engenders. Meaningful discovery and advancement of human understanding cannot be achieved without questioning established beliefs and challenging the status quo.

Even when the weight of evidence seems to point in one direction, it is the pioneer who is willing to look the opposite way that often finds answers others who are blinded by conventional wisdom cannot see. It is this essential truth that makes academic freedom a principle to cherish and defend.

Important as it is, there is no absolute definition of “academic freedom.” The concept varies among institutions and the breadth of that freedom is a matter of debate. An important example of this tension is found in the definition of academic freedom used by the University of Colorado Boulder.

CU’s definition is excerpted from guidance published by the American Assn. of University Professors (AAUP) with a muddled restatement of one critical element asserted by the AAUP, “extramural speech.”

Without specifically referring to extramural speech, CU’s definition says: “College and university professors are citizens, members of a learned profession, and employees of an educational institution; they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should understand their special obligations as such.”

In contrast, the AAUP more broadly defines academic freedom with respect to extramural speech to be “freedom from institutional censorship or discipline when speaking or writing as citizens.”

This exceptionally broad characterization is somewhat circumscribed by the further stipulation that “When speaking on public matters, faculty should strive to be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show appropriate respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

Given these definitions, what are we to make of the published “Statement for Peace” that appears on the web page for the CU Ethnic Studies Dept.?

As the presidents of three major universities recently reminded us, context is important to understanding the meanings of words. With that in mind, while CU would like to pretend that this matter ended when the Ethnic Studies department took down its original, scandalously hate-infused statement, context is key to understanding the new, scandalously hate-infused statement that now adorns the website.

The faculty of the department did not repudiate its original vile statement (available on the website of the CU Independent). They merely asserted passive-aggressively that because they “find ourselves under attack for the statement we had previously shared on our website,” they removed it because they felt unsafe, not because they made others feel unsafe. Pointedly, they say “this removal should in no way be seen as a lack of commitment to our mission statement. We support the work on the ground to educate and empower all of us still learning the nuances of this unfolding situation by organizations Jewish Voices for Peace and If Not Now.”

In other words, they stand by what they said and are merely capitulating to straw man oppressors in changing the post.

It beggars belief that when resorting to tokenism by citing two ultra-fringe organizations whose work puts them more in the category of malshinim (slanderers) than spokespeople for the Jewish community, the faculty of the CU Ethnic Studies Dept. does not recognize the hypocrisy of their defining the Jewish community through its own lens of legitimacy instead of acknowledging the Jewish people’s right to decide who speaks for us.

At the barest minimum, failing to acknowledge the mainstream Jewish community’s rejection of the views of these two extremist organizations in its statement is a betrayal of the academic principle to “show appropriate respect for the opinions of others.”

In my view, the continued employment of professors who forthrightly, obstinately and consistently flout the standards on which academic freedom rests is a stain on the integrity of a university like CU.

Academic freedom is a critical value to protect those whose ideas might otherwise be discarded, but it is not a shield against consequences for articulating every inane thought people have simply because they hold a PhD or occupy a position on the faculty of a university.

On the contrary, more is expected of those who hold such positions because they wield influence over the thinking of others, especially their students.

The abuse of that influence by disguising hate speech as academic freedom is abhorrent not only to those of us who are traumatized by their attempted kidnapping of legitimate Jewish thought, but also to any genuine scholar whose achievements are sullied by such charlatanism.

Copyright © 2024 by the Intermountain Jewish News




1 thoughts on “CU Ethnic Studies’ vile statement

  1. Anonymous

    When I was in college at CU Boulder I learned 3 precepts which apply to the University of Colorado now.

    1. You can’t win an argument when people won’t listen to you. CU is not listening to anything the Colorado Jewish Community is saying. Ask Shana Goldberg.

    2. You can’t win an argument with a liar. Most of the arguments set forth against Judaism and Israel by CU are lies and the liars won’t change what they are saying even if proven wrong. So why argue?

    3. Paying people who trying to get you killed is suicidal which is a form of mental illness. . Colorado Jewish taxpayers typically support giving money to CU and the UN which both support anti-semitism. Both are suicidal acts.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *