Can the Universities Be Saved?

November 20, 2023 | K.C. Johnson
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Some of the most horrifying scenes of anti-Semitism in the U.S. have been coming from college campuses. K.C. Johnson carefully details what has been happening and examines how things have gotten this bad. He also considers what, if anything, can be done to remedy the situation.

Donors . . . looking to work through the system to create a more balanced environment on Israel are likely to be disappointed. A troubling lesson came a few years ago from the University of Washington, where a $5 million donation to endow a chair in Israel Studies wound up yielding a figure whose perspective on matters related to Israel seemed indistinguishable from that of her colleagues in Middle East Studies. The most effective response will have to come from within the academy—especially from faculty in less politicized fields such as STEM, business, or medicine. Professors from these disciplines have taken the lead in the rare joint faculty letters critical of the post-October 7 campus environment.

A lack of curiosity for why only Israel has generated such negative passion on campus could have been expressed by the leader of any major college or university in recent years. Absent outside pressure—from donors, legislators, potential employers, the media—universities are never going to explore this question. New York’s Governor Kathy Hochul stepped in to order an outside review of anti-Semitism at CUNY. Heavy pressure from alumni and a large protest by Jewish students seem to have triggered Columbia to appoint a task force to explore anti-Semitism on its campus.

If these inquiries are conducted thoroughly, they almost certainly will implicate powerful faculty and bureaucratic constituencies.

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