IMAGE:  October 2002 GRAPHIC:  University of Chicago Magazine
Volume 95, Issue 1
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University responds to anti-Semitic incidents
The events of September 11 and the continuing violence in the Middle East have raised tensions everywhere, and the Chicago campus has been no exception. Late in spring quarter a group of undergraduate and graduate students met with members of the administration, including Margo Marshak, then vice president and dean of students in the University, and Deputy Dean William Michel, AB'92, to discuss a series of anti-Jewish incidents in and outside the classroom.

Those incidents-detailed in a July student press release that was picked up by several media outlets-included obscene graffiti scrawled on dorm posters for a pro-Zionist meeting, anti-Semitic comments shouted from a car near campus, and a joke about Auschwitz posted on a humanities department listserv. In addition, there were allegations that a graduate student had refused to serve as adviser on a B.A. paper about Zionism, and that some professors had used their classrooms as an anti-Israel pulpit and graded students based on their political beliefs. It was also reported that in the aftermath of September 11, University President Don M. Randel had told the student press that the institution had a "zero tolerance" policy on discrimination against Muslims, with no mention of a similar policy on anti-Semitism.

In fact, as quoted in the September 28, 2001, Chicago Maroon, President Randel instead had assured the vice president of the Muslim Student Association that the University had "zero tolerance for discrimination" of any sort, against any group.

Meanwhile, an investigation of the academic charges found that the graduate student's reluctance to advise on the B.A. paper had to do with a lack of expertise rather than political views, and to the undergraduate's satisfaction, a professor had quickly stepped in as adviser. Investigating charges of classroom bias, the provost's office found no grounds for action.

Although the "joke" on the listserv, about which several students complained, was determined to be protected speech, the list was split into two, with opinion mandated to be separate from official discussions. An investigation of the dorm graffiti determined that the floor's housing staff did not take sufficiently strong steps to address it. In response, this autumn the University sent a letter to all housing-system residents to remind them that such behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable.

The letter was one of many actions that the University will take over the coming year to reinforce its commitment to free speech in an atmosphere of civility and tolerance, Provost Richard Saller says. This September's Orientation Week programming included a mock trial staged in Mandel Hall, after which first-years gathered in small "juries" to decide whether a student organization had the right to sponsor an on-campus teach-in by the leader of a hate group. The students then divided into small, faculty- or staff-led discussion groups, reconvening to hear the judges' decision.

In addition, administrators have consulted Rabbi David M. Rosenberg, director of the University's Newberger Hillel Center, and the Anti-Defamation League about how best to respond to the complaints; during autumn quarter the faculty governing bodies will discuss the appropriate boundaries of free speech. Any further incidents will be investigated immediately, Saller says, with a concerted effort made to ensure that students have a clear understanding of both the seriousness with which the University addresses such issues and the grievance procedure.

In all of these activities, notes Saller, the University will negotiate a long-standing and delicate balance between its desire to "create an arena for free exchange of ideas" and its commitment to providing an atmosphere in which individuals feel safe and free from intimidation. "While we sometimes treat ideas here rather roughly," Saller says, "we strive to treat others with the civility we would like to receive ourselves." (For more from President Randal, see From the President.) - Mary Ruth Yoe





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