45 Groups to President Monaco: Serious Concerns About Suppression of Jewish Student Expression at Tufts
April 27, 2017
Dear President Monaco,
We are 45 Jewish, Christian, education and civil rights organizations gravely concerned about the recent student government process that deliberately excluded many Jewish students, depriving them of their freedom of expression and the right to full participation in campus life. A student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, made a calculated decision to place an anti-Israel divestment resolution on the Senate agenda on the evening before the Jewish holiday of Passover, at a time when many Jewish students would be unable to attend the student government meeting. Despite widespread outrage within the Tufts Jewish community and the fact that more than 50 students had emailed their senators, pleading with them to postpone the vote until after the Jewish holiday, the Tuft’s Community Union Senate ignored their request, went ahead with the vote, and thereby concurred in the targeted and deliberate exclusion of Jewish students. This is simply unacceptable.
It is not surprising that what triggered this display of flagrantly intolerant behavior was an anti-Israel divestment resolution. As you may know, resolutions like this one, which have been introduced into dozens of student senates across the country by members of SJP and similar groups, are part of a much larger anti-Zionist campaign known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), whose goal is to isolate and ultimately eliminate the Jewish state through economic, academic and cultural boycotts. Studies have shown that BDS activity on college campuses nationally, especially the promotion of anti-Israel divestment resolutions, is strongly associated with acts that target Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm. These have included the shutting down or disrupting of pro-Israel events; the vilification and harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students in order to delegitimize their Zionist perspective or cause them to be too afraid or uncomfortable to express it; and, as recently occurred at Tufts and even more recently at Pitzer College in California, the malevolent manipulation of student government procedure in order to eliminate pro-Israel voices from debates about BDS.
The “Declaration on Freedom of Expression at Tufts,” approved by your Board of Trustees in 2009, recognizes that freedom of expression and inquiry are “fundamental to the academic enterprise,” and that the University bears an ethical obligation to ensure that “all community members, regardless of background, are free from behavior that interferes with their ability to study, grow, and attain their full potential.” The Declaration further obligates University leaders to “hold accountable those who do not respect these values,” as well as “to support and empower [Tufts community] members whose rights are violated.” The actions of the TCU Senate and promoters of the anti-Israel divestment resolution have demonstrated a clear disdain for the most fundamental values of the University and resulted in a serious violation of Jewish students’ rights.
In fulfillment of the ethical obligations articulated by the Tufts Trustees, we urge you to take the following steps to ensure that Jewish students, and all Tufts students, are free to express their opinions, beliefs and identities and to fully participate in campus life, now and in the future:
- Direct the TCU Senate to nullify the divestment resolution vote and schedule a re-vote for a time when the resolution can be fairly discussed and debated, and when all students – but especially those who are personally affected by the resolution — have an opportunity to express their opinions and equitably participate in the student government process;
- Review, update and diligently enforce campus policies and procedures to guarantee that all members of the campus community, irrespective of their opinions, beliefs or identity, are equitably and adequately protected from intolerant behavior that infringes on their freedom of expression and denies them equal rights.
- Ensure that prompt and appropriate disciplinary measures are taken when any individual or group engages in behavior that suppresses the freedom of expression or civil rights of others. To be a credible deterrent against campus abuses, “appropriate disciplinary measures” must include rigorous penalties such as suspension and expulsion.
- Develop protocols for vetting the establishment and yearly renewal of university-approved student groups, to determine whether a group is likely to, or has already engaged in the suppression of others’ freedom of speech or civil rights. Any group whose stated mission is to engage in such intolerant behavior, or whose members have repeatedly engaged in such behavior, should not be given university approval.
- Develop educational and training programs that can:
- Help members of the campus community to recognize and avoid intolerant behavior that suppresses others’ freedom of expression or denies them equal rights, and to be aware of all campus policies and procedures regarding such behavior;
- Teach and encourage the expression of a wide range of views in a productive and respectful manner;
- Inculcate an understanding of and appreciation for the First Amendment and Tufts’ own “Declaration on Freedom of Expression” and their critical role in supporting the academic mission of the university.
To address the recent wave of increased polarization on campuses across the country, we have been meeting with college and university leaders to discuss many of the above strategies for promoting tolerance and protecting free speech for all students. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these recommendations and how they might be successfully implemented at Tufts.
Thank you for your leadership and defense of the freedoms and rights of all Tufts students.