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Two weeks ago, I published a National Post column about York University in Toronto, and its policy on student speech about the Middle East. The column included this line: “Since the anti-Israel people might use violence, the speech of the pro-Israel people must be limited. On the other hand, since the pro-Israel people do not use violence, the speech of the anti-Israel people can proceed without restraint.”
That column has elicited more reaction–from Canadians, as well as correspondents in other countries–than anything I have published in the National Post in many years. Let me share some of that reaction with you today. I have withheld names and identifying details.
-“I attended York briefly, from September to December 2000, when I was trying to complete a one-year Master’s degree in English Literature. What I found on that campus disgusted me. Closed-minded professors; ignorant, bigoted students, and an overall atmosphere antagonistic to any form of free speech or thought. Fortunately for me, my year was cut short by that famous labour dispute which began in October and ended in February 2001. That was the end of my university days and I’ve not looked back. Over time, I have come to see the labour dispute as a blessing and consider myself fortunate that I do not hold a degree from York University. Since then I have counselled many prospective university students to stay clear away from that place. I would never step a foot back on that campus . . . My decision to attend York University was the only regret I have.”
-“I worked for security there during undergrad and TA strikes. The administration is only the tip of the iceberg. I would argue the faculty/TAs are the worst of the bunch by facilitating a culture of ‘open discussion’–as long as the open discussion doesn’t extend to pro-Israel views.”
-“After attending York for a semester in 2006, I was appalled by the anti-Israel sentiment on one of Canada’s leading university campuses. I switched over to Western University in London, Ont. at this time as York was too much of a balagan [chaos].”
-“As an alumna of York U, a Canadian, a Jew and a human, I have found York’s path in dealing with Jewish / Israeli / Palestinian issues quite disturbing.”
-“I am an alumnus of York University (1984). I find it offensive that these [pro-Israel] nondiscriminatory events were unable to proceed due to security concerns; yet the university allows all sorts of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish rhetoric to occur without any concern for the security or sense of well being of the diminishing Jewish student population.”
-“I am embarrassed to say that I am a graduate of such a politically prejudiced university.”
-“The university administration is scared. They are talking about turning Vari Hall [the hot spot for protests, campaigns and rallies] into a more user-friendly space, but in reality they just want to put tables and benches there so that no protests can be held there in the future.”
-“Being a Jewish student, it has been difficult for me to be open about my religious and cultural background outside of the Glendon campus bubble.”
Students and former students, alumni and teaching staff agree: York is a hostile environment for Jewish students. Unlike students of any other background, Jews are required to subordinate or disguise their identity, suppress their views, and avoid cultural expression. Students complain of faculty propounding their political views in class, rewarding those who agree and penalizing those who dissent.
Students are even more dismayed by a university that seems to go the extra mile to avoid disciplining those who engage in anti-Jewish intimidation: As York students perceive it, the administration makes a point of always punishing a Jewish student at the same time as an anti-Jewish intimidator, to signal even-handedness.
York itself acknowledges no problem of course. The university’s strategy seems to be: hunker down, deny everything, wait for the storm to pass. The place is built of concrete for a reason. But you have to wonder: What can the future hold for an institution of learning that seems to be telling Jewish students and teachers: “Do everybody a favour–please go elsewhere”?
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.
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