The Very Foundations of the University: A Response to the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, Volume 4

By Kenneth L. Marcus and Sitara Kedilaya

The modern Western university faces an existential threat. The danger is not what you think. It is not the cuts in government funding, the skyrocketing cost of tuition, the explosion of student debt, the rise of massive open online courses, the decline of residential learning, or the death spiral of the humanities. These developments may be unfortunate. But the worst threat, if our leading academic minds are to be trusted, is what it always has been: the Jews. And once again it is the Jews that must be stopped. This, at any rate, is what can be gleaned from some current scholarly hand-wringing about academic freedom.

Needless to say, the watchdogs of the new Jewish threat are not so crass as to derogate the “Jews” explicitly. They choose instead to use euphemisms like “Zionists” or “defenders of Israel.” For example, consider the petition circulated in 2007 by the so-called “Ad Hoc Committee to defend the University.” The petition boasts more than 650 academic signatories, from universities such as Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Georgetown, and Yale. These academic luminaries charge “groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel” with “vociferous campaigns” (Jews are nothing if not noisy) targeting universities in an effort to “threaten academic freedom and the core mission of institutions of higher education in a democratic society.” In other words, noisy Jewish complaints threaten core institutions of democracy.

Too many academics embrace this narrative: Zionists threaten the university by suppressing speech contrary to their nefarious interests, especially their conspiracy to hide crimes inflicted by Israelis on innocent Palestinians. In a representative recent example, an article by David Lloyd and Malini Johar Schueller in the 2013 issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom warns that Israel’s supporters threaten “to undermine the very foundations of the university.”Such warnings resonate with age-old stereotypes of the Jews as fantastically powerful, diabolically conspiratorial, and cosmically dangerous. 

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