Are our cam­puses re­ally that bad?

Crit­ics say U.S. news­pa­per should have dug deeper be­fore list­ing Cana­dian schools.

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Front Page - RON CSILLAG rc­sil­lag@thecjn.ca, TORONTO

Jewish of­fi­cials with an eye on cam­pus af­fairs are down­play­ing a provoca­tive list of the 40 most hos­tile uni­ver­si­ties for Jewish stu­dents.

Four Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties – Mcgill, the Univer­sity of Toronto, Mc­mas­ter and York – made the Al­ge­meiner’s “1st An­nual List of the U.S. and Canada’s Worst Cam­puses for Jewish Stu­dents,” re­leased last month by the New York-based weekly pub­li­ca­tion.

U of T landed at No. 3, be­hind Columbia Univer­sity in New York and Vas­sar Col­lege. Mcgill Univer­sity fol­lowed at No. 4, while Mc­mas­ter in Hamil­ton was ranked at 13, and York Univer­sity in Toronto came in at num­ber 17.

“While cog­nizant of the in­her­ent short­com­ings and im­per­fec­tions of the prac­tice of list-mak­ing in gen­eral, we have taken great care to pro­duce a thor­ough and cred­i­ble rank­ing sys­tem that is driven by a com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis of many data points rep­re­sent­ing the full scope of cam­pus life,” the Al­ge­meiner ex­plained.

“We have also in­ter­viewed nu­mer­ous ex­perts, cam­pus ac­tivists and stu­dents, to se­cure cor­rob­o­ra­tive tes­ti­mony and ad­di­tional in­sights.”

Cre­ated in 1972 and de­scrib­ing it­self as “the fastest grow­ing Jewish news­pa­per in Amer­ica,” the Al­ge­meiner said it took “many” fac­tors into ac­count for its com­pi­la­tion: The num­ber of anti-semitic in­ci­dents on each cam­pus; the num­ber of anti-is­rael groups, and the ex­tent to which they are ac­tive; the Jewish stu­dent pop­u­la­tion and num­ber of Jewish or pro-is­rael groups; the avail­abil­ity of Jewish re­sources on cam­pus; the suc­cess, or lack of, Is­rael boy­cott ef­forts; and the public po­si­tions of fac­ulty mem­bers who are part of the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment.

The in­for­ma­tion was then con­densed into a point-grad­ing sys­tem in or­der to gen­er­ate the rank­ings.

But Hil­lel Ontario, which is ac­tive on nine univer­sity cam­puses in the prov­ince and works with some 21,000 Jewish stu­dents, be­lieves the Al­ge­meiner list “does not ac­cu­rately rep­re­sent the ex­pe­ri­ence of most Jewish stu­dents on cam­pus” and is “rather mis­lead­ing.”

The list fo­cuses only on “iso­lated” anti-semitic and anti-is­rael in­ci­dents, “which do not tell the com­plete story of the ro­bust cam­pus ex­pe­ri­ence most Jewish stu­dents have,” Ilan Orzy, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy for Hil­lel Ontario, told The CJN in an emailed state­ment.

“While cer­tainly anti-semitism and anti-is­rael ac­tiv­ity on cam­pus are troublesome, these same cam­puses are where our Hil­lels are thriv­ing.”

A cam­pus, he added, “can­not be judged on how good or bad it is for Jews based on whether anti-semitic and anti-is­rael in­ci­dents oc­cur.”

Had the pa­per’s ed­i­tors vis­ited the Ontario cam­puses, “they would find that the cam­pus cli­mate is de­ter­mined by the con­sis­tent ef­forts of peo­ple who love learn­ing and Jewish life, and who con­sis­tently stand up for them­selves, not by those who at­tempt to in­tim­i­date oth­ers,” Orzy said.

U of T was high on the list be­cause it was where Is­rael Apartheid Week orig­i­nated and has hosted “a con­sid­er­able num­ber of events in re­cent years por­tray­ing the Jewish state as bar­barous and colo­nial­ist,” the Al­ge­meiner ex­plained. The school also saw a re­cent “pro­lif­er­a­tion of bla­tant anti-semitism when nu­mer­ous swastikas popped up around the cam­pus.”

The pa­per quoted the na­tional di­rec­tor of Has­bara Fel­low­ships Canada as say­ing that one reg­u­larly finds “or­ches­trated, or­ga­nized anti-is­rael pro­grams and ini­tia­tives” at U of T.

Robert Walker, di­rec­tor of Has­bara Fel­low­ships Canada, told The CJN that when con­tacted by the Amer­i­can pa­per, he “did not nec­es­sar­ily en­dorse U of T in that spe­cific rank­ing. They just asked me for a quote about U of T.”

In a state­ment, Walker said that he would rank the Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties dif­fer­ently, and that “this list should re­mind us that the crux of the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties on cam­pus is big­ger than an iso­lated in­ci­dent – it’s about the em­pow­er­ment of the next gen­er­a­tion of Jewish stu­dents, and about win­ning over the next gen­er­a­tion of non-jewish thought lead­ers.”

Mcgill’s en­try on the list notes that anti-is­rael ac­tivists “re­peat­edly bring BDS mo­tions be­fore the stu­dent govern­ment, and fi­nally passed one [in 2016] but when the stu­dent body later failed to rat­ify it, the ac­tivists vowed to con­tinue their cam­paign.”

As well, the univer­sity’s stu­dent news­pa­per, the Mcgill Daily, “against which Jewish stu­dents filed a com­plaint, re­cently re­jected charges of anti-semitism but openly ad­mit­ted to cen­sor­ing pro-is­rael con­tent on the grounds that Zion­ism is a prod­uct of ‘set­tler colo­nial ide­ol­ogy.’”

Mc­mas­ter made the list be­cause two on-cam­pus groups, Sol­i­dar­ity for Pales­tinian Hu­man Rights (SPHR) and Mc­mas­ter BDS, sup­port the BDS drive and have anti-is­rael sup­port­ers.

Stu­dents at York Univer­sity, mean­while, “say the school has an ‘anti-semitism prob­lem,’ with fac­ulty push­ing anti-is­rael, anti-jewish agen­das in the class­room, and ad­min­is­tra­tors de­fend­ing them when stu­dents and ad­vo­cacy groups com­plain,” the Al­ge­meiner said.

Ai­dan Fishman, B’nai Brith Canada’s cam­pus ad­vo­cacy co-or­di­na­tor and a law stu­dent at U of T, said he wel­comes the rank­ing, though he doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily en­dorse it, but “there’s not very much” on the Al­ge­meiner’s web­site about its method­ol­ogy.

Fishman said he was “a lit­tle sur­prised” to see U of T rated the third-worst in North Amer­ica and the worst in Canada, “be­cause there’s a broad con­sen­sus among Jewish stu­dents in Toronto that York has a much worse anti-semitic at­mos­phere than U of T.”

The Al­ge­meiner’s rank­ing “ap­pears out­dated and does not rep­re­sent the pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence shared by most Jews on those and other cam­puses na­tion­wide,” said Judy Ze­likovitz, vice-pres­i­dent of univer­sity and lo­cal part­ner ser­vices with the Cen­tre for Is­rael and Jewish Af­fairs (CIJA).

“We do not know the method­ol­ogy be­hind how the list was com­piled, but it does not cor­re­spond with our own qual­i­ta­tive re­search with stu­dents,” she added.

Mc­mas­ter was “sur­prised” to find it­self in­cluded on the list, Gord Ar­beau, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, told The CJN.

“The method­ol­ogy used by the au­thors is un­clear. Much of it ap­pears to be anec­do­tal,” he said in an email. “We had no knowl­edge of this list prior to its on­line dis­tri­bu­tion, nor were we given op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide the au­thors with in­for­ma­tion about Mc­mas­ter.”

The same sen­ti­ments were sounded by Althea Black­burn-evans, di­rec­tor of me­dia re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of Toronto, who said she could not com­ment on the au­thors’ method­ol­ogy “or how they came to those conclusions.”

Di­ver­sity and tol­er­ance are “key val­ues” at U of T, she added.

Mcgill and York, the other two Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties named in the rank­ings, did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

The sit­u­a­tion for Jewish stu­dents at Ry­er­son Univer­sity in Toronto made an­other list, this one the Los An­ge­les-based Si­mon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter’s (SWC) “2016 Top Ten Worst Global Anti-semitic/anti-is­rael In­ci­dents.”

Clock­ing in at No. 4 (tied with two other in­ci­dents), Ry­er­son, the SWC noted, saw stu­dents pass a pro-bds vote, anti-semitic graf­fiti, and the tor­pe­do­ing of a mo­tion to ded­i­cate a week to Holo­caust re­mem­brance. Jewish stu­dents ac­cused the groups Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine and the Mus­lim Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion of stag­ing a walk­out to scut­tle a quo­rum for the vote, and the mo­tion was later passed unan­i­mously by the Ry­er­son Stu­dents’ Union.

WIKIPEDIA PHOTO

Mcgill Univer­sity ranked No. 4 on the Al­ge­meiner’s list.

FILE PHOTO

One of the swastikas found at the Univer­sity of Toronto last Oc­to­ber.

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