Free speech on campus
New UC president Yudof is part of a dynamic duo
Wedged among the usual academic honors and awards in the official biography of Mark G. Yudof, unanimously chosen last week by a search committee as the next president of the massive University of California system, are entries that Yudof and his wife, Judy, are co-recipients of a Jewish National Fund Tree of Life Award, and that he served on the board of directors of the Jewish Children’s Regional Service, as well as on the B’nai B’rith Advisory Council in Austin, Texas.
Yudof, chancellor of the University of Texas since 2002, is to be formally confirmed by the UC Regents within a week. As such, he will take the helm of the world’s leading public research university, with 10 campuses, including Berkeley and UCLA, some 220,000 students and an $18-billion budget.
Even more noteworthy for the Jewish community is the resumÃ(c) of Judy Yudof. She is the immediate past international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, representing 760 synagogues, the first woman to hold the post in the organization’s 89-year history.
When she assumed the presidency, she bluntly told reporters, “I didn’t decide to run because I’m a woman, but because I have the leadership skills.”
She currently serves on the council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and on the international board of Hillel.
Three years ago, the couple gave $50,000 to the United Synagogue’s Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem. The Yudofs have two children, Seth and Samara.
Mark Yudof, 63, was born in Philadelphia and started his academic career in 1971 as an assistant professor of law at the University of Texas, Austin. During 26 years as a teacher and dean, he earned a reputation as an authority on constitutional law, freedom of expression and education law.
After a five-year stint as president of the University of Minnesota, Yudof returned to Texas as chancellor of the multicampus UT system.
In a 2003 interview in the Dallas Morning News, Yudof is characterized as “an energizer, outgoing and at meetings he rarely lets a moment pass without a quip.”
As he described himself, “I am what I am. I have my weird sense of humor and I’m proud of it. What I’ve found works best for me is transparency, being direct and being honest.”
Yudof is not above poking fun at himself, pointing to his habit of getting lost as well as his obsessive love of pancakes.
As chancellor, he has continued teaching classes and likes to open the session by asking students, “How did the university oppress you this week?” Off-campus, he has lectured on Moses Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, at local synagogues.
Along with 10 other American university heads, Yudof visited Israel last July, where he proposed joint research between Israeli and American universities.
He recently reported on his trip at the UT Hillel center, where, as “a longtime supporter of Israel,” he advocated strong academic ties with Israel and urged students to study in the Jewish state.
Rabbi David Komerofsky, the Hillel executive director at UT’s flagship Austin campus, said that, “I’ve never known Mark Yudof to refuse an invitation to a Jewish community event.
“He is a terrific friend of Hillel, a thoughtful man with a sense of humor, who is a real leader and straight shooter,” Komerofsky added. “He and Judy are two points of pride for the Jewish community.”
Yudof will be the second Jewish president in the 140-year history of the University of California. The first was David Saxon, who served from 1975-1983.
As UC president, Yudof will consult frequently with Gene Block, who took over as chancellor of UCLA last year.
Block was a visible figure in the Jewish community in his previous position as provost at the University of Virginia. He has been less involved since coming to Los Angeles, but he and his family attended High Holy Days services at UCLA Hillel last year.
Choose Grrl Power over beauty pageants, grrlz
As children we loved to put on my mother’s old nightgowns, makeup and heels and pretend we were Queen Esther. Somewhere around adolescence this became a little more
Why was Vashti banished for refusing to dance — according to some, wearing only her crown — for the drunken King Achashverosh and his buddies? Wasn’t that the right thing to do? And what was a nice Jewish girl like Esther doing in a beauty contest for the Persian king?
Today, in a world saturated by images of beauty and still uncomfortable with a woman asserting her power, these remain relevant questions. How are Jewish girls faring amid this sea of contradiction?
By many measures, Jewish girls are thriving. They are leading extracurricular activities, bettering the world around them, excelling in sports and studying at elite universities. At the same time such success often comes at a cost for girls.
Research and anecdotal evidence point to girls’ perception of intense pressure to accrue academic and extracurricular distinctions. Simultaneously, girls feel bound by the constraints of feminine “niceness,” through which individual ambition becomes untenable, aggressive and selfish.
For some girls, the impact of these contradictions causes suffering.
For others it can lead to the development of eating disorders, cutting, relational bullying, precocious sexuality, abusive relationships and low self-esteem.
Ma’yan: the Jewish Women’s Project is founded on the belief that it is critical to help girls, and those who work with girls, address these contradictions.
Take for example, the case of the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the Reform youth group. Recent reports have sounded the “boy” alarm: 60 percent to 80 percent of participants in Reform youth groups, leadership training, camp and Israel programs are girls. The Union for Reform Judaism has inaugurated a Young Men’s Project to address the dearth of male participants.
What is heard less often is that this year — and it appears not to be atypical — all of the national NFTY officers are boys. An organization in which the overwhelming majority of participants are girls is still led by boys. Leaders involved with the program report that the girls are content with this arrangement, do not seek leadership and are happy to do the behind-the-scenes work.
In other words boys, though few in number, are eager to lead and are apparently groomed to be leaders.
Girls, like women in Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, do not seek leadership, presumably out of fear of being seen as “bossy” or “presumptuous,” or unwilling to set themselves apart from their female peers. Despite their strength in numbers, the girls say they prefer a more collaborative model of leadership.
What future is predicated here? Do we want girls to grow to be women who collaborate nicely and plan events while the men are given center stage? Do we want girls to grow to be women who comprise the backbone of the workforce while the male CEO occupies the corner office? What does it mean if boys, so few in number, still rise to the top?
It is these questions we wish to explore. The Jewish community of late appears to be more interested in questions that concern boys’ absence rather than girls’ lack of leadership. Picking up on national news trends, the Jewish community has sounded its version of the “boy crisis” alarm. Boys are the new girls and are depicted as failing academically, suffering emotionally and dropping out of all things Jewish. Implicit in these arguments is the assumption that attention to girls has served its purpose and should now return where it was always due — to boys.
Although pundits typically lump all boys’ issues into one puddle and declare it a “crisis,” the reality is that Jewish boys are not, and never have been, failing academically. If we are really concerned about boys in crisis, we should turn our attention to poor boys and boys of color, who are truly suffering.
Boys and boys’ issues are worthy of attention, and the Jewish community is surely not serving its sons as well as it could — just as there are gaps in our attention to girls’ needs. Indeed, if it is the case that young men’s participation falls off precipitously after the age of bar mitzvah, it is definitely worth looking at what it takes to engage young men and their interests.
I am agnostic on the question of inherent difference between boys and girls. It is clear, however, that boys and girls from the earliest age are subject to vastly different experiences, which in turn shape them. To truly meet the needs of both boys and girls, we will have to pay specific attention to gender socialization.
Boys and girls must be given the opportunity to explore the social construction of gender, challenge gender norms, examine gender privilege and create a balance of power between boys and girls. We must prepare our daughters to be strong leaders well armed against the sexism they will face in the media and employment at the same time that we raise young men who share an interest in their sisters’ achievements, who have full access to their feelings and who are engaged by Jewish life.
Toward this end, Ma’yan recently launched Koach Banot, Girl Power!
Through training, advocacy and education, we aim to raise the profile of Jewish girls in the community, make excellent resources including curricula and programs more widely available, and to train those who work with girls to better understand issues that confront girls and learn how they can utilize resources to best serve their population.
By exploring these issues and questions together, we can steer clear of the zero-sum game of boys vs. girls and enter into a rich exploration of gender and its implications for our community.
Rabbi Rona Shapiro serves as a senior associate at Undressed up
Fight Against Campus Bias Gets Boost
If you’re a Jewish college student, you no longer have to tolerate anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing on your campus. You are protected under our federal civil rights laws. These were the landmark conclusions of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency that analyzes information about discrimination and reports its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress.
In November 2005, the commission held its first-ever hearing on the issue of campus anti-Semitism. One topic was the Zionist Organization of America’s precedent-setting civil rights complaint on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine, who have faced a pattern of anti-Jewish hostility that university administrators have known about but have failed to adequately address. Based on the hearing, the commission recently issued historic findings and recommendations that both Jews and non-Jews can applaud.
According to the commission, the problem of campus anti-Semitism is “serious.” In addition to name-calling, threats, assaults and the vandalism of property, hatred toward Jews is being expressed on campus in subtler ways. Zionism — the expression of Jewish rights and attachment to the historic homeland of Israel — is being unfairly mischaracterized as racism. Israel is being demonized and illegitimately compared to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, and its leaders are being compared to Hitler.
At UC Irvine, annual campus events (titled, “Anti-Zionist Week” and the misnomer “Israel Awareness Week”) have been regular opportunities to attack Jews, Zionists and those who support Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. Signs have equated the Star of David with the swastika and depicted it dripping with blood. Speakers have portrayed Jews as overly powerful and conspiratorial; one referred to “the Jewish lobby” as a “den of spies.”
At San Francisco State University, fliers depicted a baby with the caption, “Palestinian Children Meat — Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.” The commission rightly condemned all this conduct as anti-Semitism, finding that “[a]nti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.”
The commission also recognized that Jewish students face harassment inside the classroom. Many academic departments present a one-sided, anti-Israel view of the Middle East conflict, squelching legitimate debate about Israel. According to a Jewish student at Columbia University, her professor said that she had no claim to the Land of Israel because she had green eyes and therefore could not be a Semite. In response to such incidents, the commission recommended that academic departments “maintain academic standards, respect intellectual diversity and ensure that the rights of all students are fully protected.”
According to the commission, “severe, persistent or pervasive” anti-Semitism on campus may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI requires that colleges and universities ensure that their programs and activities are free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on “race, color or national origin.” Otherwise, they risk losing their federal funding. The commission recognized that Jews are protected under Title VI because they are an ethnic group sharing a common ancestry and heritage.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education ensures that colleges and universities comply with Title VI. The commission recommended that OCR vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism.
The commission also urged university leaders to denounce anti-Semitic and other hate speech. Some have already done so: When a cartoon mocking the Holocaust was published in a Rutgers student newspaper, the university president publicly recognized that although the publication was constitutionally protected, it was hurtful to the community and inconsistent with the university’s values. He urged the students involved to take responsibility for their actions and succeeded in getting them to apologize for the hurt they caused to the community.
Not all university leaders have exercised the same moral leadership. Some have remained silent in the face of anti-Semitic speech and conduct, justifying their silence by saying that offensive behavior is constitutionally protected. Of course, we must all stand up for free speech and vigorous debate — especially on a college campus, where the exchange of ideas should be encouraged. But hateful, degrading and demeaning speech is hateful, degrading and demeaning, no matter where it occurs.
We can’t lose our common sense about what is hateful and harmful, just because it is expressed on a college campus. If college officials remain silent, they help perpetuate the bigotry. And their silence contributes to making the targets of the hate feel even more marginalized and unwelcome.
What should you do if you are experiencing anti-Semitism on your campus, to the point that the environment feels hostile or intimidating?
First, you should try to resolve the problem internally by working with university officials to create an atmosphere that is tolerant and respectful. While colleges and universities must uphold the right of free speech, they have a legal obligation to provide you with an educational environment that is free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. If working with university officials fails and the hostile environment persists, then you can and should file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (www.ed.gov/ocr).
More information is forthcoming. The commission has recommended that OCR conduct a public education campaign, and it will be distributing its own materials to inform students of their rights. Hillel directors should be getting the message out to college administrators and to their Jewish constituents. The Zionist Organization of America will be undertaking its own nationwide effort to inform Jewish students and college administrators that anti-Semitism is illegal and that students have legal tools to fight it.
Whatever your campus experience, if you are a Jewish student, it’s important to know that the Civil Rights Commission has staked out its position firmly supporting your right to be free from campus anti-Semitism. You have the right to obtain your education in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and that does not intimidate or harass you because you are Jewish or support Israel.
Susan B. Tuchman, is director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, and testified at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ hearing on campus anti-Semitism on Nov 18, 2005. Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.
Superintendant Romer Wants to End Term Early
Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer, the central figure in efforts to improve local schools, has quietly informed top school officials that he would like to leave the job by September, some nine months before his contract expires.
Romer made his request to L.A. Unified school board members at a recent closed-door meeting, where they were discussing the process of choosing his successor. The conversation was confirmed for The Journal Friday by district spokesperson Stephanie Brady, a senior member of Romer’s staff. In the meeting, Romer assured board members that, if needed, he would serve out his contract, which runs through June of next year.
Romer, the former three-term governor of Colorado, has overseen a significant rise in student test scores and academic standards since accepting the job in June 2000. His efforts to build new schools helped jump-start one of the nation’s largest public works projects. At the same time, these reform efforts have been frustrated by an ongoing high dropout rate and lagging academic improvements in middle schools and high schools.
Romer, who is on what staff termed a mini-vacation, was unavailable for comment, but the details of the school board meeting were confirmed by spokesperson Brady. She did not speculate about Romer’s reasons for preferring an early exit. At the meeting during which Romer expressed his wishes, he and board members discussed the hiring of an executive search firm to find a replacement for him and how that firm would do its work.
Board members were less than eager to offer their own confirmation. “He may choose to do that,” said board member Julie Korenstein. “He mentioned he would be willing to leave earlier. But he cannot leave until we find a replacement. We haven’t had a whole lot of discussion on this yet. This has to do with our success in finding a replacement and how long it takes to do our national search.”
Board member David Tokofsky, who could only respond briefly because he was reached during a meeting, said he disagreed with any assertion that Romer would be departing early.
Another board member, Jon Lauritzen commented, “We’ve had some serious conversations in closed session but I can’t confirm anything — although it sounds like your sources of information know what they’re talking about.”
Added board president Marlene Canter: “It’s not something I would even want to comment on. The school board is beginning to do a search for a replacement, as we would have done anyway. His contract goes to June 2007, and he will stay as long as we need him to stay up till June of 2007.”
She added that board members have decided that community input would be an important part of this search. The selection process that, six years ago, led to Romer had been criticized as not sufficiently involving community members.
Rumors about Romer’s future as superintendent already had been circulating widely. These were sparked earlier this week when a senior administrator, addressing a meeting for principals, said, “Romer might be not back for the next school year,” according to two principals in attendance.
The reference was so brief that another principal who was present didn’t recall the remark. The senior administrator was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.
Some of the recent speculation has focused on whether Romer would be willing to work under the auspices of the mayor’s office. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has vowed to get control of the L.A. Unified School District, with authority similar to the mayors of New York City and Chicago. But even under the fastest scenario, it was never clear that Romer, who is 77, would still be serving by the time Villaraigosa might be calling the shots.
Individual school board members have criticized Villaraigosa’s efforts, which could complicate the search for Romer’s replacement. A top candidate might be more reluctant to take the job if it isn’t clear to whom he or she will answer.
Romer became the L.A. schools chief with mixed expectations after being persuaded to apply by businessman-philanthropist Eli Broad. The school board’s first choice had been Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and Clinton administration official. L.A. Unified had run through four superintendents in the previous decade and predictions abounded that Romer would be a short-timer or ineffective.
The longtime politician was not an educator, but he’d championed education issues as Colorado’s governor. Romer’s substantial political skills, his selective stubbornness and a determination devoid of personal ambition began both to impress observers and also to make headway on some seemingly intractable issues, notably school overcrowding.
During his tenure, Romer avoided a teachers strike, while also remaining on good terms with a business-civic coalition led by Richard Riordan both during and after his terms as mayor — even though Riordan’s coalition pointedly opposed the influential teachers union.
“I wanted a politically astute leader,” said board member Korenstein. “He was definitely not an educator. On that part, he has been okay. His lasting legacy will be building 180 schools.”
Lauritzen was more unstinting in his praise. “His performance has been fantastic in terms of the building program — absolutely magnificent and his success in increasing performance in test scores has been remarkable as well. In those areas he’s exceeded expectations.
Lauritzen added that there would be plenty of work for Romer’s successor. “The biggest area is the dropout rate. We’ve simply got to get that under control. And we still have a lot of work to do in terms of academic achievement in secondary schools.”
Board president Canter echoed that sentiment: “Governor Romer has brought more change to the district in the last five or six years than has happened in a long time. But none of us is satisfied with where we are. We all feel an urgency for bold reform, and we’re looking for another bold reformer.”