Proposed USC-Dubai journalism school concerns faculty and community


Faculty members at the USC Annenberg School for Communications are deep into a controversy that should be of interest to the Jewish community.

It concerns a proposal from USC for a $3 million contract for Annenberg to work with the American University in Dubai to create a journalism and communications school in the Middle Eastern nation.

Some on the USC faculty are concerned that Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will discriminate against student applicants and faculty who are not Muslim, including Jews. Critics also cite past United Arab Emirate opposition to Israel.

What makes this of interest to local Jews — even those not connected to the home of the Trojans — is the close connection USC has forged with the Jewish community over the years. The Jewish presence among students, faculty and the board of trustees is strong, USC’s Hillel is bustling and the university also has the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, which works with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, as well as the Shoah Visual History Foundation. In addition, Jews are among USC’s financial supporters.

The current university is far different than the old anti-Semitic USC. That era was recalled in a 1996 article by The Jewish Journal’s Tom Tugend, who described the school’s pre-World War II quota system that was “strikingly simple. One Jewish student was admitted to the medical school, one to the dental school and one to the law school.”

Today, Jewish faculty members are divided over the Dubai proposal. “So many of the people involved in this are Jewish,” said Ed Cray, a veteran journalism professor.

According to a proposed memorandum of understanding, Annenberg would receive $1 million a year for three years to provide the American University and its Mohammed bin Rashid School for Communication with curriculum advice and faculty assistance. Annenberg would also work with its Dubai partner to set up an international conference center and think tank there.

The memorandum states that neither USC nor the Rashid school would “discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, color, age, physical or mental disability, national origin, veteran status, marital status or any other category protected by law in employment or in any of its programs and/or activities.” But it’s unclear how this clause would be enforced.

Annenberg dean Ernest J. Wilson III told me that USC will be “providing training to a significant part of the journalists who will be distributing information all through the Middle East and into India.”

Annenberg professor Philip Seib, principal director of the project, said in an article on the Annenberg Web site, “The news business is much less mature in Arab countries…. We’re eager to contribute to the enhancement of journalistic fundamentals … by fostering appreciation of American journalism values — everything from ethics to professional production skills….”

Faculty critics with long memories recall a proposal in the 1970s for a USC Middle East Studies Center financed entirely, Tugend reported, “by Arab oil money.” The Jewish community, fearing creation of a nest of pro-Arab, anti-Israel academics, protested, and the proposal was killed.

A vocal opponent of the Dubai plan is professor Jonathan Kotler, who was joined by a half-dozen colleagues. He told me he was concerned about UAE support for the PLO and its “civil rights record … in its treatment of foreigners, women, children and gays….” And he noted that Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, has been sued for forcing young boys into slavery to serve as jockeys in the popular sport of camel racing. The Dubai communications school was named for him.

“I don’t think we should get into bed with such a person,” he said, and he believes the proposal “besmirches the name of the university and the Annenberg school.” He was particularly concerned about past United Arab Emirate support for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he considers a supporter of jihad and terrorism.

“As a Jewish American, I am offended,” he said.

Murray Fromson, an emeritus journalism professor and a longtime foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and CBS, sees it differently.

Fromson, who every year visits his daughter Aliza Ben-Tal, assistant to the president of Ben-Gurion University, in Israel, told me this is not a Jewish issue unless Dubai discriminates against Jews or academics who are involved in communications programs in Israel. “It’s a Jewish issue if we start a program in Israel and they [Dubai officials] say we can’t do it,” Fromson said.

He said his years as a reporter overseas taught him the value of such programs, a view that was reinforced when he headed a USC program in Mexico, in the days when the PRI political party clamped down on dissent in a brutal way, and the government bribed the press.

His students there learned about a free press. “Two of our students were among those who got the National Assembly to adopt a First Amendment [free press guarantee],” he said.

I’ve taught at Annenberg on and off for several years. As a part-time Trojan, here’s what I think:

Like Fromson, I believe a program such as this can do much good, even in a country with a poor human rights record. But USC should insist on ironclad anti-discrimination clauses in the contract to prevent the Arab rulers of Dubai from discriminating against Jews and other non-Muslims.

USC Trojans march for restored Torah; Backyard tashlich in Fairfax


Trojans Greet Restored Torah
 
When the Trojan fight song rings out at a Torah restoration ceremony, where else could you be but at USC?

About 100 people gathered Sunday under the shade of sycamore trees in front of the university’s Bovard Auditorium to witness the ceremonial completion of a restored Torah scroll that will become the centerpiece of religious life at the Chabad Jewish Student Center.
 
“It’s an honor just to be here,” said Kaley Zeitouni, a sophomore. “I really feel like I’m witnessing an important moment in this community’s Jewish history. Every time I see the scroll at services I’ll remember that I was part of this event.”
 
Rabbi Aaron Schaffier, one of two Torah scribes involved in the scroll’s restoration, said the scroll is between 70 and 80 years old and probably originated in Eastern Europe. Its long journey to USC included a layover in Massachusetts, where it was used for several decades at a synagogue that has now merged with other congregations.
 
The ceremony was particularly moving for Abe Skaletzky, who was visiting his daughter, Michele, another sophomore at USC.
 
“I’m a ba’al teshuvah,” Skaletzky said. “So knowing this scroll might help other people return to Torah means a lot to me.”
 
After the last details of the restoration were complete, Schaffier stitched the scroll to its wooden dowels with kosher sinew. Rabbi Dov Wagner carried the Torah from Bovard Auditorium to the Chabad House under a chuppah to symbolize the scroll’s new life.
 
And that’s when seven members of USC’s marching band brought the moment to life. They began the procession with a rendition of the Trojan fight song, prompting students in the crowd to hold up the two-finger sign for victory.
 
During its installation at the Chabad House, the scroll was dedicated to the late Sandra Brand, a Holocaust survivor who established a fund to support the restoration of Torah scrolls to be donated to college communities.
 
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer
 
Backyard Tashlich in Fairfax
 
For a few years on Rosh Hashanah — until the raccoons ate all the fish and the fishpond was turned into a giant planter — members of Ohev Shalom, a small Orthodox shul on Fairfax Avenue, gathered in my parents’ yard for Tashlich.
 
The “pond,” mind you, is about four feet in diameter and maybe a foot deep. But it’ll do for the landlocked mid-Wilshire residents who don’t drive on Rosh Hashanah and want to participate in the custom of Tashlich, which literally means to cast off.
 
Orthodox residents across the city seek out small bodies of water in which to throw bread crumbs, symbolizing their sins, as they recite atonement-related prayers on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (unless, like this year, it falls on Shabbat).
 
Tashlich is a custom, not a law, and can be recited anytime during the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ideally, the water should be flowing and have fish in it, but that isn’t always possible, so a small reservoir — or my parents’ fish pond — works, too.
 
A small slab of the L.A. River runs through Beverlywood, some people gather there on Rosh Hashanah to toss their sins through the chainlink fence into the trickle of water muddying up the concrete cutout.
 
Maybe not quite what the rabbis had in mind when they based the tradition on the quote in Micah, “And you will all their sins into the depths of the sea.” But then again, if bread crumbs can symbolize sins, why not fish ponds as the depths of the sea?
 
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor