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The problem isn’t university presidents, it’s DEI

The diversity, equity and inclusion agenda endangers Jews and corrupts academia.

An illustration of the diversity, equity and inclusion acronym. Image: Dmitry Demidovich/Shutterstock
An illustration of the diversity, equity and inclusion acronym. Image: Dmitry Demidovich/Shutterstock
Rebecca Sugar
Rebecca Sugar
Rebecca Sugar is a freelance writer and philanthropic consultant in New York.

Of the three university presidents who were widely criticized last week for refusing to say whether calls for the genocide of the Jews violated their schools’ codes of conduct, only University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill has resigned. Both Claudine Gay of Harvard and Sally Kornbluth of MIT remain with the full endorsement of their administrations.

Less attention has been paid, however, to the congressional presentation by Pamela Nadell, chair of women’s and gender history and director of the Jewish studies program at American University, who was invited to the hearing as an expert on antisemitism. What she failed to say exposed what more and more people see as the corrupting influence of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) agenda on higher education.

Nadell opened her remarks by offering historical examples of American antisemitism to “convey some of its contours.” She cited the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017; the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; Jewish quotas at universities in the middle of the last century; swastikas on the doors of college dorms; and 17th-century New Amsterdam Gov. Peter Stuyvesant’s call to expel “such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” She also referenced antisemitic stereotypes adopted by Henry Ford and college newspaper ads published in the 1990s promoting Holocaust denial.

What Nadell did not mention was Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s 2019 “It’s all about the Benjamins” tweet or Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 “Hymietown” slur. She did not cite the Crown Heights riots of 1991 in Brooklyn, N.Y., or the pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Los Angeles in 2021 during which Jews were assaulted in the streets. She did not talk about Malik Faisal Akram, who held a Texas rabbi hostage in his synagogue for 10 hours in 2022, or Linda Sarsour and Louis Farrakhan. She didn’t cite the late Columbia professor Edward Said’s post-colonialist, anti-Israel theories that spread across academia and influenced the thinking of people like professor Joseph Massad, who called Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre “awesome.”

Some antisemitism, it seems, is more equal than others.

Nadell’s presentation was not per se inaccurate, but it was misleadingly incomplete. It omitted the decades-long history of minority racial and ethnic intersectional alliances of “resistance” against both the Jews and the Jewish state that have been mainstreamed on campus today, undergirded by the DEI industry and its toxic “oppressor-oppressed” binary. 

The three Jewish students who, just minutes before the hearing, testified about mobs of masked “protesters” waving Hamas flags and calling for a “global intifada” on their campuses must have been disappointed that Nadell used her time to talk about “Unite the Right” in 2017 but not Students for Justice in Palestine in 2023. 

Antisemitism emanating from any precinct is important to examine, but at the current moment, the main threat to Jews isn’t coming from the KKK. Nadell and her colleagues know this, but their commitment to DEI’s racial guilt narrative prevents them from admitting it, and therein lies the problem.

Twice in her remarks, Nadell appealed to Congress for full implementation of the Biden administration’s U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, issued last May. She called it a “stunning confirmation” of Jewish efforts to fight Jew-hatred.

One of the plan’s main recommendations is for more government-mandated DEI programs, this time to protect Jews. Only someone who refuses to see the clear connection between DEI indoctrination and the letter signed by more than 30 Harvard student identity groups blaming Israel for Hamas’s massacre could be enthusiastic about such an idea. DEI’s intellectually weak foundations produce the kind of moral confusion that makes it acceptable to target Jews. This illiberal system of discrimination cannot be leveraged to fight antisemitism because it helps create antisemitism.

Nadell’s perspective is representative of the consensus among faculty at elite schools, who either believe in the DEI worldview or submit to it out of fear. Some have heterodox views, but as Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg and Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman pointed out in their questioning of Gay, they are often silenced or fired. Those who remain are of like mind or are unlikely to defend Jews on campus at a moment like this. More than 500 of them did, however, sign a letter in support of Gay that was sent to the board of the Harvard Corporation after the hearing.

The uniformity and conformity among faculty highlight what Jews and others disfavored by DEI are up against on campus. Even if every university president controlled by DEI is removed or resigns, campuses will still be full of professors, even Jewish ones, who see their roles as educators through a DEI lens. They remain committed to the ideology no matter how obvious it is that it never honors the values that give it its name. Reality must be bent to accommodate the narrative.

What Nadell didn’t say before Congress last week is every bit as dangerous for Jewish students at elite universities as anything her colleagues omitted from their own answers. If and when institutional leadership changes at our schools, so, too, should the ideological composition of those who teach there. Until that happens, there will likely be a need for future hearings.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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