Dr. Dawg

Carleton praised for tackling Jews' unease

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The hed, I hasten to state, is not mine. Fascinated, I went to the sources: a Report commissioned by the President of the University, Dr. Roseann Runte, and several Appendices.

Everyone: get a grip and take a pill while I walk you through the Report by the portentously-named Commission on Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Racial Relations on Campus.

To begin with, the survey upon which the Report was constructed is worth no more than those pesky on-line polls that we fill in when we’re bored, or get some friends to freep.

The “methodology” was a mass mailing to half of the entire student body, and to all staff and faculty. The return rate was 11.6% for the approximately 15,000 students surveyed—1,495—and rather better among staff and faculty—549, or 30.4% of a total of 1,086 people.

The survey quickly homes in on two groups: Aboriginal and Jewish students, faculty and staff.

Total number of self-identified Jewish students who responded to the questionnaire? 28. Jewish staff and faculty? 29.

By contrast, 40 Aboriginal students returned the questionnaire, and 4 faculty/staff. 88 Muslim students responded, and 6 Muslim faculty/staff. Yet there was no in-depth review of either the “Aboriginal experience” or the “Muslim experience” at Carleton—only one of the “Jewish experience” (Appendix E).

But in any case, the opportunities for self-selection bias in this survey are almost infinite. And how many of those who did not so self-identify belong to these specific groups?

Before getting into the contents of the Report, however, allow me a quick sideways step into the Canadian Jewish News article from which the hed for this post was borrowed. Much is made in the text of a disruption of the Carleton Board of Governors meeting last year, painting a picture of out-of-control Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students threatening the process of democracy and deliberately making Jewish students feel unsafe.

I have posted at length on this event, at which I happened to be present. Briefly, the protest was against the lack of democratic process at Carleton, by students who had dutifully followed all of the steps to getting their issue before the Carleton Board of Governors, and who, at the last minute, were told that they would neither be heard nor their item added to the agenda. The whole episode, frankly, reminded me of the closing scenes of Punishment Park.

But back to the Report, purporting to show that Jewish students feel afraid and excluded, in class and on campus. Recall that the University president herself has already banned pro-Palestinian materials from the campus, fired a Muslim lecturer immediately after a call from B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant—so much for “innocent until proven guilty—excluded a legitimate and by all accounts popular student issue from the agenda of the Carleton Board of Governors, and then set up this bogacious Commission, which was apparently so outraged by what it heard from it 57 Jewish respondents that it immediately set up a sub-committee on Jewish students and employees, and is recommending a permanent Jewish Issues Committee at Carleton to keep tabs on things.

Nothing similar was recommended for Aboriginal students, who will have to content themselves with counselling services. There was no word on Muslim students and any concerns they might have expressed at all. The only other recommendation at the end of the Report was to take care not to schedule faculty meetings during Jewish religious holidays—something with which I would heartily agree.

Note that the miniscule numbers involved here reduce any findings to a species of anecdote. No matter: let’s by all means give credence to the accounts of all those surveyed. But, as it turns out, most folks at Carleton, including Jews and Aboriginal people, figure that things are actually pretty good.

Results of the campus-wide survey done in the fall of 2010 indicated that, overall, students, staff and faculty are positive about the climate of respect on campus. However, those students who self-identified as Jewish and those who self-identified as Aboriginal were less positive regarding the climate of respect at Carleton.

But not overwhelmingly negative either, by a long shot.

From the Report we learn that some Aboriginal student respondents object to being perceived as culture-bearers for a non-existent pan-Aboriginal culture; that they have run into myths such as the “free university education” one; and that non-Aboriginal students are worried about in-depth questioning of their co-students for fear of being perceived as disrespectful. All of this cannot be denied or brushed off, but the fixes seem evident—there is no crisis here.

From the point of view of some Jewish respondents:

Examples were given to demonstrate the kind of student-faculty tensions that arise when faculty members involve themselves in student activities which align them with a particular student position and/or when faculty members use their privileged platform to present students with only one side of a complex issue. Some students also commented that some teaching assistants engaged in the same misuse of the privileged platform. These were seen to be an inappropriate use by faculty members and teaching assistants of a power relationship and were also seen to create situations where students felt at risk if their viewpoint differed from that of the faculty members or teaching assistants.

Yet students are treated like adults at university. Professors and lecturers are expected to have their own point of view. Students are invited to develop theirs as well. On the other hand, it is grossly inappropriate to force a viewpoint on someone in an unequal power relationship, and threaten his or her grades if an opposing one is taken. But we are given absolutely nothing concrete here. There is no hard data presented: simply perceptions and impressions by a tiny number of respondents.

Outside the classroom, we have this:

The same survey indicated that Jewish students feel that public venues on campus are not always welcoming and safe places for them, particularly if the student is easily identified as Jewish. Jewish students said that they experienced disrespect, as well as physical and verbal harassment, including anti-Semitic comments that often stem from anti-Israel sentiments.

Without denying that such things are entirely possible, hard data is once again missing. “Anti-Semitic comments that often stem from anti-Israel sentiments” could mean almost anything—as we know, criticism of Israel per se is considered “anti-Semitic” in some quarters.And how many of the 28 Jewish student respondents reported these things?

The Jewish/Israel conflation is further developed here:

Jewish students also identified uneven support from the university administration and student governments, i.e. CUSA and GSA in addressing ongoing issues. CUSA and GSA have, in the past, taken political positions that are anti-Israel and which have created a climate of exclusion rather than inclusion for Jewish students.

To what degree is this perception distributed among the Jewish student body? Is opposition to Israeli policies in the Middle East necessarily exclusionary?

On more tangible issues, Jewish students, faculty and staff would like acknowledgement of Jewish holidays (as noted above) and on-campus kosher food options, both entirely reasonable demands.

Some faculty expressed fears that their promotional and tenure opportunities could be jeopardized by their pro-Israel views. Were this fear to be well-founded, I would stand with them without qualification. But once again, we appear to be talking about perceptions. Nothing specific appears to have been advanced.

And speaking of perception:

The university community must acknowledge that some anti-Israel politics, activities and sentiments which occur on the Carleton campus are perceived as anti-Semitic, thus contributing to Jewish members of the Carleton community feeling less positive about the climate of respect at the university.

What on earth can be done about that? Perceptions are not necessarily reality. How does one develop policy on such a basis?

This sort of thing is frustrating:

[S]tudents, staff and faculty have said that they are uncomfortable and sometimes intimidated when walking through the Atrium when groups are promoting views or positions which are in conflict, groups are “facing off” against each other on opposite sides of the hall and blocking the way, or where such views are being vigorously debated off campus in the media or in other forums. In these examples, the Atrium becomes an intimidating place, rather than one in which exchange of ideas and open dialogue thrives. [emphasis added]

Excited opponents sharing a space, admittedly, can be off-putting to many. Blocking the way of others is plainly wrong. But debating issues off-campus? How does one even begin to deal with this non-problem? How is a university community to respond?

In any case, the average rating by respondents for the amorphous category “respect” was 8.5-8.7 out of 11. For Jewish respondents—all 57 of them—the score was 7.6, worthy of note, certainly, but hardly condemnatory.

The within-department rating was higher: 9.1 on average for students and faculty, and 9.2 for staff. However, employees who self-identified as other than “white” rated their departmental respect somewhat lower, and were more likely to report personal disrespect.

For a number of reasons I don’t doubt this at all, but the Report’s conclusions do not deal with this finding.

As for on-campus life versus off-campus experience, 94% of all respondents felt either just as respected or more respected on the Carleton premises. Of the 6% who felt less respected, 18% of Jewish respondents placed themselves in that group—my math tells me that’s ten people in all. And four Aboriginal students felt this way too.

One doesn’t have to be a statistician to scratch one’s head at this point. And there’s more of the same in the Report: tiny numbers from which no self-respecting researcher could imagine drawing meaningful conclusions. Disguising these numbers as percentages may yield additional rhetorical power, but little else.

But keep your eye out. From this ludicrously non-rigorous Report, policy will flow directly from the President’s office. And, judging from her past interventions, it’s not likely to be respectful to those who dare to take the side of Palestinians in the Middle East.

ADDENDUM: An informant from Carleton has forwarded to me two documents: a preliminary version of the Report and the Minutes of the March 9 meeting of the Commission on Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Racial Relations on Campus.

Things are worse than I’d thought.

Which students felt most disrespected on campus from personal experience? Why, Koreans, West Asians and Chinese (N=111). For some reason that wasn’t picked up in the final Report.

And here is an extract from those Minutes:

With regards to item f. on page 2 of the February meeting summary, [redacted] inquired as to the percentage of Jewish students who were dissatisfied with the general climate of respect and the relations between different religions on campus. [Redacted] responded to say that the number is small and not statistically significant.

Is there really anything left to be said?

[H/t Marky Mark]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on October 25, 2012 5:22 PM.

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