Speaking Truth to Duke's Academic Terror · 23 September 2004

By Rabbi Steven Ballaban--FrontPageMagazine.com, 09/24/04

The following letter from Rabbi Steven Ballaban to the president of Duke University deals with Duke's agreement to host the Fourth Annual Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement in mid-October. FrontPage Magazine exposed this story, and we have since drafted our own letter to Duke, asking them to open its proceedings to the media. Past annual conferences -- one of which was addressed by Sami al-Arian -- have justified suicide bombing and featured violent rhetoric. Click here to sign our letter. -- The Editors.

Richard H. Brodhead, President,Duke University
207 Allen Building
Box 90001
Durham, NC 27708-0001

Dear President Brodhead:

I am writing you concerning the decision to host the Palestinian Solidarity Committee's fourth annual conference at Duke University this October. I have spoken with your assistant, and with Dean Sue Wasiolek this morning. However, I felt the need to communicate with you directly in writing, as well.

During my conversation with Dean Sue Wasiolek, she explained that the University had carefully considered this decision, and was familiar with the position of the PSC on terrorism, and advocating the use of violence as a tactic in achieving their goals. While I understand that Duke University is committed to maintaining an atmosphere of open inquiry, and protecting the right of free speech of students on campus, I also know that there are limits to the exercise of free speech.

It is obvious that the administration of Duke University also recognizes that there are limits to free speech. Duke University maintains a policy that controls the manner and location of protests and pickets. Your policy, as referenced in your "Q&A on the Palestine Solidarity Conference," states:

The university also respects the right of each member of the academic community to be free from coercion and harassment. It recognizes that academic freedom is no less dependent on ordered liberty than any other freedom, and it understands that the harassment of others is especially reprehensible in a community of scholars. The substitution of noise for speech and force for reason is a rejection and not an application of academic freedom

Speech that either threatens the physical safety of others, or which interferes with the right to move freely, worship freely, or speak freely, all constitute forbidden speech. In addition, individuals who threaten the use of physical force to silence others, or to obtain their assent is forbidden by your policy.

The statement of their Guiding Principles, as published on the website of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, clearly violates the policies of Duke University. Principle 5 states: "As a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation." The implication is, members of the group will not take a position against terrorism, or the use of indiscriminate force or violence against civilians. If one did not consider this to be such a statement, then principle 6 should leave no doubt:

The 3rd Conference seeks to promote the following campaigns:

-divestment from Israel
-ending U.S. aid to Israel;
-Right of Return;

Using tactics which may include:

-public demonstrations and rallies
-civil disobedience or direct action

In other words, this group advocates the use of the very tactics that the University's policy prohibits: actions that limit the freedoms of others, and include the use of force, or the threat of the use of coercive force against property or persons.

Moreover, such a group, by its very presence on campus, constitutes the threat of the use of coercive force. That threat is felt, in a very real way, by Jewish students and their families. As a parent of a student who has attended your TIP program in the past, I cannot ignore the very real threat that the presence of such a group creates, either directly (i.e. "direct action") or by advocating that others use violence against Jews to pursue political objectives.

The Davis Academy has always maintained a strong relationship with Duke University. Each year, many of our students qualify for and attend Duke's TIP program. We have hosted the Atlanta area recruiting program for the TIP program. I must inform you that, in view of this decision to host the PSC, it would be irresponsible for me to recommend that parents send their children to a school that protects a group that threatens the life and safety of their child. Consequently, we will no longer administer the SAT in a manner that provides results to Duke University, nor will we complete recommendation forms for Duke University for our students. In addition, we will no longer host Duke's TIP recruiting forums in Atlanta.

I will be providing a copy of this letter to our parents to inform them of this decision, and our reasons for making this choice. I will also share this letter with the Heads of School of the other Jewish Day Schools in the area, as well as the Georgia Independent Schools Association and Southern Association of Independent Schools, the Executive Directors of the Solomon Schechter Day School movement, and the Jewish Community Day School Network, and the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools, of which I am President. Our combined networks represent over 220 Jewish Day Schools with an enrollment of over 200,000 students in grades K-12.

It is indeed unfortunate that Duke University feels that protecting the speech of a hate group with Guiding Principles that violate Duke University's policies, takes priority over protecting the welfare, safety and rights of your Jewish students. However, until such time that Duke University affords Jewish students the same protection as other students, our policy regarding Duke will remain in effect.

Rabbi Steven Ballaban, Ph.D.