An Actual Plea for Campus Unity in the New Year
On Sept. 20, over 65 undergraduate faculty members from Yeshiva College, Stern College, and Sy Syms School of Business penned an open letter in this newspaper regarding the ongoing conflict between YU and the Pride Alliance. They wrote to “proclaim [their] support for the LGBTQ+ students of the colleges,” and they appropriately achieved that goal, though I had several issues with the letter’s rhetoric. I had drafted a response to be published, but it then came to my attention that a separate, significantly more extreme letter would be released in the coming days. That piece was published on Oct. 2, and I invite you all to read it here, so that you might see for yourself the flagrant hypocrisy it represents.
The letter’s main strategy is to casually threaten YU students that their future prospects, academically and professionally, might be harmed if they dare to deviate from secular orthodoxy and remain dedicated to their faith. The letter consists of a form of blackmail that seeks to employ unfalsifiable speculation as a cudgel to scare students into submission, while handing companies and graduate programs the very ammunition to discriminate against YU graduates that the authors purport to oppose. They also manage to slander their own students as bigots, and, to top it all off, they title their piece “A Plea for Campus Unity in the New Year.”
It is once again worth noting that Yeshiva University did not initiate the legal battle we find ourselves in the midst of. It was the Pride Alliance that sought to have this conflict resolved through the public docket of the New York court system. Curiously, though, both faculty letters criticize YU’s “public litigation” tactics, as if defending your constitutional rights in a court of law is a move of aggression. I am reminded of the words of the late Supreme Court Justice (and friend of YU) Antonin Scalia regarding the 2000 Bush v Gore case:
“It was Al Gore who made it a judicial question. It was he who brought it into the… courts. We didn't go looking for trouble. It was he who said ‘I want this to be decided by the courts.’ What are we supposed to say, ‘Oh, not important enough?’”
Scalia’s words ring true here. YU has the right to defend itself when its religious autonomy is threatened in a court of law. Any suggestion otherwise is a radical departure from the due process and religious liberty Jews have enjoyed from this country’s inception, as I pointed out in National Review in June.
That the faculty members seek to undermine religious liberty is of less consequence, though, than their implication that their own students are bigots. The Sept. 20 letter identifies the undergraduate programs at YU with “political forces of extreme homophobia and intolerance that should have no place at our university,” and the more recent letter insinuates that YU students do not “value equality.” I honestly find it shocking that professors at this university, who have undoubtedly witnessed thousands of deeply religious acts from their students and have seen firsthand the time and energy they pour into religious formation, identify homophobia and bigotry as the preeminent motivation of these students. Furthermore, they do so while noting that they are speaking up either in support of their students’ well-being or as a plea for unity. Is smearing those who disagree with you unifying?
The authors of the more recent letter claim that it is their “sincere belief that [YU’s] actions have the potential to harm the entire undergraduate student body,” and that this “unfortunate development has the potential to limit students' career paths and graduate school admissions prospects, including law school, medical school and other professional schools.” Of course, there is no way to predict the future, and these faculty members manipulatively utilize that ambiguity in an attempt to scare students into violating their internal consciences. This is unacceptable and deserves to be loudly condemned. It is my sincere belief that these faculty members are actively harming the students that they say they wish to “protect.”
This egregious, irresponsible and blatantly manipulative rhetoric follows the Pride Alliance’s recent statement comparing YU to southern segregationists. It is obvious that this escalation consists of a last-ditch effort to maximize the pressure on YU before the courts once and for all rule in the university’s favor.
Those seeking to change YU’s internal religious environment have repeatedly shrouded their demands with appeals to “unity,” “tolerance” or “honest conversation.” At the same time, though, they publicly compare those who disagree with them to southern segregationists, suggest that YU students are bigots and seem to increasingly resort to strategies that seek to silence dissent from their narrative. This is sheer hypocrisy, and we all know it. Many are justly afraid, though, of the attacks they might find themselves the victims of if they publicly note the obvious. I encourage the manifestly present silent majority of YU students who support religious liberty to speak out. When the court rules in your favor in a few weeks or months, you will be proud that you stood up for yourselves against what has evolved into a mob-like group of individuals willing to pull any trick to label you as a bigot.
Finally, I want to return to the title of the faculty members’ letter, “A Plea for Campus Unity in the New Year,” and make that same request of these professors and others who agree with them. I promise you, unity will never be achieved as long as those who have honest disagreements are labeled as bigots. Unity requires a commitment to pluralism, where populations who disagree with one another are at least free to live their own lives as they see fit and build institutions that reflect their values. Assaulting these institutions is not unifying — it is divisive. And it is emblematic of a group of people who, though they speak of tolerance, seem to prefer that their disagreeing peers are simply beaten into submission.