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The UW Board of Regents MUST Rescind the Appalling UW-Milwaukee Encampment Agreement [WRN VOICES]

I have never been more disappointed with leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I have been a full-time instructor for almost 20 years. I join the courageous call of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor Shale Horowitz, who wrote, “The leadership must go.”

Minimally, the agreement must go.

More university instructors and staff should speak out against UW-Milwaukee leadership’s poorly conceived “agreement” (capitulation) with the group of pro-Palestinian activists who commandeered a section of campus for two weeks. We have an obligation to our Jewish students and faculty to provide them a “space space” on campus, to borrow past liberal terminology.

Jewish leaders have decried this agreement as offensive and dangerous and say the chancellor, Mark Mone, has failed to “adequately respond to anti-Semitic incidents on campus since October 7.” They want the Board of Regents to negate it.

They must.

Uw-milwaukee encampment ends

During two weeks of inaction by university leaders, protesters chalked “f**ck Israel” on the side of a historic campus building used by students and renamed it after a Gaza professor who called October 7 – the rape and murder of Jewish women, children, men, and elderly – both moral and legitimate.

For days on end, the activists (how many were students?) took over a prominent section of campus lawn, hung rules banning people from speaking with police (labeled “pigs”), and built a makeshift fence with signs that contained anti-Jewish slogans like “from the river to the sea.” One sign had Oct. 7 crossed out. Imagine being a Jewish student having to traverse all of this to enter Mitchell Hall for classes. How would you feel?

The encampment appeared all but abandoned by police and university officials. Instead, it was guarded and patrolled by walkie-talkie carrying protester “security” workers who monitored the actions of police and other people who wandered through. I found them intimidating. State law bans camping on university grounds. I’d presume that writing graffiti on Mitchell Hall also violated some law or rule.

The answer was always simple: Take it down. If the activists want to protest, let them do it like everyone else: Waving around signs in Spaights Plaza. You don’t let activists force concessions and negotiations by ignoring laws.

In fact, even after Dean of Students Adam Jussel admitted in a public communication that some students felt threatened by the encampment, the university allowed it to stand until May 14, after the “agreement.” I found this unconscionable.

The provost later encouraged instructors to be lenient on student due dates because they might be experiencing stress due to the war in the Middle East. It apparently failed to occur to him that the university’s inaction on the encampment might have caused some of it. Furthermore, I can think of many things causing students stress. Biden’s economy, for one.

When university officials finally acted, they entered into the agreement that was so disturbing that three major Jewish organizations called it “among the most offensive and dangerous of any university agreement reached with encampment protesters over the last two weeks.”

In addition to being a staff member at UWM, I am a taxpayer who helps fund the university.

I do not support university leadership calling for a “ceasefire,” as they did (practical reality: a ceasefire would allow Hamas to rebuild; it disadvantages Israel.)

I do not support university leadership outrageously calling for the release of Israel’s detainees, many of whom are, according to Israel, militants and terrorists. I don’t support their bizarre decision to label those detainees “hostages” or their attempt to draw a false moral equivalency between the terrorist group that raped and murdered women, children and elderly on October 7, and Israel’s defense of herself.

Mark mone uwm photo.

I do not agree with UWM’s implication that Israel is responsible for possible “genocide.” I find it offensive. In fact, UW-Milwaukee based that statement on controversial statistics from the UN, whose Gaza casualty counts come from a ministry of health that is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.

According to The New York Times, Israel says its prisoners “include avowed senior militants convicted of brutal attacks …Israel says its arrest campaign has picked up senior members of organizations like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Is UWM really so naive as to not get that its leaders’ general call for prisoner release would include at least some of them?

The media sanitized the encampment. If you want to know the full flavor of it, read the flyer below, which was prominently posted inside the encampment. It openly glorifies Oct. 7, referring to it as “Al Aqsa Flood,” the term that Hamas gave the terrorist attack.

I believe university leadership should not take positions on contentious foreign policy debates and should stay focused on teaching our great students, whether Jewish, Palestinian, or any other background. I want ALL of our students to feel safe.

People have a right to think differently than I do. It’s a free country. The university should not pick a side, though, despite the pressure leadership may face from a few loud liberal faculty members. Because we all fund the state’s public university, they are essentially using their taxpayer-funded positions of state authority to argue for controversial foreign policy positions that many of us abhor. That’s wrong.

How do I opt out of the written agreement signed by Mone, Provost Andrew Daire, Vice Chancellor for DEI Chia Vang, and Dean of Students Adam Jussel? How can all others, similarly opposed, opt out? What about Jewish students and faculty who wish to opt out? I do not want this being done in my name.

I commend Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman for saying he is reviewing the process that led to this outcome. He notes that the university as an institution must maintain “viewpoint neutrality on challenging public issues.”

And that is exactly where UWM has failed.

Professor Horowitz noted that the university’s agreement “openly supports the content and methods of the longstanding Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to destroy Israel.”

I would note that the agreement was so flawed that, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, it contains falsehoods about the nonprofit Water Council.

Uwm provost andrew daire

I am speaking out now because I believe I have an obligation to students and staff who fear they can not. So far, the voices of professors who supported the unlawful encampment on university grounds have been heard the loudest. I get why; cancel culture is real, and conservatives on campus often feel they need to silence themselves (that’s true too, I’d guess, of non-conservatives who feel like I do on this issue). I feel an obligation to speak up for our Jewish students and faculty.

We have extraordinary, talented, deeply caring students at UW-Milwaukee. It’s why I am so deeply disappointed that university leadership did not have the moral fortitude not to fail them.

Uwm dean of students adam jussel.

Let me be very clear. People have a right to protest on campus. During my time at UWM, I have seen many controversial protesters, from BLM to anti-abortion crusaders. Pro-Palestinian protesters have this same right. It’s not their speech that is a problem.

I challenge Mone, Daire, Jussel, and Vang to explain exactly how long they would allow an anti-abortion encampment to remain or a pro-MAGA encampment to stand on campus. We all know the answer, and therein lies the problem. They are not operating in a viewpoint-neutral manner, and, as a public university, they must.

We’re supposed to put the disclaimer on these things that my opinions are my own and do not represent the institution where I work. In this context, that seems almost ironic. Stating the obvious: My opinions are my own, and they DO NOT represent the institution where I work.

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