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UW President Jay Rothman Expresses Disappointment With UW-Milwaukee After Agreement With Protesters

Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman criticized UW-Milwaukee leaders on May 14, saying he was “disappointed by the course taken” by UWM, referring to its agreement with pro-Palestinian activists who camped out on campus.

It was a rare dressing down from the head of what was previously called the UW System.

“I am disappointed by the course taken by UW-Milwaukee, and I am continuing to assess the decision-making process that led to this result,” Rothman wrote. Rothman did not specify which result he was disappointed with; however, his statement came just two days after UW-Milwaukee leaders entered into an “agreement” with pro-Palestinian activists.

In that agreement, UW-Milwaukee’s  Chancellor Mark Mone, Provost Andrew Daire, Vice Chancellor for DEI, Chia Vang, and Dean of Students Adam Jussel. called for Israel to enter a ceasefire with Hamas and also demanded that Israel release its Palestinian prisoners, ludicrously dubbing them “hostages.”

Uwm encampment
The uwm encampment on 5/12.

The UWM officials – who failed to act for many days even after Jussel acknowledged some students felt threatened because of the encampment, drew a moral equivalency between the actions of Hamas and Israel throughout the statement, even coming close to accusing Israel of perpetrating genocide.

In exchange, the activists agreed to take down the encampment, which contained anti-Israel statements and even a pro-October 7 handout; the encampment “rules” barred entrants from speaking with, or assisting, police. UW-Milwaukee used taxpayer-funded staff to help dismantle the encampment and to clean graffiti off historic Mitchell Hall, which the activists had renamed after a Palestinian professor who praised Oct. 7 as moral and legitimate.

Jay rothman

The American Jewish Committee denounced attempts to paint a moral equivalency between Israel’s prisoners and Hamas hostages in a statement last fall. In March, The New York Times noted that, according to Israel, 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.” Yet UWM’s release demand does not acknowledge this point.

Rather, UWM called for “the release of Palestinian men, women, and children held as hostages in military detention in Israel,” which is a statement so broad that it would presumably thus include some of those militants or terrorists. UWM also based a lot of its demands on data from the UN and Amnesty International; however, the numbers have been debated, and they are based on the Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas.

“When the Hamas health agency comes out with the numbers, take it with a pinch of salt,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, Israeli military spokesman, told The Associated Press.

Rothman’s statement notes that public universities like UW-Milwaukee must maintain “viewpoint neutrality on challenging public issues.” After all, where can taxpayers, faculty, and students opt out of the politicized stance UWM’s leaders just took in their name and with their money?

The uwm encampment was being dismantled by state workers on tuesday.

“During the illegal encampments at our universities, I condemned the violation of law while expressing full support for the First Amendment,” Rothman wrote on X on the evening of May 14.

“Our universities must be committed to providing an environment where issues can be vigorously and passionately debated, but students must be free from harassment and intimidation,” he continued.

The uwm encampment.

“We understand that the current situation is challenging, complex, and not subject to easy resolution. Our public universities have a responsibility to focus on the educational mission in support of all of our students and the state of Wisconsin,” he continued. “Maintaining viewpoint neutrality on challenging public issues is critically important, especially in situations where students and other university stakeholders on multiple sides of an issue are in vehement disagreement.”

He continued, “We also need to ensure that there is accountability and responsibility for actions taken on our campuses. I am disappointed by the course taken by UW-Milwaukee, and I am continuing to assess the decision-making process that led to this result.”

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