President of Cal State Northridge Opines on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

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Dianne F. Harrison, the President of California State University-Northridge, posted the following item to the Cal State Northridge Facebook page earlier this month (referring to an earlier statement):

Support for Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh

To the Campus Community,

I am writing to expand on my message from last week relating to the conflict in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) that was followed by a productive conversation with students, faculty, staff and administrators from the CSUN Armenian community. Despite the recent tenuous truce, I am deeply troubled by the unprovoked aggression against the Armenian people and the civilian population in Artsakh. This is a humanitarian crisis, and I call on the United States to join others from around the world in condemning Azerbaijan's military violence, which is aided by Turkey and includes destroying civilian targets, and pushing for a permanent peace.

CSUN is home to the largest population of Armenian and Armenian-American students of any university outside of Armenia and noted for our Armenia Studies Program. This conflict hits close to home for many in our community. The terrible lessons of the 1915 Armenian Genocide demand that we never allow this horrific history to repeat itself through ethnic cleansing in this war.

If you would like to join us in making a statement for peace, I encourage you to support the Armenia Fund (https://armeniafund.ejoinme.org/donate). Also, CSUN students who need counseling during these troubling times may connect with University Counseling Services through their website at https://csun.edu/counseling.

Anytime our campus community faces conflict, we as Matadors come together as one. Thank you for showing sympathy and support for our Armenian brothers and sisters during these challenging times.

Sincerely,
Dianne F. Harrison, Ph.D.
President

This is pretty clearly not just her statement as a citizen or as a researcher. ("She holds a Ph.D. in social work from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's of social work and a bachelor's in American Studies, both from the University of Alabama. Her academic and research areas of expertise include HIV prevention among women and minority populations and higher education issues related to university leadership.") She is making a statement as the President of a prominent local university, with over 30,000 students.

My question: Should universities take stands on such matters, however popular they may be with a large student group, whether they deal with Armenia vs. Azerbaijan, Israel vs. the Palestinians, China vs. Tibetan separatists, or whatever? Note that this isn't just a call for protection of very broadly shared values (life, democracy, freedom of speech, and the like): It's a judgment about which nation is at fault in the fighting, and which nation should have sovereignty over particular territory.

NEXT: "In the sense of the law"

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  1. If I were an Azerbaijani or a Turk going to Cal State Northridge, this would sure be intimidating to me.

    I guess intimidation at universities depends on who is intimidated, and who is doing the intimidation.

    1. Politicians jumping in to lead the masses on anger cruscades is so modern and hip! As long as the correct charismatic demagogues are in charge, anyway. Let them punish speech, too, because, again, they are the correct ones to wield this terrible power, which becomes a blessed event of righteousness in their hands. What could possibly go wrong?

  2. Hell No.

    What next, taking sides in the Hatfields and McCoys feud? Or maybe Pepsi vs Coca Cola is more to his taste, sponsorship money notwithstanding.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if Armenia is in the right, but I also don’t think the USA has the capacity to add new foreign adventures to the to-do list. It’s not as if we’re not over-extended already.

    So it’s also probably not a good idea to agitate the issue in the USA and risk involvement.

  4. As the president of public university acting in an official capacity, her statement is out of place. If she wanted to opine in her blog or in WaPo that is fine. But not in a medium identified as related to the university that she leads.

  5. What’s the difference between this and a state saying you can’t boycott another country if you want to do business with the state?

    1. One might want one’s legislature to take a position on these things, and that might be reasonable. A university head doesn’t own the university, so has no business setting some policy decision like this for it.

      A corporate CEO who started beaking off about something like this without the permission of the owners would not long be for that position.

    2. The state & prospective business partner relationship is quite different from University president & faculty/staff/student relationship. If she were addressing potential faculty, staff, or students, that would be another matter. My guess is that you are against the right of states to decide if they will allow BDS-supporting businesses to conduct business within their borders? Just say it next time.

  6. I’m not as sure on this one.

    This does appear to be a full scale offensive by Azerbaijan, over and above the previous decade old ceasefire line, with large territorial gains.

    Is it wrong to condemn this type of aggression by a nation-state? Could one condemn the Nazi invasion of Poland? The Soviet invasion of Finland? I would say no, it’s not.

    1. Strictly speaking, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as being part of Azerbaijan, so it can’t really be considered aggression by a nation state for Azerbaijan to assert control of it. (Though of course one could condemn specific acts undertaken by Azerbaijan.) In contrast, Finland was not part of the Soviet Union and Poland was not part of Germany.

  7. I’m not sure. You present the issue as obviously a statement made in the course of her duties and with her authority as President of the University. If so, I agree that it was a political statement that is probably legal but inappropriate for an organizational leader who may have employees and/or customers (students) on the opposite side of the political fence.

    However, I don’t know the premise to be true.* If, for example, the university’s Facebook page allows real dissent and discussion or if other parts of the post make clear that they are personal opinion and not an official opinion of the university, then the statements become less inappropriate. Free and open debate is a virtue to be encouraged at institutions of higher learning. And if they choose to conduct that debate on their Facebook page, why not? On the other hand, it would be troubling if the statement implies prejudice against current or potential students with connections to Azerbaijan.

    * No, I’m not going to go look for myself. Partly because I don’t care that much but mostly because it’s Facebook. I try to avoid that swamp as much as I can.

  8. As a private person she is certainly able to have opinions and publish them even identifying herself by her position.

    In her official capacity she should not publish opinions unrelated to her duties without consultation with and approval of some formal body in the University, depending on how that University is organized.

  9. As a graduate of CSUN, my first impression is “who cares what she thinks?”

    But seriously, I tend to agree that the president of a university should not be taking official positions in this way.

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