The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Stanford Instructor "Suspended for … [Alleged] 'Identity-Based Targeting' of Students in Connection with the Israel-Gaza War"


From the Forward (Beth Harpaz):

An instructor at Stanford University has been suspended for what the president and provost called "identity-based targeting" of students in connection with the Israel-Gaza war.

Rabbi Dov Greenberg, director of the Chabad Stanford Jewish Center, said he was told by three students who were in the room that the instructor asked Jewish and Israeli students to identify themselves during a session for a required undergraduate course called "Civil, Liberal and Global Education."

The teacher told the Jewish students to take their belongings, stand in a corner, and said, "This is what Israel does to the Palestinians," Greenberg said, citing the student accounts. The instructor then asked, "How many people died in the Holocaust?" When a student answered, "Six million," the lecturer said, "Colonizers killed more than 6 million. Israel is a colonizer."

This appears to be the incident referred to by the Stanford President and Provost here:

We have received a report of a class in which a non-faculty instructor is reported to have addressed the Middle East conflict in a manner that called out individual students in class based on their backgrounds and identities. Without prejudging the matter, this report is a cause for serious concern. Academic freedom does not permit the identity-based targeting of students. The instructor in this course is not currently teaching while the university works to ascertain the facts of the situation.

I agree that universities may indeed generally forbid targeting individual students for hostile treatment because they're Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Palestinian, white, black, or anything else, and probably should do so. (I say "for hostile treatment" because we can all think of friendly and productive requests that relate to background and identities—for instance, when an instructor discussing some question related to, say, some religion's theology or life in some foreign country asks whether some students can speak to that based on their personal knowledge, which is often closely correlated with their religion or national origin. This case, however, doesn't seem to fall within that mold.)

There is also the separate question of what discussion of supposed Israeli misdeeds—or, for that matter, Hamas's misdeeds—has to do with "Civil, Liberal and Global Education." But perhaps there is some such connection, since the title seems to refer to several different classes, which might be quite broad. And in any event, rightly or wrong modern universities generally give instructors a good deal of flexibility to bring in discussion of even unrelated current events into the classroom (and indeed sometimes encourage it). That's why, I think, the Stanford president's and provost's message focused on targeting rather than on the instructor's using the class to spread his own ideas on political topics unrelated to the subject.