More than two dozen Republican lawmakers signed onto a letter they sent to the University of Minnesota last week blasting its interim President Jeff Ettinger for what they called his “lack of action” on complaints of alleged antisemitic statements made by a group of faculty in its College of Liberal Arts.
The letter, which was written by Rep. Marion Rarick, R-Maple Lake, and signed by 25 other GOP House members, expressed “profound frustration” that Ettinger and the university appear to have ignored repeated requests by a former regent and well-known law professor for the university to take down a public statement from a U of M-hosted webpage made by tenured professors in the CLA’s Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Department in October they allege amounts to antisemitic speech against the state of Israel.
“While we respect the faculty’s individual freedom of speech, statements that seek to minimize, excuse or justify the horrific actions of Hamas terrorists on October 7th and attack the state of Israel’s very existence, have no place on official taxpayer funded university websites and should be immediately removed,” Rarick wrote. “Faculty members have the constitutional right to free speech in their individual capacities, but the university should not provide a platform for their biased, divisive, hate-filled speech on an official taxpayer university website. There are plenty of other non-university websites and other ways for faculty to express their views.”
Rarick is the ranking Republican on the state House Higher Education Committee.
In December, University of Minnesota Law School Professor Richard Painter and former Regent Michael Hsu announced they had asked the U.S. Department of Education to investigate their concerns about incidents of antisemitism on campus, and what they described as a “pressing problem” within the university’s College of Liberal Arts.
Painter and Hsu highlighted their objections to the faculty statement made public on the CLA’s Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Department’s website in October, which said: “We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and with Palestinian scholars and organizers … At a time when so many institutions are renewing a commitment to Israel’s right to ‘self-defense,’ we assert that Israel’s response is not self-defense but the continuation of a genocidal war against Gaza and against Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and life … In the past decades, all forms of Palestinian resistance and solidarity with Palestine have been further criminalized or violently repressed.”
Painter and Hsu have maintained that by allowing the statements to stay on the website, the College of Liberal Arts violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”
“Antisemitism is a pressing problem in CLA, and a focused and expeditious investigation by the Department could help alleviate an increasingly oppressive academic atmosphere for our students,” Painter and Hsu said in a letter they jointly wrote to the U.S. Department of Education, which opened an investigation into the university last month.
The faculty statement at issue was still published on the webpage as of Tuesday, Feb. 6.
In November, the department amended the statement on the page to clarify that it was collectively written by the six core members of the tenured faculty. Those include professors Aren Aizura, Miranda Joseph, Diyah Larasati, Richa Nagar, Sima Shakhsari and Kari Smalkoski.
In December, several media outlets reported that Shakhsari was seeking a position at the university to serve as associate dean at the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She was passed over for another longtime university staffer. Shakhsari has been criticized by a number of people in academia for statements that she made denying there is evidence that Hamas terrorists raped women during their Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Shakhsari responded to those allegations in an interview published on a pro-Palestine website last week where she said, “I pointed out that as a former rape crisis counselor who worked at a rape crisis center for a long time in San Francisco, I believe all survivors of sexual assault, no matter if they’re Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. What I don’t believe is a settler colonial state that has lied repeatedly to justify its apartheid and genocide, especially when it weaponizes rape and has a history of accusing Palestinian men of rape.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.