Saturday, November 6, 2010

UC president Mark Yudof Speaks in Orange County

Gary Fouse

"One person's hate speech is another person's education."

Thursday night, I attended a speech by University of California President Mark Yudof at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach. The topic was "Civil Discourse on College Campuses". The event was sponsored by the Orange County Jewish Federation. As previously reported, the Federation, in their inimitable style, attempted to tightly control the attendance of the event and the questions asked. Prior to the event, Yudof met with a group of Jewish UCI students for a private discussion and dinner. There is reason to suspect they were hand-picked.

The topic that was on everbody's mind was the on-going controversy involving the Muslim Student Union, their sponsored speakers and charges of anti-Semitism on the UCI campuses. The question that was hanging over the event was just how bad is it or isn't it for Jewish students at UCI. As I have said repeatedly, 99% of the students at UCI are not anti-Semitic in any way, yet, a tiny minority and their sponsored speakers have succeeded in dragging the reputation of the school into the mud. It was clear from the outset that one purpose of the event was to assure the audience that Jewish life is "thriving at UCI". Though the opening address by Bat Yahm's rabbi, Mark Miller, laid out in stark and unmistakable terms the anti-Semitism he had experienced while giving a lecture on the UCI campus, a student speaker from Hillel made it a point to state that the situation was by no means as bad as certain outside groups and individuals were describing it.

Then came a movie produced by Hillel, called "Jewish life at UCI" or something like that. It showed interviews with Jewish students talking about all the positive aspects of life on campus, happy Jewish students frolicking at parties and the "I-Fest" (the annual pro-Israel week of events.)

They might as well have called it "Springtime in Germany".

Then came Yudof. Briefly summarized, the thesis of his talk was that while he was not happy with many of the events that have gone on at UCI and other campuses, he explained that it was constitutionally protected expression. Other than that, he said nothing.

That left a central question hovering over the audience; was there anti-Semitism at UCI? If so, how bad was it? Did the film dispel those concerns?

While Yudof was speaking, there was a stir. A young female was being taken out of the room by one of the OC Federation security guards followed by the CEO of the Federation. What had this young woman done? She had begun to start filming the speech. (others were filming as well, but they were apparently filming for the Federation.) I happen to know the young woman. She has filmed many of the MSU events on campus, and a couple of years ago, was followed back to her car by several MSU males after an evening speech at UCI by Amir Abdel Malik Ali. She was blocked from leaving as the males tried to write down her license number. That incident has been previously described here on this blog. When the UCI campus police arrived, they refused to assist the young woman and another female who witnessed the event. It was a classic case of campus police acting like potted plants in the face of thuggery.

But I digress. Back to last night.

Another lady went to vouch for the woman's presence since she was registered and posed no security threat. Yet, there was the CEO of the Federation rudely demanding to know who the woman was and who she "was working for". Eventually, she was allowed to re-enter the room after agreeing not to film. (I am unaware of there having been any posted restrictions on filming the talk.) The whole affair was outrageous and spoke volumes about the nature of the Orange County Jewish Federation.

I told you this was a controlled event. Note to OC Jewish Federation; this is not the Soviet Union.

Then came the questions. As requested by the Federation, many questions were pre-submitted by audience members when they registered for the event online. As those questions were being asked, audience members could write down their own questions, which were collected by officials and delivered to the stage for selection by two moderators. Not surprisingly, most of the questions were about the UCI campus, the Muslim Student Union, their so-called suspension and questions of anti-Semitism on campus. A couple of questions were in connection with UC professors who used their classroom as a soapbox to shove their personal views down students' throats. (Some of the questions received more applause then Yudof's responses.)

If you are wondering at this point what Yudof's responses were, I can't help you much here. To summarize, I would say his answers were pretty mushy. Answers to questions regarding the MSU "suspension" were purposely avoided-as he mentioned-due to legal concerns. Many UCI-related questions were simply answered by saying it was a local matter (I am paraphrasing.)

Other than that, he said nothing. At times, his answers came across as cavalier, in my view. Judging from the audience's reaction and body language, I would guess that perhaps half of them were not impressed by Yudof's answers. I know I wasn't. How does one reconcile the images of the happy Hillel film with the one issue that brought nearly everyone to hear Yudof speak, that is, the incidents over almost a decade that have brought notoriety to the school. Finally, it was Yudof himself, seemingly realizing the tone of the audience who called for the "last question".

In case you are wondering if my question (which I signed) was read..........

the answer is, of course not.

Just for the heck of it, here is what I wrote (inspired by having watched the happy Hillel film);

"If things are so great at UCI, why did a group of Jewish students go to the Student Government and complain about anti-Semitism earlier this year. Also why did a group of 60+ Jewish professors at UCI write an an open letter complaining about anti-Semitism on the UCI campus (last May)?"

Somehow, there seem to be conflicting messages, would you not agree?

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