President Michael B. Poliakoff’s Statement on Higher Education’s Responsibilities Regarding the Crisis in Israel

October 12, 2023 by Michael B. Poliakoff

I condemn the unspeakable atrocities Hamas has committed against innocent civilians in its attack on Israel. I mourn the innocent lives already lost and those that will be lost.

Here in America, it is profoundly disturbing that student groups are endorsing the violence, and too many university administrators, normally so eager to make political statements, are releasing indecisive and half-hearted ones or none at all.

While the principle of institutional neutrality articulated in the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report counsels against university leaders making political statements on behalf of their institutions, condemning inhumanity is not a political act, nor are words of comfort and support for anyone affected by these atrocities an act of partisanship. I call out those leaders who are loud in their embrace of other causes and who have never held to principles of free speech and institutional neutrality, yet who keep silence in this crisis. I challenge them to reflect on why it has proven so difficult for them to take a public stand while the civilized world recoils from the crimes against civilians we now witness. It is hypocrisy for the same leaders who have been so reactive to more widely favored social causes to have nothing to say when the oldest and most vicious lies about the Jewish people are promulgated on their campuses.

There is an ugly history of antisemitism in American higher education, and too many college and university leaders have failed to recognize that it still simmers on their campuses. Now it has boiled over. Those who have for so long dismissed and ignored antisemitism now must reach out to Jewish members of their communities, as well as all others affected by the documented, unspeakable acts that Hamas has unleashed.

Colleges and universities must reject violence as inimical to their very purpose, which is to provide oases for rational discussion, free inquiry, and pursuit of truth. Campus leaders must also resist calls to silence or to cancel members of their communities for their words or opinions. Yet they must at the same time condemn in unequivocal terms the murder and torture of civilians. Through the clarity of the moral outrage they express and the commitment to the discovery and analysis of new and better policies and a way forward, the leaders of American higher education take up their proper role. That is the way to support their Jewish communities, the Israeli people in their time of need, our country, and humanity.

—Michael B. Poliakoff


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