The Semester of our discontent

Earlier today, JTA (and other media outlets) reported on the strange story of a Jewish professor at York University accused by a student of anti-Semitism. 

Cameron Johnston, who has been teaching at York University for more than 30 years, was the focus of controversy following a Sept. 12 lecture on critical thinking and whether one is entitled to one’s opinions, even if they are extreme.

"All Jews should be sterilized" is an example of such an extreme opinion, Johnston told the 500 students.

One of them, 22-year-old Sarah Grunfeld, stormed out of the class. She contacted Hasbara at York, an on-campus Israel advocacy group, which sent a news release to media and other Jewish community groups calling for Johnston’s firing. Blogs and social media picked up the story.

Ms. Grunfeld hasn’t been getting much sympathy in the press for her pretty strong accusation, which according to the Toronto Star includes doubts that the Professor, Cameron Johnston, is Jewish. 

In fact, her best defender so far has been Johnston himself, who told the Star, "it’s a very good thing that people are sensitive to this kind of remark, and I think it’s a very good thing that someone would respond immediately and deal with it if they thought that they heard an anti-Semitic comment."

However, this seems to have once again fallen on un-hearing ears, and Ms. Grunfeld has issued a statement criticizing the Professor, the University and the media. (via Gawker

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I stand by my initial concern brought to the University’s attention immediately after the incident that when Professor Cameron Johnston made the abhorrent statement in his class that all Jews should be sterilized, he failed to qualify the statement clearly as an unacceptable opinion held by others. His delivery of this statement, made in a class of 450 impressionable students, was offensive to me and to others in the room.

I have since been grossly misquoted and ridiculed by the media, and attempts have been made to assign blame to me with the false claim that I simply "misheard" or "half heard" what was said. Meanwhile, the professor has not been called to account in any way for his "miscommunication".

This is in spite of the fact that in a meeting with Martin Singer, Dean, (Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York) and Rhonda Lenton (Vice Provost Academic), I was assured that they believed Professor Johnston was ‘terribly regretful’, and that they expected and would encourage him to issue an unambiguous in-class apology. I have not heard even minimal expressions of regret by Professor Johnston, and a York university representative in subsequent communications with the media, has since contradicted the assurances I was given to that effect.

It has been a very painful experience for me to see how the university has closed ranks and reneged on its assurances to me. I understand that there may have been a miscommunication, but any miscommunication was on the part of the professor, not me. The media has been complicit in allowing a false interpretation of my actions to be circulated widely, which can only have a chilling effect on the ability of students to have any kind of a voice on campus.


 

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