A Tale of Two Professors
How Connecticut College treats a pro-Israel professor -- and how Kent treats a pro-Islamist one.
To understand just how depraved today’s college campuses are, compare the treatment of two professors – one defending a Western, pro-American democracy (Israel) and the other suspected of supporting this century’s most gruesome Islamist terror organization, the Islamic State (“ISIS”).
Julio Pino, an associate history professor at Kent State University, is currently under investigation by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for potential ties to ISIS.
Pino’s jihadist leanings include possible threats against the U.S. government and virulently anti-Israel rants. In 2002, he praised a teenage Palestinian suicide bomber who had killed two people in Jerusalem, saying that the teen had “died a martyr’s death in occupied Jerusalem, Palestine.”
In a 2014 open letter to “academic friends of Israel,” Pino published an unhinged and anti-Semitic invective: “I hold you directly responsible for the murder of over 1,400 Palestinian children, women and elderly civilians over the past month…[w]hile The Chosen drain the blood of innocents without apologies you hide behind the mask of academic objectivity, nobility of research and the reward of teaching to foreign youth – in a segregated university, of course.” Pino closed the letter with: “Jihad until victory!”
Despite decades of hateful and extremist statements, Kent State reportedly gave Pino multiple awards, including the Faculty Excellence Award in 2010, 2003, 2000 and 1996, along with the Professional Excellence Award in 1999 and 1997.
The Kent Stater, the university’s student newspaper, provided him with a video platform to defend himself, and the editorial board wrote that “it is too soon to make a judgment on the investigation, both from the FBI and public perspective.” When asked about the allegations against Pino, the editor of the paper, Emily Mills, reportedly replied: “He’s very well spoken…He expresses his viewpoints, which he has every right to do.”
Kent State remains comfortable with him in the classroom despite his Islamist rhetoric and now a federal investigation.
Contrast Pino’s treatment with how Connecticut College has persecuted professor Andrew Pessin for defending Israel in its 2014 war with Hamas (a State Department-designated terrorist organization).
Over six months after Pessin’s Facebook post critiquing Hamas, the student newspaper at Connecticut College launched a surprise character assassination by publishing three editorials condemning Pessin (including on the front page), without giving him a chance to defend himself against libelous accusations of racism.
In a reportedly packed auditorium (including members of the media, like NBC), Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron said that she was “disappointed by the language” of Pessin’s post, which “seemed to show poor judgment,” and she praised “the valor of the students who responded to these incidents by exercising their own right of free speech with confidence and intellectual acuity.” These statements by Bergeron continue to appear on the college’s website, long after a Washington Post column exposed evidence strongly suggesting that the allegations against Pessin were politically motivated lies.
More absurdly, Bergeron promised to “review our social media policies to ensure they include appropriate advisory language about respectful expression,” even as her administration continues to allow the school’s student newspaper to host libels against Pessin alongside anti-Semitic diatribes about Zionists ruling the world. The administration also continues to display statements from scores of academic departments, school officials, student associations, and other college affiliates, denouncing Pessin on the official Connecticut College website. As of this writing, no other issue or speech is similarly scrutinized or condemned on the school’s website.
In her remarks last March, Bergeron also promised to update the school’s “protocol for bias incidents so that those who come forward under these circumstances are well served by the process.”
Too bad her lofty commitments proved empty after the bias incidents against Jewish students at the school last December, when Conn Students in Solidarity with Palestine (“CSSP”) placed posters around campus bashing Birthright, a program that helps young people travel to Israel. The CSSP posters call the program a form of “settler colonialism” and demonize Israel.
As Phyllis Chesler reported, the CSSP campaign “frightened and humiliated…Jewish students on campus who will soon be visiting Israel for the first time” but the administration’s spineless response was merely to “recognize CSSP’s right to share its perspective [and] the right of members of the community to express their disagreement with the posters’ characterization of the Birthright program.”
Anti-Israel sentiment is therefore welcome on bulletin boards throughout Connecticut College’s campus, regardless of whether it is true. But the “poor judgment” Andrew Pessin showed in a Facebook post merits his absence from campus for at least a year.
It gets much worse. In her article attacking Pessin last March, Lamiya Khandaker admits that she was Pessin’s student but “never felt victimized in class,” even as she claims to “feel unsafe” because of a barely noticed Facebook post published six months earlier. Shockingly, Khandaker initiated a campus-wide campaign accusing Pessin of racism, even after he apologized for any misunderstanding, clarified that his post was intended only about Hamas and not all Palestinians, and deleted his post.
When the Washington Post revealed evidence that Khandaker’s accusations against Pessin were likely factual distortions, the administration should have realized that Khandaker’s op-ed probably violated the honor system at Connecticut College because:
a) Khandaker failed “to take responsibility for [her] beliefs” by distorting opposing arguments and hiding her real agenda: to silence an Israel supporter at Connecticut College;
b) she failed to “conduct [herself] with integrity, civility and…respect for the dignity of” Professor Pessin by publicly attributing repugnant views to him that he doesn’t actually hold; and
c) her actions, which viciously libeled Pessin, were neither “thoughtful” nor “ethical.”
Thus, if Bergeron wants to review school policies to promote appropriate behavior on her campus, she should start by applying Connecticut College’s honor code to Khandaker’s defamatory conduct.
But Khandaker was apparently never sanctioned, and was allowed to keep her position as the student government chair of “equity and diversity” at Connecticut College.
Khandaker kept that position even though she reportedly scoffed at anti-Semitism and called for Israel’s destruction on her Facebook page.
It’s an elected position, school spokeswoman Pamela Serfes said last fall, and the administration “does not select or pre-qualify candidates, nor would it seek to remove duly elected office holders with whom it may disagree.”
Would the same be true if a white student publicly dismissed concerns about racism and called for the destruction of a black-majority state?
No reply. Why not? Probably because the Connecticut College administration had doubled down on its support for anti-Semites and anti-Israel activists, by granting Khandaker the “Scholar Activist Award” last spring. They must understand how insane that looks because they also refused to comment about or even confirm giving her that award.
To recap, not only did the Connecticut College administration participate in the character assassination of a professor who did nothing more than criticize Hamas, it rewarded those behind the campaign to silence their school’s only openly pro-Israel professor. Then, when CSSP spread its vitriol in anti-Israel posters with no effective voice on campus to counter their hateful propaganda, the administration issued a spinelessly neutral statement while students were on break.
Meanwhile, the school refuses to apologize to Pessin, who is still not on campus.
At worst, Pessin made one statement that was subject to interpretation. He insists he never meant what Khandaker thinks, and neither she nor anyone else who piled on Pessin has found anything else in his past to warrant the hysterical response. Indeed, back in 2010, the administration seemed to recognize his merit as a thought leader by noting how Pessin’s Huffington Post article had generated over 1,000 comments within hours.
Back to Pino, the Islamist. He’s still teaching at taxpayer-funded Kent State and receives far more support from his school’s newspaper. Kent State has given Pino many teaching awards over the years, unlike Pessin, who has never received any award in his decade of teaching at Connecticut College (student ratings of Pessin’s teaching average 4.2 out of 5; Pino’s rating is 2.7). There was no campus-wide talk where Pino was condemned in front of the community and media. A statement by President Beverly Warren seems primarily intended to reassure the community that there is no related terrorism or security threat.
In a 2014 video experiment, Ami Horowitz captured the bafflingly different campus attitudes towards Israel versus ISIS. Things have clearly gotten worse since then. If George Orwell were observing academia, he would remark that “All speech is equal, but anti-Israel speech is more equal than others.”
As Hamilton Foundation president Christian Whiton notes, “Diversity to college administrators means a Benetton ad – an obsession with race and ethnicity – not true diversity of thought.” Indeed, the worldview promoted by the tyranny of political correctness breeds a new generation of radicals friendly to Islamist regimes, values, and trends, and hostile to the U.S., Israel, and Western values.
Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.