KANSAS CITY, Mo. ― The University of Missouri downplayed incidents of anti-Semitism while publicly condemning bigotry against racial minorities during protests last year, a Jewish human rights group told the university system’s top administrator.
In a letter this week to interim system president Mike Middleton, officials with the Simon Wiesenthal Center said the university vocally decried incidents targeting minority students, but those targeting Jewish students got little mention.
The university drew national attention in November after students protested what they saw as administrators’ indifference to systemic racism on campus. That turmoil culminated in the resignation of the system president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus.
“The perception now is that Mizzou is missing in action when it comes to defending the rights of the Jewish campus community,” Rabbi Meyer May, the center’s executive director, and Aron Hier, its campus outreach chief, wrote to Middleton.
Middleton said Thursday that the university takes anti-Semitism “extremely seriously.”
“And while we certainly embrace our cherished freedom of speech, we are absolutely committed to learning environments that are free of hatred and intolerance,” he told The Associated Press by email.
The center’s letter comes two months after administrators condemned the latest of four cases of anti-Semitic graffiti in Columbia dormitories in less than a year.
University police said a flyer scrawled in magic marker with the words “Hitler rules” was found in late February on a bulletin board at Gateway Hall, the dorm where a swastika of feces was found in a bathroom last October. That month, 18-year-old student Bradley Becker was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor property damage involving swastikas found in April 2015 in another dorm’s stairwell.
Last October’s swastika discovery prompted dozens of organizations to confront then-chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, accusing him and others in a letter of failing to denounce “blatant antisemitism.”
Loftin replied days later with an open letter decrying racism, though he said he could not publicly denounce the swastika out of fear that it would compromise the investigation. Loftin said the university has “robust anti-hate and anti-bias programs,” but that “the values of academic freedom must be upheld,” allowing those with anti-Semitic leanings to exercise free-speech rights ― and for their opponents to counter.
The Columbia campus’ administration said in a statement Thursday that academic freedom and freedom of speech doesn’t mean people can say “whatever they wish, whenever they wish” if the university deems it defamatory, threatening, a privacy invasion or confidentiality breach. But “as a community of scholars, we welcome many opinions” and strongly encourage rebuttals,” it wrote.