.Sonoma State Pres. Out After Agreeing to Demands of Gaza War Protesters

Well, that escalated quickly. Sonoma State University President Mike Lee has reportedly been placed on leave by his bosses at California State University headquarters after going rogue on Tuesday and agreeing to meet some of the demands of Gaza war protesters on campus, apparently without consulting his CSU overlords. “Because of this insubordination and the consequences it has brought upon the system, President Lee has been placed on administrative leave,” the head of the CSU system told Politico. Lee sent a mass email to Sonoma State students and staff Tuesday night, detailing the concessions — which did seem much more dramatic than some of the more conservative steps announced in recent days by administrators at, say, the UC Berkeley campus. The 20 or so Sonoma State protesters who had been holding their ground on “Person Lawn” for the past few weeks declared victory and packed up their stuff, vacating the lawn yesterday. Which made it a little awkward when the school president sent another email later that afternoon, apologizing for his overreach and announcing his leave. Lee wrote: “In my attempt to find agreement with one group of students, I marginalized other members of our student population and community. … As I step away on a leave, I will reflect on the harm this has caused and will be working with the Chancellor’s Office to determine next steps.” His temporary replacement will be Nathan Evans, one of the school’s deputy vice chancellors. In Lee’s original message that got him in trouble, reprinted by the Press Democrat, he called for an immediate ceasefire and promised, on the university’s behalf, to research all investments possibly touching Israel’s war in Gaza, then disclose them to the public and possibly find alternatives. He also promised to terminate any study-abroad programs sending students to Israel and any academic collaborations with “Israeli academic and research institutions.” This last point, in particular, angered some SSU professors. Stephen Bittner, chair of the SSU history department and director of its Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, told the Press Democrat: “The academic boycott of Israel is atrocious and morally reprehensible, in my view. It is contrary to the values of scholarly freedom, and free exchange, that are supposed to be at the center of any university.” Here’s some more analysis on Lee’s dismissal, from Politico: “The punishment marks perhaps the harshest disciplinary action against a campus chancellor or president in California over the handling of protests of the war in Gaza. It also underscores an unwillingness to divest from Israeli weapons manufacturers — as pro-Palestinian protesters across the country have increasingly demanded the last few months — among leaders of the CSU system and its sister University of California system. California universities including UC Riverside, UC Berkeley and Sacramento State have agreed to study divestment like some East Coast universities, but none have gone as far as Lee.” In an Instagram post today, the Sonoma County chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace criticized CSU officials for dismissing Lee. They wrote: “This disciplinary action sets a dangerous precedent for all campus leaders moving forward. We would also like to note that this unjust disciplinary action was taken against the second Asian American President of SSU during the middle of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.” The SSU protesters, for their part, wrote in a post of support for Lee: “We choose insubordination.” Protest camps started springing up at college campuses across the globe late last month, and are now being dismantled one by one, either by choice or by force. The camp at Sonoma State never saw any violence, although Lee did accuse protesters at one point of chalking some anti-Semitic phrases onto a school sidewalk. (Source: Sonoma State University & SSU Students for Justice in Palestine via Instagram & Jewish Voices for Peace Sonoma County via Instagram & Politico & U.K. Guardian & Press Democrat & Press Democrat & Press Democrat & San Francisco Chronicle)


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