Recommends Changes to Improve Relations between Jewish, Palestinian Communities
SAN FRANCISCO, August 9, 2002 -- The San Francisco State University Presidential Task Force charged with examining ways to improve relations within the Jewish and Palestinian communities issued its preliminary recommendations to University President Robert A. Corrigan. The report includes a wide spectrum of changes, including establishing a new Arab and Islamic studies program, developing policies that respond to free speech and conduct protected by the law but offensive to the community and sponsoring multicultural events with a focus on Middle East issues.
The President's Task Force on Inter-group Relations: Initial Focus on the Effect of Middle East Issues on Campus Life was formed in June to advise the University on immediate and long-term strategies for improving the campus climate, particularly regarding concerns of the Jewish and Palestinian communities. The 42-member Task Force is comprised of University faculty, staff and students as well as community, civic and religious leaders. The preliminary recommendations are part of the short-term agenda and the Task Force will continue to meet during the fall semester on long-term strategies.
President Corrigan commissioned the Task Force following heightened tension between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian supporters on campus that culminated with inappropriate language and behavior but no violence or arrests during a May 7 campus rally.
The Task Force met as a whole four times during June and July. In addition, 29 of the Task Force members participated in 18 confidential "listening group sessions," where members from the campus and local community were invited to offer suggestions on how to improve the campus climate between Jewish and Palestinian communities. A total of 50 people spoke during the listening sessions that were held in private and included only one speaker at a time. Also, Task Force members participated in subcommittees that focused on: university curriculum, codes of conduct/freedom of speech, colloquia, special events and discussions, employment practices, faculty and student orientation programs and psychological services.
Highlights of the Task Force's preliminary recommendations include:
The Task Force recommends that the University establish an Arab and Islamic Studies program, similar to the Jewish Studies program that was created in 1991 with financial support from the local Jewish community. The courses should satisfy both general education requirements and specialization in an Arab and Islamic studies program. In addition, an Islamic Studies Endowment Advisory Council should be established to help raise private funding in cooperation with the University's Office of Development. Also, the Jewish Studies Program should be encouraged to reactivate its Board of Advisors, the Task Force recommended.
The University has already made significant strides in this area with the hiring of two new Islamic scholars who will arrive on campus this fall. The two are the first of six new faculty members with expertise in Islamic studies expected in the next year. One scholar is a historian who created the University's course on Islamic history and the other is a scholar in Islamic culture who will join the Humanities Department. Four additional international searches are now underway.
"As members of the Task Force know, last fall, shortly after the September 11 attacks, I proposed that the University begin to seek outstanding scholars who could help us build strength in the interdisciplinary and wide-ranging field of Islamic Studies. On June 27 I was able to announce the steps we had taken to expand dramatically the University's faculty resources in this area," President Corrigan wrote in a response letter to Task Force members. "I also described our interest in creating one of the country's first Islamic Studies Programs, an effort that will be shaped by the new Islamic Studies specialists arriving on campus this year and next."
CODES OF CONDUCT/FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The University should revise major policies regarding student organizations and conduct at rallies, such as distance between groups with opposing views, posting of flags and banners and the responsibilities of students, off-campus visitors and faculty advisors. In addition, the task force recommends that the University develop a process to respond to speech, conduct and activities that might be protected by law but are morally repugnant.
COLLOQUIA, SPECIAL EVENTS AND DISCUSSIONS
The University should encourage dialogue between different faith communities by establishing an interfaith student group that would partner with religious-based community organizations. The Task Force also recommends that the University sponsor a wide spectrum of events with a focus on Middle East issues, such as film festivals, multi-cultural arts groups featuring Arab and Jewish performers, food festivals that cover the history of the cuisine, campus debates with panelists of divergent views, campus-sponsored trips to various houses of worship and community service projects.
Relevant University departments should review their curriculum for deficiencies in the study of the Arab and Islamic works and Jewish history and people. Departments are then encouraged to request new faculty to address the problems in order to develop understanding around Middle East issues. All faculty and staff should understand the University's diverse community with its variety of cultures, races and religions and be ready to meet the needs of the student population with the help of training seminars and literature.
FACULTY AND STUDENT ORIENTATION PROGRAMS
Student leaders should be informed about free speech, hate speech and the role of the campus community in creating a climate for civil discourse. In order to foster better dialogue between groups, students should also develop ways to bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and those in disagreement over political issues, the task force recommends. Similar types of programs should be established for current employees.
PSYCHOLOGICAL COUNSELING SERVICES
The University should fund the study of the psychological support for Arab, Jewish and Muslim students populations. The Task Force also recommends that faculty with expertise in addressing concerns of Arab, Jewish and Muslim students continue to be available. In addition, advisory boards that could help open conversations with the three groups should be established.
For a copy of the complete report and President Corrigan's response to the Task Force recommendations, visit www.sfsu.edu/~news/sfsuresp.htm.
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