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President's Message: 'Join me in speaking out
for this University's true values'


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May 13, 2002
Dear Campus Colleagues:

In my 14 years as president of this university, I have never been as deeply distressed and angered by something that happened on this campus as I am by the events of last week. On Tuesday, a pro-Israel peace rally, thoughtfully organized and carefully carried out by SFSU Hillel members, drawing some 400 participants from both campus and community, evoked strong opinions and strong speech -- some from the free speech platform, much from the nearby pro-Palestinian counter-demonstration. But strong, even provocative, speech is not the problem, nor are strongly held opinions on highly-charged topics. Rather, it was the lack of civility and decency on the part of a very few demonstrators at points during the rally, and much more markedly after it, when rhetoric and behavior escalated beyond what this campus will tolerate.

For the most part, the most objectionable behavior occurred after the rally's organizers brought it to a formal close and a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who, in keeping with our student event policy, had been held back by barricades and campus police, moved onto the event site, where a few dozen organizers remained. There, some of the demonstrators behaved in a manner that completely violated the values of this institution and of most of you who are reading this message. Thankfully, I am not speaking about physical violence. The monitoring by University staff throughout the event and the significant police presence we had arranged to have on hand ensured the safety of all involved. Unfortunately, we were not equally able to ensure civil discourse and maintain the sense of security to which every member of this campus is entitled. A small but terribly destructive number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, many of whom were not SFSU students, abandoned themselves to intimidating behavior and statements too hate-filled to repeat. This group became so threatening in gesture and hostile in language that we interposed a police line between the groups and eventually escorted the Hillel students, and the faculty with them, from the plaza. No one was physically assaulted, but that encounter puts at risk all that we value and represent as a university community.

The demonstrators' behavior is not passing unchallenged. The University's code of student discipline and event policy allow for individual and group sanctions ranging from warning to suspension to expulsion for certain violations, and some of what took place on Tuesday may well fall within that area. Our videotaped record of the event is being reviewed now by SFSU Public Safety to note violations and identify violators so that the University's disciplinary procedures can begin. In one instance, that of a protestor who seized and stamped on an Israeli flag, the case has already gone forward. I fully expect to see other cases presented. If we identify violations of public law, we will refer cases to the District Attorney, with our strong recommendation for full prosecution. We have requested that the District Attorney assign a member of the hate crime unit to work with us, and our Department of Public Safety is contacting individuals who have reported behavior at the rally which would warrant legal action on our part.

I hope you will agree that no love of homeland, no fear or grief for loved ones in the actual area of Middle East conflict, excuses the behavior that has been reported. This is not a war zone. It is a campus, a place where all must feel physically protected even as we engage in the disputation that is part of a teaching and learning environment. But when disputation degenerates into bigotry and hate, we must -- and do -- act. We did so in the case of the "blood libel" flier (as I reported several weeks ago), and we are doing so now. The anguish and fear that the May 7th events have caused for members of our community can only intensify our active commitment to making this campus a hate-free zone.

We have reviewed, and will continue to review, the policies and procedures that guided our responses during the May 7 event. We may well adjust them. Certainly, we will take steps to ensure that encounters like those I have described will not recur. Nothing justifies such acts of overt hostility, or even the implied threat of physical assault. Such behavior is not an expression of free speech.

The vast majority of this campus community would condemn the hateful speech and threatening behavior we saw last Tuesday. It is a very few individuals who are fomenting this discord. Yet, as we see, their impact can be profound -- if we allow it to be. Despite the claims of some, this is not an anti-Semitic campus. But as history shows us, silence and passivity can at times of crisis be very little different from complicity. All of us -- and I would say especially members of the faculty, who have the greatest opportunity to educate and influence our students -- have a responsibility to help maintain this as a safe and sustaining environment for the expression and exploration of opposing views.

Many of our best faculty are doing exactly that, consciously and powerfully, every day. We need now to find ways to bring good colleagues together to shape a collective effort. The CUSP II strategic planning process offers us one opportunity; I am looking for others and welcome your thoughts. We need to make what has happened on our campus an occasion for learning, for reflection, for growth.

As you know, since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, I have sent frequent messages to the entire University community calling for peace and tolerance and many of you have responded marvelously, both in words and action; I take great pride in the hundreds of very positive e-mail and letters I have received. But now, as the actions of a small band of bigots threaten to tarnish the reputation of the University as a whole and to discredit all our students, I ask you to join me in speaking out for this University's true values. Show in actions as well as words that you believe not only that "Love is Stronger than Hate" but that hateful actions, threats of violence, outrageous slurs and bigoted statements are rejected and contemned by our entire campus community.

Sincerely yours,

Robert A. Corrigan

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Last modified May 13, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs