(The Daily Signal) – So far, almost all the critical focus on how university leaders have manifestly failed to address rampant antisemitism on their campuses has been aimed at selective, private universities. It was the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, who testified Dec. 5 to Congress on the issue and now face the brunt of the backlash.
But many state universities are just as culpable. The ideology undergirding the obsession with diversity, equity, and inclusion, known as DEI, is also fueling Jew hatred at their institutions. It is also out of control at public universities, where there are more obvious policy levers to rein in antisemitism.
Unlike schools in the Ivy League or colleges such as MIT, which are private, state schools are public institutions predominantly supported by tax dollars, which makes them entirely accountable to voters and, thus, to governors, state legislatures, and boards of trustees. Harvard, Yale, and other private institutions still get plenty of taxpayer support (in the billions), but the subsidy is more indirect, and they are not answerable to voters for their policies.
One public university that warrants critical attention is George Mason University. Its main campus in Fairfax, Virginia, may be a few hundred miles south of the Ivy cluster, but it nonetheless has severe problems with antisemitism on campus and a president as attached to DEI ideology as Harvard’s Claudine Gay or Penn’s Liz Magill.
And although Gay has come under heavy criticism after a horrendous hearing performance and evidence of plagiarism, and Magill was outright fired, George Mason President Gregory Washington retains his job and has escaped scrutiny.
Washington became president in July 2020 amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter riots and has a record no better than Gay or Magill. Among the first actions Washington took as president were to create an “anti-racism taskforce,” to add to curriculum statements on how racism would be opposed in each subject, and to order the building of a memorial to the slaves that the university’s namesake owned two centuries earlier.
Research published by the two of us this year showed that George Mason University under Washington has accumulated the most bloated DEI bureaucracy in the Old Dominion. Washington groused publicly about our numbers after the paper was published.
Washington promised to demonstrate how we were wrong. But all that a review he called has done is change definitions around. For example, the chief of staff of a DEI officer now is not identified as working on DEI. Presto—linguistic gymnastics made the DEI bloat disappear.
In other words, Washington has doubled down on the woke DEI efforts that people now understand induced students across the country to be so ethically challenged that they supported Hamas over their Jewish victims following the terrorist group’s mass killing and rapes Oct. 7 in Israel.
Small wonder that Mason’s campus was one of the earliest and largest scenes of pro-terrorist demonstrations by such radical groups as Students for Justice in Palestine. Masked pro-Hamas student protesters were allowed into a Nov. 30 meeting of the Board of Visitors, at which they accused the board members of complicity in the “genocidal murder” of Palestinians and that ended with the genocidal “from the river to the sea” slogan. Washington sat there impassively.
When a group of law school professors signed a letter of protest demanding an explanation, Washington just ignored them.
The anti-Israel protesters have also been marching around Mason’s campus chanting genocidal slogans while wearing keffiyehs to cover their faces, despite a Virginia statute prohibiting the use of face coverings in public to conceal one’s identity.
Washington has refused to strictly enforce that prohibition despite the fact that the law was originally adopted to crack down on the KKK and despite Virginia’s attorney general’s sending the university president a letter specifically instructing him to enforce the law.
Washington’s failure to have George Mason police arrest those violating this law demonstrates that he has more concern for those harassing Jews on campus than he does for the Jews being abused.
Like Gay, Washington’s failure as a university president is not confined to his DEI obsession and callous indifference to the well-being of Jews on campus. Washington has been derelict on other things that matter.
Last week, the American Bar Association put Mason’s prestigious Scalia Law School on probation for lacking “sufficient current and anticipated financial resources” to carry out its education mission.
That probation occurred because Washington proposed across-the-board budget cuts. While he rescinded the cuts for the Scalia Law School, publicly declaring that its funds could be in jeopardy led the ABA to believe that the school’s financial situation was precarious.
Given that the law school is one of the few pockets at Mason, or in academia in general, that is welcoming to conservatives, it is possible that Washington didn’t mind getting it into hot water with the ABA.
Decisive university leaders concentrate budget cuts on areas of the university that are both educationally unsound and significant money losers, such as DEI bureaucracies and gender and ethnic studies departments. But Washington is not that kind of leader and would never place his beloved DEI in jeopardy.
The next round of congressional hearings on higher ed’s Jew-hatred problem should bring in the bad-acting leaders of public universities to answer questions. We expect that if they bring in George Mason’s Washington, he is unlikely to fare better than Magill or Gay.