When I first set foot on UR’s campus three years ago as a newly-matriculated student, I was expecting a new and exciting period of my life to begin.

Later that day, perspiring while sitting in my chair in that sweltering room, surrounded by several useless fans – and still tired from lugging a refrigerator up three flights of stairs in Gilbert Hall – I realized that college, like most of life, stops far short of meeting the idyllic expectations with which you enter.

I was reminded of that sobering epiphany last week, as, from my perspective, Arun Gandhi was forced from his position as head of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. Some reading this may argue that he was not forced from his position, that he tendered his resignation and just walked away from the Institute he founded almost two decades ago; when everyone from the director of the Jewish Federation of Rochester to the public face of UR President Joel Seligman , among myriad others, castigates you for your words, is there much of a choice?

For Seligman to offer Gandhi and his Institute space and then fan the flames of a so-called scandal (which regrettably isn’t a positive commentary on the world; we haven’t eliminated all the other problems for a blog post to count as a bona fide scandal) is simply hypocritical.

His statements may have been offensive. So is reality television.

He wasn’t advocating terrorism or decrying the basic rights of an ethnic or religious group. The man had a view, an opinion; he espoused it. Whether it was valid or even well-formed should be an entirely different question.

His statements may have been wrong.

I am not a scholar whose expertise lie in the thousands of years of history that have shaped and been structured by any sort of “Jewish Identity.” It should be clear to Gandhi that when countries hold conferences where the agenda focuses on Holocaust denial, as Iran did late in 2006, disarming Israel isn’t the most conducive plan to achieving lasting peace in the Middle East. I am, however, a person astute enough to remember the kindergarten lesson, that two wrongs fail to make any right.

Gandhi may have been misguided in airing an argument that was, at best, poorly formed and, at worst, antagonistic and condescending, but the students, staff, faculty and administration of this University are dead wrong by howling in indignation and kicking him to the campus’s curb, rather than disagreeing with him and correcting him.

Seligman wrote in his statement concerning Gandhi’s resignation that “Universities exist and best serve all of us if they foster open and virtually unregulated? discussion and debate? A University’s role in society is not to impose intellectual orthodoxy, but to provide the opportunity to develop and articulate opinions or beliefs that may be unpopular or little believed.”

Meanwhile, the President of our University, the Faculty Senate and other key members of our academic community have drowned out another academic. Once again, these supposed protectors of free speech and tolerance have shown they support neither in a true sense; their reactions have proven nothing but their intention to smother contradictory ideas rather than challenge them.

This “culture police” at UR and virtually everywhere else in this day consistently keep alternate viewpoints from being heard. Anyone with a high school education should be able to understand that, while hate speech may be illegal, there are no laws or Constitutional protections against someone saying something critical about you or something you stand for. There is no freedom from insult; this is not North Korea. Nor is it the Third Reich in Germany in the 1930s, where opposing views were quashed just as readily, albeit more violently, as they were last week at UR.

How will the lessons of the past weeks’ events bode for students when they dare to proffer an idea that runs against the grain of the person grading the paper? Stifling ideas, no matter how outlandish they prove to be, is a scary place for an institution so staunchly opposed to “imposing intellectual orthodoxy” to find itself.

Sansky is a member of the class of 2009.



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