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February 28, 2002 Jewish audience told Concordia is safe



Provost and Vice-Rector Research Jack Lightstone spoke recently to an audience at a Montreal synagogue, and told his listeners that Jews have nothing to fear at Concordia University.

In fact, that assurance appeared in the headline of an article about Lightstone’s speech in the Canadian Jewish News by staff reporter Janice Arnold.

Lightstone, who is Jewish and has been a professor of Jewish studies at Concordia for more than 25 years, told his audience that supporters of the Palestinian cause have not broken hate laws or Concordia’s own rules.

“Jewish professors say they are bothered at how distorted the public perception is of the situation at Concordia,” he told a Power Breakfast audience at Shaar Hashomayim synagogue recently.

“You can talk to any Jewish professor on campus, and none will describe a climate of fear or intimidation. I can’t think of a better place to spend my career as an academic and as a Jew.”

Lightstone said that as chief academic officer of the university, he is “duty-bound to uphold absolutely” the right of pro-Palestinian students to free speech. “Of course, it is often upsetting to me what I see at the information booths, but it is not hate literature.”

The Jewish News article added that Lightstone said he is sure that some material distributed by the Jewish student group Hillel is offensive to Arab students. However, he added that Hillel has become more active and effective in its advocacy for Israel. “If critical analysis and legitimate debate are not sacrosanct on a university campus,” he concluded, “our society is in trouble.”

CSU executive not recognized

On the “more troubling” subject of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), which has not recognized the November election of a more moderate slate of executive officers, Lightstone told his audience that Concordia’s radical student leaders represent a breakaway faction in the national student movement committed to taking over campus politics across the country.

“They are very active, very well-organized, politically sophisticated and extremely committed,” he said, and explained to his mature audience that interest in campus politics is especially low at Concordia because so many of the students are part-timers, busy with work and family.

He also explained that as much as the administration disapproves of its current politics, Concordia is obliged under Quebec law to provide the CSU with space and to collect fees from students on its behalf. The CSU is an autonomous, non-profit corporation and the university has no authority over what it does, he said.

He noted that that the ongoing CSU controversy has not affected applications to the university. Enrolment climbed by eight per cent this year, to more than 27,300.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, a national U.S. monthly, recently published an article about the Israel-Palestine controversy among Concordia students.