Toleration, Understanding and the Duty of a University to Defend its Fundamental Values

Anti-Defamation League Man of Achievement Dinner
Hyatt Regency
One South Capitol Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana
April 24, 2014

Introduction and Acknowledgements

Thank you very much.

I really am deeply honored to receive the Anti-Defamation League’s Man of Achievement Award. Receiving it jointly with Bob McKinney, and with Mickey Maurer as executive chair of this evening’s dinner, only amplifies the honor. Bob and Mickey, through long careers of commitment, service and generosity, exemplify in the most crystalized form, all for which the ADL stands. At Indiana University, their names are forever enshrined in the pantheon of those whose generosity is on such a scale that it has transformed the very academic core of what we do. They have given their names, in perpetuity, to the McKinney School of Law here in Indianapolis and the Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, and, through their philanthropic commitment to these schools, have created untold educational opportunities for future generations.

I am honored that Congressman Lee Hamilton and Senator Richard Lugar (who could not be here this evening) agreed to be among the honorary dinner chairs. I asked them to serve in this role because of my profound respect for both of them. They are, quite simply, the quintessential American statesmen; the kind of leaders the Founding Fathers would have hoped our system of government would have produced. While of different political parties and serving in different arenas of Congress, each brought to his career in public service a visceral sense of bipartisanship that reflected an overriding desire to do what is right for America and right for the world. In doing so, they have stood all their lives for all for which the ADL also stands.

I am likewise honored by the participation of dinner co-chair, IU Distinguished Professor David Baker, who is here with his wife, Lida. David is a composer, performer and educator of true greatness, revered and deeply respected by all at IU and around the globe. But his presence here reminds us that, within our lifetimes, David was not able to perform or even dine in many places because they were closed to members of his race. He represents virtues for which the ADL also stands—fortitude, grace, and perseverance—and their ultimate triumph in the face of deep prejudice.

Finally, I am honored by Cindy Simon Skjodt’s participation as co-chair. Cindy is, of course, Jewish and a renowned philanthropist. As such, she reflects the extraordinary generosity, in a myriad of ways, of the Jewish community in Indianapolis, the state, and nation. And for the philanthropic support that Cindy and the Simon family and so many other members of the Jewish community have given to Indiana University over the years, we are profoundly grateful. But in spite of all the remarkable support around the world that this selfless community has given to education, science, medicine, the arts and so many other areas, the horizon is increasingly darkened by the loathsome specter of re-emergent antisemitism.

And, as a woman, Cindy also reminds us of a battle that is far from won. She reminds us that millions and millions of half the human race, women, exist in daily lives of the most abject and humiliating servitude, subject to the most grotesque Medieval prejudice. She reminds us that advancing equality for women and girls is an integral part of the ADL’s mission of securing true justice for all.

Indiana University’s Commitment to Tolerant Diversity

The ADL is committed to building bridges of communication and understanding among diverse groups, to promote tolerance and tolerant diversity. These are also fundamental values in the academy. At the core of Indiana University is the deepest and most serious search for knowledge and understanding by our students and faculty—no matter where these explorations take them. We simply cannot pursue our core missions of creating new knowledge and of passing on and preserving existing knowledge without tolerance.

I am reminded of one of the great writers on tolerance—the philosopher Baruch Spinoza—who wrote in his monumental work, Ethics, that “men who are governed by reason… desire for themselves nothing which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind, and consequently, are just, faithful, and honorable in their conduct.”1

When a University is Compelled to Take a Stand

So, this great foundational academic value of tolerance and tolerant diversity has naturally led to universities endeavoring to remain neutral on social and political issues.  This is a principle to which we endeavor to strictly adhere. What seems compelling today is an embarrassment—or worse—tomorrow. Many university presidents are haunted by the specter of Martin Heidegger’s infamous inaugural address as rector at the University of Freiburg in 1933 embracing the National Socialist Party, only to see the Nazis destroy the once great German university system.

Proponents of neutrality often still cite the 1967 Kalven Report, which codified the position of the University of Chicago. The report concluded that “[t]o perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain its independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures.”2

This is a debate with which we are all familiar. In American academia it goes back to at least the McCarthy era and has re-emerged with each new wave of social and political discontent and dissent. And it is a debate that remains unresolved and may always remain so.

I strongly agree that universities should endeavor at all times to remain neutral on social and political issues. However, there are times when a university simply has to speak out. This is never done casually or lightly, but ideally, only after the most careful thought, deliberation and discussion.  All, even within the university may not agree. But the mere fact that there are opposing viewpoints does not mean the university should refrain from taking such stands. Maimonides famously said, “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”3

There are, I believe, two fundamental principles that govern when a university should take a stand on social and political issues:

  1. when the issue at hand directly affects the university’s mission and core interests, or
  2. when there is an overwhelming moral imperative for the university to do so based on the most basic human values.

I would put the fight for civil rights and that against apartheid in the latter category.

Antisemitism, of course, falls into both categories. Statements or acts of hatred against any group are a matter of deep concern because they can, of course, threaten not only a university’s mission—they can threaten the freedom of all people. And, thus, there is a moral imperative for a university—or any group or individual—to take a stand in opposition.

Unusually, Indiana University has had to take stands based on these principles twice in recent months.

Opposing HJR6/3

Last October, Indiana University was the first public university in the state to oppose the attempts to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. We were criticized for this in some quarters.

But clearly this stand met both principles.

It met the first because our Board of Trustees has long supported and enacted policies of non-discrimination; policies that create and foster a culture that values diversity, inclusion, and welcome acceptance of people with different backgrounds and beliefs. It is precisely the multiplication of perspectives, information, and worldviews, as well as the willingness to subject them to rigorous scrutiny, to debate them, and to defend them, that helps us to understand ourselves and our beliefs, our assumptions, and our knowledge more deeply and more thoroughly.

And it met the second because it threatened to impact our ability to recruit and retain the best talent in the world—just because of their sexual orientation. Not only did it create an unwelcoming environment, it also called into question the benefits that we provide to our current faculty and employees under the domestic partner plan that the IU Trustees approved over a decade ago, and that our peers and competing universities would continue to be free to offer. This, of course, was a concern shared by much of the business sector in Indiana, and I have nothing but admiration for the stand that Lilly, Cummins, and other great Indiana companies and other members of the Freedom Indiana Coalition took.

Standing with Israeli Universities

Last December, IU took a stand on another contentious issue when we withdrew our institutional membership in the American Studies Association, and condemned, in the strongest possible terms, the boycott of Israeli universities as proposed by this and other organizations. Our stand was clearly justified by the first principle.

As I said at the time, such boycotts have a profound chilling effect on academic freedom, and universities must be absolutely clear and unequivocal in rejecting them. IU values its many academic relationships with colleagues and institutions around the world, and we cannot allow political considerations such as those behind this ill-conceived boycott to weaken those relationships or undermine the cardinal principle of academic freedom.

One of the first international trips I made as president of Indiana University was to Israel and the West Bank in 2008 as part of a delegation of American university presidents which had the aim of exploring closer academic and research ties between the two nations. I had the privilege to witness firsthand in Israel a vibrant, thriving—and contentious—democracy, and a nation with truly superb universities.

And I was gratified that our stand was appreciated by these very universities. Earlier this month, at the dinner of the conference on deciphering the new antisemitism held by IU’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, I was presented with a letter from the president of the Association of University Heads, representing Israel’s top research universities, expressing thanks for IU’s stance on the boycott. They noted that there “is no doubt that boycotting academia does a disservice not only to those boycotted, but it mainly harms our collective mission to advance the boundaries of knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.”4

IU, in fact, has very strong ties to the Israeli academic community, including flourishing student exchange programs with several institutions, including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A number of our faculty hold dual Israeli and American citizenship, and many more have strong research ties with colleagues in Israel. And each year, we welcome numerous Israeli students, scholars, lecturers, diplomats, and artists to IU. All of these programs and partnerships would have been threatened by the proposed boycott.

Here, again, the university’s mission was in jeopardy of being adversely affected. But our stand here was also justified on the second principle—there was also a moral imperative to act. One has to question in the strongest possible terms why it is always Israel that is separated out for such treatment. There appears to be a clear double standard.

Those who so vociferously denounce Israel seem unwilling to denounce North Korea, even in light of the recent devastating report on that country’s crimes against humanity by a UN commission led by my friend and fellow Australian Michael Kirby.

Those who denounce Israel seem unwilling to denounce the unspeakable atrocities committed against women and girls around the world, which include trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and legitimized murder on a massive, almost industrial, scale.

And more generally, all too often, the increasing outbreaks of antisemitism worldwide are met with silence. It is tragic that sometimes it seems nothing is learnt from history, in the face of this increase in such incidents.

The Practice of Our Espoused Values: Addressing Hate and Extremism

The antidote, in part, is to do what Churchill recommended—“study history.”5 At IU, the study of this somber subject is led by IU’s outstanding Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, which is part of IU’s new School of Global and International Studies, a school, incidentally, which is one of the most important academic initiatives IU has ever undertaken. The Institute is one of only two such programs at universities in the U.S.—the other is at Yale. IU’s institute is led by Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, the founder and former long-time director of our renowned Borns Jewish Studies Program.  The work of the Institute reminds us that we cannot afford to ignore the lessons drawn from the serious and informed study of present-day antisemitism and its deep connections with centuries-old traditions of suspicion and hatred.

I should also note that Professor Rosenfeld will be working—at my request—with officials in Israel to have the name of the 34th Governor of Indiana, Paul McNutt, considered for addition to the list of the "Righteous Among the Nations" at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, which Laurie and I had the privilege of visiting when we were in Israel in 2008. McNutt was, of course, an IU alumnus, a member of the IU faculty, and dean of what is now the Maurer School of Law before becoming governor. Many people are unaware that, during the time he served as high commissioner to the Philippines, just prior to the outbreak of World War II, he helped thousands of Jewish refugees enter the Philippines to escape fascist regimes in Europe. At that time, refugees could not enter the United States in large numbers, and McNutt’s courageous efforts saved many, many lives. We hope it will be possible to honor Governor McNutt in such a fitting and meaningful way.


In the 12th century, Europe was slowly and painstakingly dragging itself out of over half a millennium of darkness. There were, though, increasing beacons of light in this gloom. Resplendent among these was the great center of translation at Toledo, founded by Archbishop Raymond of Toledo in 1126, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims worked together, shoulder to shoulder, recovering the towering lost works of Aristotle and his commentators, and hundreds of other masterworks of antiquity—the “ancestral heritage of posterity”6 as Petrarch called it, and translating them from Greek, Arabic and Hebrew into Latin and the vernaculars of the day. As such, this flood of new knowledge sparked the Renaissance and brighter times.

This period at Toledo has become a byword for tolerance—and for those of us in universities it can be our loadstone—peoples of all races, beliefs, and creeds working together with great commitment and seriousness of purpose, but in harmony and with tolerance towards an understanding of things both common and eternal.

So once again, I am honored to accept this award, and in doing so, I accept it on behalf of all my senior colleagues at Indiana University—vice presidents, chancellors, and deans—and all IU Trustees, past and present, who have consistently stood, when it mattered, for the values and principles I have described tonight. These are, in turn, values and principles we share with the ADL and, I am sure, with all of you. Let me express my most grateful thanks once again to the ADL, and to all of you for being here tonight.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, 1677, iv. Pr 18, Note.
  2. Harry Kalven (principal author), Kalven Committee: Report on the University's Role in Political and Social Action, The University of Chicago, 1967.
  3. Moses Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim: The Guide for the Perplexed, 2:15
  4. Menahem Ben-Sasson, personal correspondence with the Office of the President, March 30, 2014.
  5. Winston Churchill, May 27, 1953, as quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Never Despair, vol. 8, (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), 835.
  6. Francesco Petrarca, Rerum Memorandarum Libri, i., 2, as corrected by Pierre de Nolhac: Pétrarque et l’Humanisme, (H. Champion, 1892), 268.