Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rutgers Gets Wise - Promises to Think Twice in the Future

Rutgers, the New Jersey State University, created an uproar when it suspended its study abroad program in Israel because of Israel's incursion into Gaza. Read the Star-Ledger report.

Following a meeting with leaders of the New Jersey Jewish community, Rutgers has not done an about face, but admitted a mistake was made.

Quoted in the New Jersey Jewish News, Barry Qualls, vice president of undergraduate education at Rutgers said,

“Our suspension of the program this semester was never meant to suggest that being in Israel in general was unsafe. Our only concern was the safety of our students, and we proceeded using the best information we had, which included State Department and third-party advisories and reports from members of our faculty who were in Israel.

“We are taking steps to ensure that in any future discussions of this issue, we talk to parents and students and community leaders.”

As the father of a victim of terror, I am inclined to challenge unilateral decisions made by universities in the name of student safety. I wrote to Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick. the text of my letter follows:

"I am a West Orange resident and founder of the Alisa Flatow Memorial Scholarship Fund that was established in 1995 following Alisa's murder by Palestinian terrorists while she was on a six-month leave of absence from Brandeis University. I am writing to express my concern over the university's decision to cancel its study abroad program in Israel because Rutgers University believes "the safety of our students cannot be reasonably assured" due to the conflict in Gaza and missiles from Lebanon.

First, your students' safety can be "reasonably assured" by following simple, common sense rules pertaining to travel, e.g. by avoiding entry into Gaza. Indeed, I fret for your students in Newark, downtown New Brunswick, and Camden who might wander off streets in student populated areas that are well patrolled by Rutgers security. In other words, simply living in today's world is not without risk and challenge. Growth comes about by exploring the world.

Second, your students are being deprived of living in a community that shares its homes and lifestyle with tourists and students of all nationalities, religions and ethnicity.

Third, your students are being deprived of the opportunity to rub shoulders with students of different backgrounds and thereby gain a worldview not available to them on any of the Rutgers University campuses.

Fourth, Israel, being the home of the world's three major faiths, imparts something intangible as your students will not only return as better Jews, Christians or Moslems but as better people. Study in Israel is an experience of a lifetime and I do not regret my decision to allow Alisa and her four siblings to study and travel in Israel.

Finally, the decision to attend an overseas program in Israel or elsewhere should be that of the student and his or her family. They, not the university, should be the final arbiters of the safety and security of any location chosen for study.

I hope you will reverse the university's decision."

I did receive a response from Dr. McCormick. He writes "Rutgers is responsible first and foremost for the safety of students in our programs." He goes on to say "[I]n the future, if our crisis group thinks the situation in any country is too dangerous to allow Rutgers to send students there, we will consult with the students and families involved."

A perfect resolution, no, but what's perfect in our world?

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