Campus Watch Research
Political Bias at Central Connecticut State University
by Jonathan Calt Harris
Central Connecticut State University, situated in New Britain and making up one part of a four-campus state university system, has a pattern of acute political bias when it comes to the Middle East.
CCSU offers neither a prominent scholar in Middle East studies nor an established program in this field. Rather, it makes its mark through teach-ins and conferences; events run more like political rallies than scholarly inquiries. Then, far from doing anything to stem these tendencies, documents made available to Campus Watch reveal an administrative pattern – that goes all the way to the top of the university system administration – of ignoring this bias, concealing it, and rewarding it.
Ignoring Bias. On November 8, 2000, CCSU faculty members Ghassan El-Eid and Norton Mezvinsky, plus Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiya, and Stephen Fuchs, a local rabbi invited at the last minute, held a "teach-in" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict co-sponsored by the college's Center for International Education.[i] Some faculty cancelled classes and required their students to attend the event, with the result, notes Barry Gordon of the media watch group Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting (PRIMER), that "a captive audience was subjected to seventy minutes of anti-Israel rhetoric, and then ten minutes of the pro-Israel perspective."[ii] The central theme of the event was to compare Israel with Nazism and apartheid.
(The full PRIMER report is available at Campus Watch at www.campus-watch.org/survey/id/43.)
Who were the speakers?
• Ghassan El-Eid teaches political science and blames Israel for the rise of Al-Qaeda: "With all the bloodshed and violence carried out against Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza," he stated soon after 9/11, "many people in the Middle East are attracted to bin Laden's message of revenge and retaliation against Israel, America, and the West."[iii]
• Norton Mezvinsky is a professor of history and well published as an anti-Zionist.[iv] He lionizes Elmer Berger, an agitator who denied the existence of a Jewish people, and co-edited a collection of articles in 1989 titled Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections.[v]
• Mazin Qumsiya is national media director and a founder of "Al-Awda," the Palestinian Right of Return Coalition. The Al-Awda website is rife with anti-Israel propaganda including numerous references to "Zionist Apartheid," and "Israeli Colonization."[vi]
• Stephen Fuchs of Hartford's Beth Israel Synagogue provided the only pro-Israel perspective. "I was happy to do it," said Fuchs. "If I hadn't been there, the students would never have even heard the Israeli perspective."[vii]
No CCSU official admits that the event was anti-Israel or even unfortunate. No CCSU official admits there was anything strange about a university endorsing a political rally or faculty activists requiring students to attend political events. Pearl Bartelt, CCSU Vice President of Academic Affairs, attended the teach-in and was approached by PRIMER afterwards about its biased nature. PRIMER suggested that CCSU might make efforts to sponsor more balanced events in the future. Bartelt responded that CCSU could not "require balance" at events and insisted that "faculty members have a right to cancel classes and assign students" to relevant events.[viii] When CCSU President Richard Judd was informed of the teach-in's bias, he likewise refused to institute guidelines for future events, saying merely that academic freedom is the "university's soul."[ix] Mezvinsky denied that the event was anti-Israel and threatened to sue PRIMER for its portrayal of his activism on campus.[x]
Concealing Bias. In mid-2002, CCSU spent a $24,832 federal grant to sponsor a week-long teaching institute on the Middle East for Connecticut middle and high school teachers.[xi] Mezvinsky and El-Eid again figured prominently in the faculty line-up, with the addition of Ali Antar, an imam who oversees the CCSU Middle East studies program.
In reaction to pre-event criticism of bias, the CCSU faculty closed the federally funded institute to the media, kept the syllabus of the course secret, and prohibited participants from recording the proceedings. Participants, however, were quite open about what had taken place. "It should have been named propaganda 101,"[xii] said one teacher who took part in the institute.[xiii] Another participant called the institute "anti-intellectual" and "unbalanced."[xiv]
According to teachers' reports, Mezvinsky informed the class that "the well-armed and well-funded Israelis," fought the Palestinians in 1948, but did not mention that armies of five Arab countries first invaded the U.N.-sanctioned Jewish state. He blamed only Israel for the Palestinian refugee problem and never mentioned the estimated 800,000 Jewish refugees simultaneously expelled from Arab lands. Mezvinsky accused Israel of granting minimal rights to non-Jews, despite the fact that Arab citizens of Israel vote, sit in parliament, and have greater political and religious freedoms than do other Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East.[xv] "One of the things that Mezvinsky said over and over again is that Israel is a terrorist state," one participant recalls.[xvi]
In all, says Ronald Kiener, head of Jewish Studies at Trinity College, the event amounted to, "a disastrously one-sided program."[xvii] Catherine Fischer Schwartz, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in Hartford, found it especially perturbing that those taking the course would be educating children. "We feel that it is important that middle and high school teachers receive a balanced presentation of the issues, and we're not convinced these faculty will be able to accomplish that."
As the event used federal funds, Congresswoman Nancy Johnson weighed in, saying that, "Intellectual honesty requires that there be a presentation of both sides." Outgoing Congressman James Maloney stated that, "Federally funded courses such as this should not be used to advance any individual agenda or political perspective."[xviii] The State of Connecticut agreed. "Balance is an innate responsibility of any faculty member or instructor," said Constance Frasier, director of communications for the Board of Governors and the Connecticut Department of Higher Education.
CCSU's reaction was as it had been in 2000. "We as a university do not set up a criterion of balance," said Vice President Bartelt. "We never tell a faculty member who to have on a program."[xix]
So great was the public outcry over Mezvinsky's lecture, however, CCSU momentarily awoke. The event's organizer, Richard Benfield was quoted in the New Briton Herald calling Mezvinsky's lecture "more inflammatory than informational."[xx] President Judd scolded Mezvinsky. "From what I have been advised," wrote Judd, "you breeched [sic] the tenets of what I asked the faculty in this program to do."[xxi]
Then, quickly, CCSU clammed up again. Benfield retreated from his earlier statements and Judd refused to comment on Mezvinsky lecture, saying only that it was "their prerogative" for professors to make unannounced changes.[xxii] William Cibes, chancellor of the four-campus CSU system, responded with the same evasiveness, citing "academic freedom."[xxiii]
Rewarding Bias. In December of 2002, Norton Mezvinsky was rewarded for his extremism by being named a "CSU Professor," an honor "reserved for faculty members who fulfill the highest ideals of outstanding teaching, scholarly achievement and public service."[xxiv] An associate professor of history at CCSU, Katherine Hermes, declared Mezvinsky "everything that a CSU professor stands for."[xxv]
Even apart from the record noted above, this honor is puzzling. Mezvinsky's 1999 book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, co-authored with the late Israel Shahak, offers his interpretation of religious groups in Israel; it is noteworthy primarily for its erroneous depictions of Judaism. Mezvinsky declares that "For religious Jews, the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value; for Likud, it has limited value."[xxvi] He asserts that under Jewish law, "the killing by the Jew of a non-Jew under any circumstances is not regarded as murder."[xxvii] He inaccurately puts forth fringe views as representative of the Israeli polity, for instance citing rabbi Yitzak Ginsburgh, a radical theocratist who lauded Baruch Goldstein and wrote "Jews killing non-Jews does not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion and the killing of innocent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue." Mezvinsky falsely protrays this as a widespread Israeli opinion.[xxviii]
(Mezvinsky claims the quotations are out of context. I made several attempts for him to respond to the above quotations, but he made untenable demands to have his comments presented unedited and unabridged that I could not accept.)
Diana Muir, a frequent reviewer for the Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor, finds that Mezvinsky's book frequently substitutes his bias for knowledge. "Beyond the malicious absurdity of its premise," wrote Muir, "Mezvinsky's work is riddled with undocumented slurs and falsehoods presented as fact."[xxix]
Academic Freedom? Central Connecticut State University knowingly has sponsored misleading scholarship and politicized ideology at taxpayer expense – and not just with Connecticut taxpayers' monies, but using federal funds as well.
CCSU's overarching defense has been to cite academic freedom as an unimpeachable tenet. Chancellor Cibes states that academic freedom does not permits him or the board "to require an equal balance of opposing views, but to simply encourage the presentation of a diversity of views."[xxx] President Judd also stated he could "encourage" but not "demand" a balanced presentation.[xxxi]
But these replies ignore the problems in CCSU events on the Middle East. Nobody asked for "requirements" or "demands." The real issue is the active prevention of diverse views by CCSU on the subject of Israel. The pattern of bias at CCSU reflects an administration's tacit decision to ignore this extremism and stonewall the public.
Central Connecticut State University clearly can organize more balanced events, if it can find the will to do so. Indeed, on February 10, 2004, CCSU hosted a one-on-one debate on Zionism between Mezvinsky and Fuchs, which Fuchs says was "quite fairly moderated, and possibly a good sign from CCSU."[xxxii]
University alumni, students and the taxpaying public should take note: celebrating politicized scholarship and extremism is not what academic freedom is all about; it is not what a university administration is tasked to defend, and it is certainly not what citizens should be paying for.
Jonathan Calt Harris is managing editor of Campus Watch.
[i] Laibson, Sidney. Letter to Ms. Pearl Bartelt, Vice President of Academic Affairs, CCSU. January 22, 2001.
[ii] Gordon, Barry. Letter to CCSU. 19 Jan. 2001.
[iii] "Attack on America: Causes, Actions Debated on Campus." CCSU Courier, October, 2001.
[iv] Sheldon L. Richman, Review, "Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections." Roselle Tekiner, Samir Abed-Rabbo, and Norton Mezvinsky, eds.. Amana Books, Brattleboro, VT, 1988. Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, June, 1989.
[v] Norton Mezvinsky, "In Memoriam: Rabbi Elmer Berger, 1908-1996," Washington Report on Middle Eqstern Affairs, November/December 1996, page 25; "Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections," Roselle Tekiner, Samir Abed-Rabbo, Norton Mezvinsky, eds. 1989. Amana Books, Brattleboro, VT, 1988.
[vii] Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, phone interview, February 26, 2004.
[viii] Bartelt, Pearl, Letter to PRIMER, February 28, 2001.
[ix] Judd, Richard, President, CCSU. Letter to Sidney Laibson, President, PRIMER. 1 May 2001.
[x] Mezvinsky, Norton. Letter to Barry Gordon, director of PRIMER, May 15, 2001.
[xi] Schupack, Adam N. "Update on CCSU Institute" Jewish Ledger, July 24, 2002.
[xii] Schupack, Adam N. "CCSU Middle East institute lacked balance, participants say." Jewish Ledger, August 7, 2002.
[xiii] Fillo, Maryellen, "Mideast Course Gets Mixed Reviews" Hartford Courant, August 3, 2002.
[xiv] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU Middle East institute lacked balance, participants say." Jewish Ledger, August 7, 2002.
[xv] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU Middle East institute lacked balance, participants say." Jewish Ledger, August 7, 2002. Kadish, Joan. Letter to Sidney Laibson, President, PRIMER. 23 May 2003.
[xvi] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU Middle East institute lacked balance, participants say." Jewish Ledger, August 7, 2002.
[xvii] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU, Tunix Institute Lack Balance, Jewish Leaders Say" Jewish Ledger June 26, 2002.
[xviii] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU, Tunix Institute Lack Balance, Jewish Leaders Say" Jewish Ledger June 26, 2002.
[xix] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU, Tunix Institute Lack Balance, Jewish Leaders Say" Jewish Ledger June 26, 2002.
[xx] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU Middle East institute lacked balance, participants say." Jewish Ledger, August 7, 2002.
[xxi] Schupak, Adam N. "CCSU Middle East institute lacked balance, participants say." Jewish Ledger, August 7, 2002.
[xxii] Fillo, Maryellen, "Police Guard CCSU Class" Hartford Courant, July 30, 2002. Schupack, Adam N., "CCSU Institute: Police Protection but No Media" Jewish Ledger, August 7, 2002.
[xxiii] Cibes, Jr., William J., Chancellor, CCSU. Letter to Sidney Laibson, President, PRIMER. 1 July 2003.
[xxiv] Connecticut State University Board of Trustees appoints CCSU's Dr. Norton Mezvinsky as CSU Professor, Press Release, December 13, 2002.
[xxv] CCSU Press release, December 13, 2002,
[xxvi] Mezvinsky, Norton, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, Pluto Press, 1999. p. 11.
[xxvii] Mezvinsky, Norton, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, Pluto Press, 1999. p. 99-100.
[xxviii] Mezvinsky, Norton, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, Pluto Press, 1999. p. 43.
[xxix] Diana Muir, Connecticut Jewish Ledger, November 11-17, 2002.
[xxx] Cibes, Jr., William J., Chancellor, CCSU. Letter to Sidney Laibson, President, PRIMER. 1 July 2003.
[xxxi] Judd, Richard, President, CCSU. Letter to Sidney Laibson, President, PRIMER. 1 May 2001.
[xxxii] Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, phone interview, February 26, 2004.
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