In the wake of anti-Semitic incidents on campus and the fallout from the dismissal of College of Education professor Melissa Landa, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh recently met with members of the Jewish community to discuss mutual concerns.
The meeting on Oct. 10 also touched on the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement against Israel, according to Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
“[Loh] was completely receptive to what we were saying and is dedicated to not only maintaining vibrant Jewish life on campus, but also to addressing bias and stereotypes,” Franklin Siegel said. “We were successful in getting across the message that we care very much about Professor Landa’s case and because she’s a fellow Jew who made very serious allegations about anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias, it’s our responsibility to give voice to those concerns. I think the university understands that her case is important to us.”
In a Title IX complaint filed in June, Landa claimed that her contract was not renewed by the College of Education because of her pro-Israel politics. Her allegations are being investigated by the university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct.
Also at the meeting were Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC; Jewish Federation of Greater Washington CEO Gil Pruess; and Maryland Hillel Executive Director Ari Israel. Neither Landa nor her lawyer were invited to the meeting.
“President Loh reiterated his commitment to supporting the university’s vibrant and large Jewish community and the numerous academic and cultural programs in partnership with Israeli universities and other institutions,” university spokeswoman Jessica Jennings said in a prepared statement.
Franklin Siegel and Israel said that, for the most part, the university is an inviting place for Jews.
“Dr. Loh and his administration are extremely supportive and welcoming and engaging with the Jewish community,” Israel said. “We have one of the largest Jewish communities in the country. Jews are very welcome and involved in all levels of student government and student life.”
Both said that Loh was taking Landa’s allegations against the College of Education seriously. Ari Wilkenfeld, Landa’s attorney, told WJW that the university appears to be undertaking a rigorous and unbiased investigation into her claims.
“I support Dr. Landa and I also support the university’s investigative process,” Israel said.
Franklin Siegel said that much of the meeting was spent discussing a rise in visible anti-Semitism nationwide, ranging from neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville, Va., to a swastika found spray painted on a campus trash bin on Sept. 27. On Oct. 5, 52-year-old Ronald Alford Sr., a former university employee, was served a summons for malicious destruction of property stemming from the incident.
“We talked about the factors that have led to an uptick in the use of Nazi iconography and inflammatory language that’s part of a larger trend that we’re seeing,” Franklin Siegel said. “And how universities can help students and faculty to more deeply understand the insidious impact of those kinds of images and languages. [Loh] has given a tremendous amount of thought to these issues because Maryland, of late, has been dealing with a lot of race-related issues.”