Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut) saved me from a poor education in Fall River.

There were a few very good teachers at the public high school, but most were forgettable.

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That should be no surprise in a town where the average adult had only eight years of schooling, and 30 percent of the kids dropped out before finishing high school.

And like other American high schools, sports got more attention than academics.

I appreciated the scholarship, even while I was aware of polite hostility to Jews. 

We had to get through an admissions process that limited us to 10 percent of the class, and several fraternities were for Christians only.

The teaching was good, but not uniformly so. There were bright and motivated students, most of them better prepared than me, who complemented the stimuli received in class.

From there I went to a large state university (Wisconsin), where I later spent more than a decade on the faculty. As both student and teacher, I came to feel that the academics were better at Wisconsin than at Wesleyan.

I've continued to tilt toward large public universities over small high prestige colleges, with most of my career at the Hebrew University, and visiting positions at other universities in the US and elsewhere.

Both Wesleyan and Wisconsin are among the most prestigious places in their categories. Yet the cost of obtaining a BA at Wesleyan, along with other private colleges and universities, has risen to heights not justified by any claim of being worth it. A year's tuition and fees at Wesleyan is $52,000. The comparable figure at Wisconsin for a state resident is $10,500. At other state universities it ranges between $5,000 and $16,000.

The shekel equivalent of $3,000 at Israeli universities, and the $0 charged by public institutions in some European countries, are bargains by comparison.

I pass through most days without thinking about Wesleyan, but it's impossible to get through more than a couple of months without a reminder about alumni responsibility to help with finances.

What prompts this note is a survey designed to assess alumni attitudes. And in response to an indication that I no longer contribute to the university, I was asked for an explanation.

For several decades I sent modest donations, and probably paid back the cost of scholarships received when tuition was $600-$800 per year.

The quotas employed by Wesleyan and many other institutions against Jews disappeared a decade or so after I graduated. One report showed the incidence of Jews in entering classes going from 10 percent to 30 percent when selection became based more entirely on academic potential.

Diversity became important. Wesleyan opened its doors to women, and has recruited minorities who would otherwise have trouble in admissions or classrooms.

Some of the students and teachers have long been tilted to the left. At some point, it titled so far that Israel became a problem for them.

Then Wesleyan became a problem for me.

A professor with a Jewish-sounding name signed a petition claiming that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is "one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times."

That prompted an exchange of letters with the University President, whose identity as a Jew signals a dramatic change from my student days. Michael Roth shared with me an op-ed he had written that indicated his opposition to boycotts directed against Israel, but also, "As a Jew, I have argued against the policies of the current Israeli government, many of which I find abhorrent."

More abhorrent than the practices of Roth's own national government? Or with more deplorable social conditions that can be found in Connecticut?

Such questions remain hanging, seemingly beyond the tolerance of Wesleyan personnel for my pesky notes.

That support for BDS at Wesleyan, as at other campuses, expands from antipathy to Israel to a general antipathy to Jews, is apparent from a Jewish organization on campus. It has appealed for support not only on account of its religious services and provision of Yiddishkeit, but on account of being a refuge for Jewish students feeling a mood of hostility.

I've tried to convince Wesleyan personnel that singling out Israel for condemnation renders BDS a form of anti-Semitism. In response, I hear about academic freedom. But I'm left to wonder if a faculty member expressing overt racism while teaching about African Americans would be allowed to continue on campus.

Singling out Israel appears to be an equivalent form of racism, especially as its democratic openness to dispute and diversity remains as great as those of any democracy.

For that, I'll rely on several decades with Israeli universities, the IDF, government, and media, as well as friendships across the political spectrum.

Wesleyan students concerned about injustice or social problems might focus on issues a lot closer to home that they are more likely to understand.

Previous notes critical of my roots have brought forth demands that I surrender my US citizenship.

Alas, I'll stand by the accuracy of what I write, proud in the freedoms associated with both of my nationalities. One has a tradition of open dispute going back more than 2,500 years. And the other has the First Amendment, protecting us against those who would abridge the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Comments welcome

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
irashark@gmail.com
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