Hamas’s brutal attacks on October 7 were the spark that lit up college campuses, but the powder keg already in place can best be understood from a lawsuit filed nearly two years earlier. That suit has now been resolved, and it provides an important lens through which to see the long-brewing anti-Semitism crisis in American higher education.

The story ended on Tuesday with the vindication of a Jewish professor who lost her job due to anti-Jewish bias. But it began back in 2005.

As was noted by the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented Melissa Landa in her battle against discrimination, Landa became a graduate assistant at the University of Maryland in ’05 and was hired two years later for a full-time teaching position in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. After an award-and-accolade-filled eight years there, she formed a group to speak out against anti-Semitism at her alma mater, Oberlin College. Then she took an affiliate professorship at the University of Haifa in defiance of the growing BDS movement on campus.

Her employers at the University of Maryland made their discomfort with her pro-Jewish affiliations clear, and started freezing Landa out of the department. When she objected, she was let go. Landa filed a religious-discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and determined that Landa had provided enough evidence to sue.

Maryland declined to settle, and ACLJ filed suit on behalf of Landa in 2022. Maryland’s attempts to have the case dismissed failed, and the school has now agreed to pay Landa damages and attorney fees.

Stories like this matter for the obvious reasons—religious discrimination is vile and illegal. But they also help clarify the chicken-or-egg coverage of campus anti-Semitism, which treats it as a phenomenon that began with the current conflict and therefore may simply end when the conflict ends.

Stories like Landa’s also put the focus where it should be: on the schools and their administrators, and the atmosphere on university campuses dating back decades.

On Monday, Gallup released its latest polling on higher education and public opinion. The results aren’t surprising: “Americans are now nearly equally divided among those who have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence (36%), some confidence (32%), or little or no confidence (32%) in higher education. When Gallup first measured confidence in higher education in 2015, 57% had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence and 10% had little or none.”

There’s a temptation to explain these results by saying that supporters of the pro-Hamas encampments and critics of those protests both disapprove of the way the schools handled them, just in diametrically opposed ways. But that would give the protests too much credit. When Gallup asked respondents why they aren’t confident in American higher education, “political unrest” (at 7 percent) and “free speech concerns” (at 3 percent) ranked low on the list. “Political agendas” and “wrong focus/don’t teach right things” (at 41 percent and 37 percent, respectively) ate the lion’s share of the pie.

These categories are malleable, it’s true. But Americans’ concerns with their universities are far broader than whatever is driving the headlines at the moment. They just think the schools have turned themselves into political, rather than educational, institutions. As a result, they are churning out graduates who are more militant and less informed than previous generations.

And if the schools aren’t going to shape the character of the future leaders of this country, their employers may fill the void. The New York Times reports that a prominent Wall Street law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, has decided to scan applicants’ social media for signs of their participation in pro-Hamas encampments. This should be unremarkable: some of the demonstrators’ behavior was illegal, and a law firm should want to know if a potential hire has a proclivity to engage in criminal activity. If you have been at these protest encampments and apply for a job at Sullivan & Cromwell, your recruiters might ask you to explain yourself during an interview, but it is not automatically disqualifying.

The media may buy into the ridiculous fiction that these encampments—some of which featured training sessions with manuals published by designated terrorist groups and explicit support for individuals on that list—were mainly to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza. But those in the private sector are under no obligation to live according to some teenager’s deranged self-mythology.

Per the Times: “On the list of unacceptable slogans and statements… is one that has been seen or heard at virtually all pro-Palestinian rallies: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’” Sullivan’s policy, the paper complains, is unusual in that it “considers commonly used protest slogans to be out of bounds.”

It seems absurd to have to say this, but: the fact that a genocidal slogan “has been seen or heard at virtually all pro-Palestinian rallies” isn’t a defense of the slogan, it’s the problem with these demonstrations.

Elite institutions are graduating students who gleefully participate in mob demonstrations chanting for the mass murder of Jews. Sullivan & Cromwell is trying to send a message not to the students but to the professors and administrators: What are you lunatics doing to the young people put in your care? The lesson of Melissa Landa is that well before these particular protests, the schools were purging faculty who didn’t lock their Jewishness in the glove compartment before going into work each day. The lesson of Sullivan & Cromwell’s plea for sanity is that the world has noticed. And the lesson of the Gallup poll is that very few people much like what they see.

Photo: Courtesy of Oberlin University

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