As we all have been focused on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has upended our lives, I wish everyone in our community good health and safety. Also, I want to ask for your attention on another very important matter, which is anti-Semitism and groups such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
I have listened to several conversations over the last few weeks that have highlighted concerns from the Jewish community in Pittsburgh regarding Point Park University, anti-Semitism and the BDS movement.
As the president of Point Park University, I want to assure the Jewish community that at every level of the university and across the university campus it is understood that any form of discrimination or hatred is not tolerated. All forms of anti-Semitism, which includes support for the BDS movement, generally defined as Palestinian-led campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel, has no place at Point Park University.
Recently, I was able to have meaningful discussions and an exchange of ideas with Jeff Finkelstein and Josh Sayles from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Jim Busis, CEO and publisher of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, as well as other prominent members of the Jewish community. Point Park is continuing these outreach efforts with representatives of the local and national Jewish community, as well as with Chabad and Hillel Jewish University Center in Pittsburgh.
In discussions with Jeff and Josh, I understand that my decision to postpone Point Park’s production of the important work “Parade” needs to be more publicly addressed. As many of your readers know, “Parade” is the award-winning musical about the trials and lynching of a wrongly accused Jewish man, Leo Frank, in Georgia in 1915. It was to be directed by Tony- and Emmy-winning director choreographer Rob Ashford.
I made the difficult decision to postpone “Parade” because, in my judgment, proper educational and university community resources were not in place to support this important piece of work. In no way did I intend to signal to the community that the production was canceled or that the Jewish story could not be told at Point Park. Point Park is fully committed to presenting “Parade” and fully supports its importance to social awareness and societal change. This experience has provided us a broader opportunity to take a holistic approach at how each conservatory program can be a teachable moment and opportunity for engagement and understanding around social and civic issues expressed through art.
In a similar vein, it has come to our attention that some members of the Jewish community are aware that Dr. Channa Newman — a professor of French and cultural studies and chair of the department of humanities and social sciences — recently filed a lawsuit against Point Park in which it is claimed, among other allegations, that she has been discriminated against and harassed as a result of her age, national origin, race, religion, and sex. Dr. Newman also claims that she has been retaliated against. Because the matter is now in litigation and out of respect for Dr. Newman’s continuing relationship with the university, Point Park must limit any public comment.
This being stated, the University disagrees with the allegations of unlawful conduct raised by Dr. Newman and her attorneys — including their description of how the university and some of its faculty treated Dr. Newman and responded to her concerns. In the administration of its educational programs, activities and employment practices, Point Park is firmly committed to the concept and practice of equal employment opportunity and the pursuit of diversity. As part of this commitment, the university embraces, supports and actively pursues a policy of inclusiveness that recognizes, values and reflects the diversity of the community it serves and the world in which we live.
Going forward, Point Park intends to defend itself against Dr. Newman’s claims. At the same time, she remains, as mentioned, a member of the Point Park community who will be afforded the respect and dignity afforded to all students, faculty, and staff.
In times of crisis, particularly in the aftermath of the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre at the Tree of Life synagogues, Point Park University joined with the Jewish community, WQED and others to foster a dialogue of sensitivity and understanding. It is Point Park University’s continued mission to shine light on challenges, bring understanding to the table and open doors for all. PJC
Paul Hennigan is president of Point Park University.