On Being a Jew – Parashat Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

“Our Bodies are the Instruments through which our Souls Play their Music.”

Albert Einstein

By-the-by, something entirely irrelevant to this blog but critically important: Taiwan reached a milestone – 200 days without recording a single locally transmitted coronavirus infection.

There are four ways to organize the polities in the world. One option – globalism –seeks a world government that can impose its will on individual nation-states that deviate from what is accepted as a universal norm. The second option entails multilateralism, the world managed by agreements between and among nation states to establish and strengthen order across the world. These two options are taken as given; that is, without either one or the other, there can be no order in the world, only chaos. One or the other is the sine qua non of a peaceful world.

There are two other ways that challenge or, at the very least, deviate from this claim to install and perpetuate a world order. They are particularist rather than universal options. One is nationalism that gives primacy to the family and to community values, and not identity politics or any claim that those values are inherently universal or even superior. They can become universal when offered in the form of witnessing and other nations choose to follow them. A fourth unseemly option is particularist as well, but it is also unilateralist. It entails choosing one’s own nation as destined to rule, not only over one’s own citizens, but to dominate other nations.

The four options then are:                  Illustrative Tales

Universalist

Globalism                                         The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)

Multilateralism                                  Abraham as a father of many nations

Particularist

Nationalism                                       Sarah as the mother of the Jewish nation

Unilateral Imperialism                       The story of Ishmael      

I begin with the Tower of Babel tale and the underlying concept of globalism in a tale purportedly explaining the origin of different languages and the spread of humanity around the globe. However, more interesting is what is replaced and why. What was wrong with a monolithic and linguistically uniform global system in which everyone speaks the same language? What was wrong with “the whole earth…of one language and of one speech?” Its second major feature is that a common language was the means to storm the gates of heaven with a mighty city with “its top in the heavens.”

Why were humans so widely scattered across the earth and why do they speak so many and such different languages? Does that mean that the sin of the Babylonians was to try to rise above their allotted station in the order of the universe? Or was it because of human pride in a building erected to honour a false god – such as Marduk? Or was it really because humans expanded their imperialist goals and envisioned conquering the realm of the gods?

In the Torah, we are not told what sin was committed. But since Abraham and Sarah become migrants, it may be a statement against cultural stasis even more than uniformity. It may be a statement in favour of horizontal mobility in contrast to vertical mobility of a sedentary society where the desire is to get higher on the ladder and become an overlord of those beneath you. Instead of human concentration, the Torah lauded dispersion. I believe it is a story that celebrates pluralism and opposes uniformity. For with absolute unity, humans behave like aspiring gods with their eyes upwards to the heavens instead of stressing their responsibility for making the earth fertile and bountiful.  

Alternatively, the story may offer a rationalization for violence and war. For in building the tower, humans were engaged in a cooperative community endeavour. Just as God at the beginning of Genesis set up enmity in men between their mindhearts and their bodies, between Adam’s mind and his flesh, between his brain and his penis, now God sews the seeds of enmity among nations of men. However, no matter the costs, struggle between and among nations is superior to a unitary given order.

What follows, ten generations after the flood, is a paeon to multilateralism, to pluralism, to nationalism, for Abram becomes Abraham, “a father of many nations.” His name in Hebrew means “father of a multitude.” He is commanded or driven to leave his native land and found a new nation. He is NOT the father of all nations. From being exalted as a father (Abram means “to be exalted”), he becomes a devotee of his offspring. His children do not worship him as a god. Instead, he lives for his children. It is a total inversion of the customary order.

Was Abram, like Noah, obedient to God, willing to do whatever God ordered, including sacrificing his son? Trust in is not the same as blind obedience. Look at the relationship between Abraham and his father. Terah takes Abram and his wife, Sarai, his brother, Haran and the latter’s son, Lot, away from Ur to travel to Canaan, but became waylaid in Haran. In the next version, Abram is instructed to migrate by God, which he does with his wife, Sarai, his brother, Haran, and Haran’s son, Lot. God commands Abram to leave Ur, to leave his father’s house and away from his kindred, Whatever complementary version, Abram and Sarai become migrants rather than sedentary inhabitants of their home country travelling even on to Egypt because there was a famine in the land. They had become humanitarian refugees.

They are received well in Egypt because Sarai agrees to follow Abram’s lead and says she is his sister rather than his wife. Because she is beautiful, she is taken into Pharaoh’s harem and Abraham is allowed to prosper under the Pharaoh’s protection. But when God visits a plague on Pharaoh’s household because of Sarai, and Pharaoh learns the reason why (how we are not told), Abram and Sarai are expelled, but Abram now has a herd of cattle. And silver and gold. He has prospered because of his deceit.

So had Lot. But his herdsmen and Abram’s quarreled as if they did not have enough strife on their hands from the resident Canaanites and Perizzites. Abram and Lot each went their own way, Lot to settle the plains of Jordan and Abram to Canaan. However, a long war of attrition broke out among the resident nations in Lot’s territory. Lot was captured by the victors in Sodom and taken prisoner with all his herds.

At the same time, Abram had become a wealthy man with 318 trained guards. He set out to rescue Lot, which he did after killing Lot’s captors. Abram became richer still and was given land by the King who ruled over Sodom. While the King took the captives as slaves, Abram was offered the rest of the spoils. But Abram turned the king down, insisted that he did not want wealth from war, but only the wealth he obtained with his own labour.

One is eager to question Abram. Why is it alright to prostitute your wife to preserve your own life and gain wealth but not take the spoils of military victory? There is no answer. Only the switch to the devotion to progeny rather than either self or one’s forefathers. God promises that He and Sarai will have a son. “The LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.’” (15:18)

But the tale becomes even more complicated. For Sarai remains barren. She gives her maid, Hagar, to Abram who gets her pregnant with Ishmael. But Sarai feels that her maid is now lording over her. In a fit of jealousy, she sends Hagar and Ishmael into exile. They become persecuted refugees. And Ishmael grows up to be “a wild ass of a man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren.”

We are in a totally different world, a world of national rivalry, a world in which might can possibly rule over right, especially when the might belongs to a leader who cannot get along with any of his neighbours. Then the absence of universal laws from a unitary source or even from agreement among the nations becomes a cause of wars because the nations cannot get along. But God has opted for nationalism and, like globalism, it comes in two varieties. In one, a nation is allotted land as if in a lottery. In another, a nation seizes land. In the first, the nation is chosen for that land. In the second, the nation itself chooses to become a great nation.

There has been one other development besides the turn from the global to the national, the universal to the particular, and from devotion to one’s progeny versus progeny kowtowing to the Lord their father. We have moved from a shame culture to a guilt culture, a shame culture whereby your children cover up your embarrassment versus one which insists that wealth and land be acquired by contract and not by conquest. Guilt comes from breaking written laws. Shame is an internal policeman and arises because of inherited traditional values which a society is dedicated to protecting. But for the nation that is to come from the loins of Abram (now Abraham) and his wife Sarai (now Sarah), what is most important is not where you came from but who you give birth to. Knowing where you came from is critical only because it reinforces the progeny to become more than oneself or one’s ancestors.

Abraham was desperate to be a father, was destined to found a family tree rather than just serving the natural continuity of cultural memory. This was the great moral revolution of the Hebrews – not just a guilt rather than a shame culture, but a covenant with God whereby not only is the land held by humans only as a trustee, but so are your children who enter into a covenant with God. And the Brit Milah is the sign that we are only custodians of our children.

Thus, the diversity of nations (and within each nation) yields a diversity of values even at the risk of one nation seeking to dominate and rule over others.

This is how Rabbi Yitz Greenberg’s parashat for this week begins:

In parashat Noah, the Torah revealed a dramatically transformative understanding of the interaction between the divine and the human. Before Noah, God, operating as a universal unlimited Force (called Elohim in the Torah) had appeared to humans as a Ruler, instructing them to live good lives and repair the world (tikkun olam). These commands were enforced by harsh, sometimes overwhelming, punishments. In the new understanding, God (called YHWH/Adonai in the Torah) self-limits out of love, renouncing coercive tactics such as future floods. God establishes objective natural processes and laws to govern reality. Out of respect for human dignity—and desire that human beings become responsible moral agents—God engages with humans in partnership (brit), so that they will act morally and repair the world out of free will. In the Noahide covenant, in recognition of human nature and habits, God “reduces” expectations (allowing meat, for example), compromising to ask humans to act the best possible way rather than at the ideal level.

In parashat Lekh Lekha, the next divine step toward accommodating human nature and emotions is revealed. Human beings are more energized by, and cling more tightly to, a covenant that is more intimate, more related to them and their distinctive memories and experiences. On the foundation of the universal Noahide covenant, God now enters into a particular covenant with one family, Abraham and Sarah. This sets up a paradigm of (future) multiple partnerships, each with distinctive practices, models, and emotional associations, with the same goal of overall tikkun olam.

                                                THE FOUR CHOICES

Universalist

Globalism                                         The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)

Multilateralism                                  Abram as a father of many nations

Particularist

Nationalism                                       Sarah as the mother of the Jewish nation

Unilateral Imperialism                       The story of Ishmael

From the bottom, populist dictatorships lead to imperialist adventurism. From the top, there is a different type of authoritarian totalitarianism based on a centralised source of formal authority with concentrated power in a single locale over everyone beneath. As Greenberg refers to the midrashic imagination, the Babel of Tower project is pure totalitarianism, “conscripting everybody to labor, imposing exaggerated quotas for construction, and mercilessly punishing failure to meet the requirement…Pluralism—political, economic, cultural, religious—is the best prophylactic against dictatorial centralization.” 

It is only when we opt for the two middle options, when we have nationalism based on citizens and citizen interests rather than identity politics, married to multilateralism, that we can find a balance between the particular and the universal, between nationalism and international cooperation, reinforced by the primacy given to the future but erected on a continuity with the past, and a present built on contractual and covenantal relations rather than shame. Both multilateralism and nationalism thrive on experimentation, on building based on comparative advantages, on progressing through demonstrations and witnessing. It is the only combination that and can develop without intimidation or coercion.  

The principle works for domestic politics as well.

In an election year set to overturn many precedents, one of the most anticipated is the prospect of Arizona turning blue. In a state that has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate only once since 1952polls have consistently favored Joe Biden. In our much-watched Senate race, former astronaut Mark Kelly leads Republican incumbent Martha McSally by a comfortable margin. If Kelly wins, the state would send its first all-Democratic Senate delegation to Washington in 67 years. Talking heads have plenty of explanations for this shift. It’s Latinos! It’s suburbanites! It’s moderate Republicans! These answers make for convenient sound bites. But the desire to explain Arizona through different voter blocs, with a lot of the focus on the increasing Latino population, misses what’s actually happening in Arizona. The key to understanding the state’s leftward shift isn’t identity politics: It’s the issues and ideas that shape daily reality for the people who live and work here. What the pundit class fails to grasp is that this is a state of fluid plurality, a place where the very definition of “American” is changing as the lines blur and the walls that have long safeguarded a monochromatic hold on power have begun to crack. Several identities often apply to the same person, making it a mistake to attribute changes in Arizona’s political DNA to the work of any one group of voters. I am an immigrant and a naturalized citizen; a college-educated Latina and college professor; a mother and widow whose new partner comes from a family with a long history of military service. Which of these identities guides my vote?

Fernanda Santos, The Washington Post, 30.10.2020

Rashid Khalidi (2020) The Hundred Years of War on Palestine

A Review by Howard Adelman – Part I

I have not seen Rashid Khalidi for over two decades. When I saw him recently in a webinar on his book The Hundred Years of War on Palestine run by The Harvard Divinity School, he has aged much less that I have. He looks great. And he is even clearer and more articulate than I remember. He is a first-class scholar and historian and I have always learned a great deal from him.

This book is clearly very different than Khalidi’s numerous scholarly tomes. It is personal, part family memoir, but also has a clear central political thesis. Khalidi has articulated a position that he has held over the years in a way that is more powerful and more emotional precisely because it is so overtly personal.

Khalidi has never gone along with the mantra that the dispute over Palestine has been a conflict between two national groups each with legitimate claims to the same land. Jews, he argues, certainly have an historical link to the land and especially to Jerusalem, but they have no claim rooted in rights. Instead, for Khalidi, the conflict has been a long colonial war of settler colonialism in which one group, the Zionists, has been propped up by one colonial power after another.

The explicit Zionist purpose was to have that national group displace another as the civil polity in a region – Palestine. The ingathering of Jewish exiles was intended to supplant the local population by those who mouthed words of peace and the slogan ‘Do No Harm,’ such as David Ben Gurion and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They were hypocrites, unlike Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky. The mouthers of the prospect of peaceful replacement knew that such a displacement enterprise would cause a great deal of harm. (I will examine this fundamental claim in greater detail at the end of this series of reviews.)

One of the strengths of the Khalidi thesis that has such a wide purchase among Palestinians is that it does not deny the pogroms and persecution that motivated Jewish relocation from Europe. He also acknowledges the blockages to resettlement in the West. But he refuses to accept the assurances of Zionist leaders at the time that the migration of Jews to Palestine would neither be an invasion nor an imposition on the native population. Instead, he characterizes Theodor Herzl as arrogant, ignorant and disingenuous; Herzl blamed all sources of harm on the resistance of the native Palestinians.

Palestine was not an “empty” country. Zionism, for him, was a Jewish colonization movement which offered the world a narrative line that whitewashed its history of its willingness to sacrifice the local population and to paint itself as simply another anti-colonial uprising. For Khalidi, since colonization had such a bad odour after WWII, the Zionists had to reconstruct their tale even when it is historically clear that their immersion into counter insurgency lasted a very short period. The true story is that Zionism was a stepchild of British imperialism. Further, it only succeeded because of the massive economic and political support behind the enterprise.

Benny Morris, who was the first to document the intentional ethnic cleansing underway, became a revisionist in the twenty-first century asserting that Jews had no other choice. It bequeathed a “them or us” moral dilemma. What Khalidi argues in the vein of Edward Said is that the war was as much a discursive battle as a fight on the ground. Which side would control the dominant narrative? For the tropes underpinning each side were irreconcilable. And the Zionists had the Hollywood propaganda machine behind it – Leon Uris’ Exodus as a novel and a film providing the most explicit example of the propaganda of one side.

The myth, which is what he calls it, of immigration to Palestine as the only option to prevent Jewish annihilation, is countermanded by the fact that other options for relocation were offered to Jews by the Imperial powers – Uganda and Argentina for example. And the Zionists considered each one seriously, but then opted for Palestine. That alone is proof for Khalidi of the complicity of Zionism and imperialism. The real story is how, because of its partnership with great powers, the Zionists managed to establish the dominant narrative of its success into a tale of liberation by a genuine nationalist movement.

The creation of Israel was no different that the creation of Australia, of Canada, of New Zealand and especially of the United States. It was a settler movement built and developed at the expense of the indigenous population. The major difference is that, in Palestine, the native population was not devastated by contagious diseases and not as bereft of other actors to support its cause. Hence it struggled and survived to challenge the Zionists. Thus, in spite of Zionist designs, in spite of its anti-assimilationist underpinnings and the artifice of its nationalism, the opposition of the indigenous population refuses to wither away and die. This is the Khalidi thesis.

And, for Khalidi, every historical step reinforces that thesis, whether it be Jewish collaboration in suppressing the Palestinian revolt from 1936-1939 that killed, wounded or captured anywhere from 10-17% of the adult male population of Palestine and gave the Zionist the manpower advantage in the 1948 war, the 1967 war in which every expert who really knew the strength of the forces on each side predicted an easy Zionist victory, the 1982 exile of the Palestinians from Beirut, the explicit objective of the 1982 war, and Oslo, the greatest fraud perpetrated against the Palestinians in the whole history of the conflict, for, in the name of peace, a Zionist colonial settler enterprise was not only legitimized but given a moral cover, international endorsement and American military backing. 

Part of this argument over narratives and the discursive war is to claim that when Britain became exhausted in the 1939-1948 period and withdrew from the trenches and the de facto collaboration, the Americans took their place. Israel could take no steps that did not have the wholehearted backing of the Americans. The Americans were fully and knowingly complicit in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 that drove the PLO out of the region and that made an unsuccessful effort to make Lebanon a puppet and satrap of Israel.

With Oslo and the effort to craft an accord, the gap between America and Israel kept re-emerging. Americans viewed the enterprise of settlement and displacement as having an iron ceiling while the right-wing Zionists recognized that the matter would be settled in the end by facts on the ground and not American diplomatic posturing. The key was to control both the land and the people.

Israel had the narrative advantage that it could give the whole colonial enterprise a Biblical cast with a very wide appeal in the Christian West. This extracted external support for an imposition enterprise even in the days when colonialism had been sentenced to international death. The Jews could and did argue that they had a genuine historical connection to the land and that Jewish presence of the land had been continuous – a very different colonial tale than that of the American pioneers of the Canadian and Australian and Kiwi settlers.

They also had the advantage, according to Khalidi, that the Palestinian leadership repeatedly betrayed the Palestinian population. But the times have changed and the pace of change has picked up. In universities, the BDS movement is continuing to gain support. Within the redeemed Democratic Party, on the verge of winning re-election in both the Presidential office and the Senate, allies of the Palestinian cause have experienced a resurgence and the old order Zionists apologists are being forced into retirement.

What a plethora of assumptions in creating this alternative discourse. They have revived the will of Palestinian youth to re-engage in the enterprise of resistance, but this time with a network of support and anti-colonial attitudes in the West, for there is a natural synergy between movements like Black Lives Matter and anti-Zionism. Resistance can displace resignation. To what degree do these premises and the narrative built upon them enjoy enough resonance to strengthen the resistance to Zionist hegemony?

Let me list the revisionist assumptions and tropes.

  1. The territory of Palestine was not empty.
  2. The conflict is not a fight between two nationalisms with opposing claims to the same land, but a long-term colonial enterprise of resettlement and local displacement.
  3. The Zionist only won their victories because of support from strong imperial powers.
  4. The explicit purpose of Zionism from the beginning was to displace a local population by a settler population.
  5. All Zionist narratives describing the peaceful intent of the settlers are false fronts to disguise true intentions; they knew that they could only achieve their aims by causing harm to the locals.
  6. A Palestinian population with a nationalist idea of self-determination was already present in Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century when Jewish Zionism had its modern birth.
  7. Zionism was a stepchild first of British then of American imperialism.
  8. Zionist success depended less on enterprise and ingenuity from within than on extensive political and economic support from without.
  9. The war on the ground was matched by a discursive battle between competing narratives.
  10. Zionism and Palestinian self-determination are irreconcilable.
  11. Zionism was boosted by the highly influential American Hollywood propaganda machine.
  12. Zionism discarded its narrative of partnership with the powerful in favour of a liberation movement when colonialism fell into disfavour after WWII.
  13. In contrast to settlement colonialist movements in the West, the indigenous movement for self-determination did not suffer the enormous loss of population from disease, but it did suffer a huge manpower loss in its war with the British from 1936-1939 that put it at a great disadvantage in the conflict that followed WWII.
  14. From the start, the Zionists enjoyed a logistic advantage over not only the local population but the Arab states in the region.
  15.  The Palestinians were not only overwhelmed by settler colonialism but by incompetence and corruption of their own leadership.
  16.  The movement for Palestinian self-determination is gaining new momentum with the rise of the people in the West against their own elites and against settler colonialism that delivered so much harm to not only indigenous populations but to mistreated minorities.

My response will follow in a series of separate blogs.  

Refugees and Higher Education

Part V: The Impact on the Education of Canadian Students

There are a myriad of recent initiatives using modern instruments and methods underway, such as the installation of Wikipedians-in-residence to enhance both the quality of the Wikipedia at the same time as it assists in its most effective but also critical use, including the severe shortcomings of its editorial process. Rather than downgrading the level of knowledge which students access, the process of engagement can involve them deeper in the process of producing quality learning materials while, at the same time, teaching students how knowledge can be subject to biases. This is but one of many examples.

Many of these initiatives are designed to reduce attrition rates that result from a variety of factors from the amount of debt students accrue in gaining a higher education to the student’s lower GPA score and the quality of teaching offered these students. Motivation is also a key factor. When it comes to refugee students, the motivation to do well and to complete a course of studies is very high. Further, the strong motivation rubs off on native students. Ironically, the higher the percentage of more motivated students, the lower the attrition rate and the greater the effectiveness of college education. This is especially true when the native students can experience a degree of responsibility for and involvement in bringing refugee students on campus. 

Currently, as Maclean’s Magazine reported in 2018, the drop-out rate of students in Canada from universities varies from 10% at Queen’s to over 50% in a few institutions. York University is the mean where the drop-out rate is 27.5%. The average drop-out rate from first year is 14%. This represents a very inefficient use of resources.

What is needed is a better pipeline, one connecting potential refugee learners on one end and universities with an absorptive capacity at the other end, one connecting native students at the latter end with very highly motivated refugee students at the other end. As one prominent scholar involved with distance education serving refugees has remarked, this global situation “resembles an hourglass: one bulb is filled with thousands of institutions with great and growing absorptive capacity, while the other bulb is filled and filling with millions of potential refugee learners. The bulbs are connected by a thin neck through which refugees trickle like solitary grains of sand to universities while the knowledge from the world’s universities trickles through the neck one lesson at a time to refugee learners in the global south.” The issue is how to widen the neck?

“How do we turn the trickle into a flow, with students going one way and knowledge and capacity-building investments go the other?  Is there a model that can overcome the collective action problems endemic to higher education (HE) in the global north while investing in HE education in host countries?  How do we strengthen the system so it is sustainable, adaptive, and resilient enough to sustain the flow?”

In 2018, about 1.8 million native students attended postsecondary institutions in Canada. This number has been relatively constant since 2011. If the number remained constant, if the foreign student population also remained constant at 600,000, if by 2025 120,000 PSSV students were added to this total, then PSSV students would eventually constitute only 5% of the total postsecondary student population in Canada, a relatively insignificant increase in enrollment. Total foreign student enrollment would be about 30%.

With 642,000 foreign students, Canada is now the world’s third-leading destination of international students. Study permits for 404,000 international students took effect in 2019 alone. PSSV students would constitute a relatively small proportion of the student visa population. At the same time, to both select those students as well as incentivize young refugees, Canada, with partners, would run a distance education program at the post-secondary level for refugees. For every nine students educated overseas, one student would be brought to Canada. At the same time, with the skills acquired, refugee youth would be in a much better position to enter the knowledge economy in their countries of asylum.[i]

If there are 30 million refugees in such situations, if half of them are of school age (15,000,000), if 1,500,000 can be assisted to graduate from secondary school each year, if Canada takes on the responsibility of distance higher education for 10% of them, or 150,000, if 20% of them enter Canada on student visas (30,000) each year, then students in the PSSV program would constitute about 5% initially of students in Canada on student visas.

We need to connect institutions of higher learning in host countries where refugees in significant numbers are located with institutions that are able and eagerly willing to enhance their online learning capacities. Knowledge can travel down the pipeline one way. So can students eager to acquire and participate in field experience. Research and students can travel in the opposite way. At the same time, the capacity for higher education in the region will be significantly enhanced.

What we need to do is couple universities and colleges, students and faculty, universities and civil society organizations at one end with institutions of higher learning and service organizations at the other end to make higher education available to refugees in a far more extensive way. The coupling process entails expanding the private sponsorship model initiated and developed in Canada.[ii] Student bodies would be asked to sponsor not just a few students as they do now, but an institution like York could sponsor 500.

Students would organize into groups of at least five to enlist partners in the private sector who would put up the costs for each student sponsored. Costs could be significantly reduced if volunteer sponsors offered students free room and even possibly board. Courses would be offered in refugee camps and refugee areas through both distance learning and intensive in-person support locally.[iii] Online is most effective when it is coupled with high-dosage teaching that MOOCs currently miss.[iv] From the achievement of those students, selected ones would be accepted for sponsorship. In this way, educational possibilities would connect with economic opportunities and in turn with membership openings not only in sponsoring societies, but in local societies that can benefit from the skills acquired.

The model entails the following nodes that need to be connected:

  • Relevant research centres, such as the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, linked in a mega-university network of parallel institutions in the same and adjacent areas of a megalopolis, such as: Ryerson University Centre for Immigration and Refugee Studies; Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies and the Global Migration Research Institute in the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto; Dr. Christopher Kyriakides who holds the Canada Research Chair with the Department of Sociology and Professor Vic Satsawich at McMaster University, the former working on the intersection of media and refugee policy and the latter on the intersection of organization and refugee policy and also include Charles Carlo Handy, the Founder of McMaster University’s Graduate Migration and Mobility Network; the Centre for Studies in Social Justice, University of Windsor; CERIS, Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement, Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Migration and Diaspora Studies at Carleton University; the Centre for Migration and Ethnic Relations in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies at Western University; Culture and Language Studies at the University of Waterloo; International Migration Research Centre (IMRC), Wilfrid Laurier University; Development Studies at the University of Guelph which would include faculty such as Prof. Monique Deveaux in U of G’s Department of Philosophy.
  • a number of journals that publish refugee scholarship: Linkages would be fostered by the use of existing networks and journals such as Refuge: Canada’s Journal for Refugee Studies; Journal for Refugee Studies; Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration; Journal for Ethnic and Migration Studies; Journal of the Global Migration published by the Munk Centre; 

 Griffith Journal of Law & Human DignityJournal of International Migration and Integration;

  • Linkages with nearby community colleges with relevant programs which often do far more to integrate first-generation learners and migrants than do the elite institutions;
  • Linkages between those centres and the student councils at those universities as well as among those student councils as students are envisioned as the backbone for delivering the sponsorships;
  • Linkages with municipalities in which those higher learning centres are located to enhance the capabilities and opportunities of a mega-region now considered the key locus of business and economic development while allowing refugees to join knowledge economies to the benefit of both the resettlement countries and the refugees themselves with the additional side effect that some of these refugees will return to help others gain an education and enhance the economic prospects of both the host and possibly home states;
  • Linkages between businesses and social service organizations with the student councils active in the program.

It should be noted that without such linkages, there is a propensity of businesses to exploit refugee labour for profit purposes in the guise of providing skill training. In the move away from humanitarian resettlement responses, wealthy countries have instead invested in countries of first asylum to abet border enforcement and institute economic development zones such as in The Jordan Compact. However, economic gains have been minimal and, taking advantage of their immobility, refugees are used to make a profit at the expense of their well-being.[v]

In contrast, the purpose is to significantly enlarge the necks of the pipeline joining the refugee population centres with the university-urban partnerships so that global emergency zones become both the target of providing educational opportunities and a source for talent to feed the economic growth of a mega-region. Refugees acquire a gateway and sponsorship centres acquire a creative and highly motivated source of talent.

To achieve these synergies requires an increased investment in distance learning and the technology related thereto, the organization of sponsorships in the global north and the creation of and partnership with higher learning centres in the global south in areas of high concentration of refugees. This would be an excellent application to the goals of the Open Societies University Network (OSUN) located at Bard College and funded by the Soros Foundation, the goals of which are to:

  • Foster critical thinking, open intellectual inquiry, and fact-based research to strengthen foundations of open society amid authoritarian resurgence
  • Educate students to address tomorrow’s global challenges by getting to know other societies from the inside
  • Expand access to higher education at a time of growing inequities
  • Counteract polarization by promoting global research collaboration and educating students to examine issues from different perspectives and advance reasoned arguments[vi]
  • Bolster efforts by universities in challenging environments to build their own capacity through global partnerships to make greater contributions to their societies.

Foundations with existing programs already in place will have to be approached. Further, a media campaign will be necessary to demonstrate how this will be a win-win situation for refugees and the receiving country.


[i] The access to higher education significantly improves the chances for young people. Cf. Caitlin Nunn, Sandra M. Gifford, Celia McMichael, and Ignacio Correa-Velez (2017) “Navigating precarious terrains: reconceptualizing refugee youth settlement,” Refuge: Canadian. journal on refugees. 33:2, 45-55. https://refuge.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/refuge/artic le/view/40462 

[ii] For a review of this program, see Refuge, a special issue on private sponsorship, co-editors Johanna Reynolds and Christina Clark-Kazak https://refuge.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/refuge/issue/current

[iii] “Refugee camps versus urban refugees: what’s been said – and done,” Cristiano D’Orsi, The Conversation (November 3, 2019). This news report summarizes the ongoing confusion on the policy front regarding camp vs. urban refugees.

[iv] MOOCs miss much more. The decision in 2016 by Coursera to open a track for vulnerable populations (Coursera for Refugees) was well-intentioned but misbegotten.  It not only recycled and marketing of a partial solution, it made assumptions about learners that are at best tenuous, and at worst misleading.  Some would say unethical.  As one economist in the African Development Bank, “please, no more MOOCs!”

[v] Julia Morris (2020) “Extractive Landscapes: The Case of the Jordan Refugee Compact,” Refuge 36:1.

[vi] Hopkins, G., L. Buffoni (2019) The IGAD Kampala Declaration on jobs, livelihoods, and self-reliance: from declaration to reality,” PalgraveCommun 5, 157.  The article emphasizes the crucial importance of planned and active participation, inclusion and collaboration of all parties to enable a high-level meetings and fora to prioritize an approach to discussions which creates enabling contexts of formal but inclusive dialog. https://rdcu.be/bYI6r

Refugees and Higher Education

Part IV: Initiatives Already Underway

MOOCs aside, a number of online efforts and consortia have emerged targeting new educational opportunities for refugees. Those initiatives can be enlisted as partners. There are those that facilitate stakeholders through consultation but do not provide program content or bridge institutions, such as the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium that functions as an exchange of best practices and promotes and coordinates quality higher education in conflict, crisis and displacement zones through connected learning to make accredited higher education accessible to refugee and other displaced learners.

This is as serious a problem as content. The lack of access is called the “digital divide.”[i]

Then there are the academic programmers that provide the content and curricula:

  • Education for Humanity sponsored by the ASU and Norwegian Refugee Council to provide digital English Language courses in a blended learning format to Syrian refugees residing in Amman; ASU provides a one-year “Global Freshman Academy” consisting of online courses offered in partnership with local NGOs (focusing on Uganda and Jordan)
  • Southern New Hampshire University Global Education Movement (GEM) partnered with local institutions like Kepler in Kigali, Jusoor in Amman as well as partners in South Africa, Lebanon, Kenya, Rwanda and Malawi providing online coursework leading to associate’s or bachelor’s degrees for refugee learners in partnership with Jesuit Worldwide Learning
  • Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) King’s College London working with Kiron and other universities to target needs of Syrian learners in Jordan and Lebanon offering both blended and online-only courses with partners such as Al al-Bayt University and American University of Beirut, as well as Kiron
  • MIT ReACT Hub launched its first program in Jordan with a certificate in Computer and Data Science
  • REACH at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Research Education and Action for Refugees Harvard Graduate School of Education which aims to foster welcoming communities and quality education in settings of migration and displacement.
  • InZone at the University of Geneva initially led by Barbara Moser-Mercer, in Kakuma (Kenya), Asraq and Za’atari camps (Jordan), with human rights, history (GHL), and translation courses
  • Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) from the Center for Refugee Studies led by Professors Wenona Giles and Don Dippo[ii] which focuses on language and education training working closely with partners in Kenya, WUSC, and more recently the University of British Columbia; it recently graduated its first cohort of students with a MEd from York University[iii]
  • The Jesuit Digital Network (JDN) developing a new-generation online platform for sharing digital educational resources and hosting multiple global and local learning communities to create, deliver, and continuously improve digital educational material, including digital learning objects, learning communities, and new generation online courses from middle school through post-graduate courses
  • Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins and Jesuit Worldwide Learning with a unique model of integrated partnerships that sustains programs in development, leadership, and liberal studies
  • Microsoft offers free training and curriculum resources to help humanitarian organizations deliver training that will help refugees gain digital literacy and computer science skills
  • OSUN and the Bard Network with a global reach with educational partners in locations around the world such as a multitude of fugitive universities in Lebanon (GHL), Jordan (AQB and GHL), Nairobi (AQB, GHL, Rift Valley Institute) and Bangladesh (Brac University)[iv]
  • Princeton’s Global History Lab with a 22-partner network within OSUN, with refugee programs in Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Iraq, Uganda and in Europe (Paris, with Sciences Po, Berlin/Potsdam, and Athens with Panteion University).[v]

There are also aggregators which pool content, connect to partners and design articulated pathways or learning clusters to make them available to universities for entrance, such as Kiron Open Higher Education based in Berlin with a great deal of experience at creating systems for refugees to enter German higher educational institutions. The European Commission and the Directorate General Joint Research Centre maps and analyzes MOOCs and free digital learning programs for migrants and refugees. Here: Higher Education Supporting Refugees in Europe, based in the Mediterranean Universities Union, is another aggregator.

A specific combination of organizations with active local partners that offer accredited degrees while engaged in local capacity building and attending to the material and social needs of refugees seems to work best. “Refugee students in Dadaab described as critical, but not singular, the assistance provided by UNHCR and its NGO partners, particularly in building schools, hiring and paying teachers, and providing scholarships for higher education. Within these support structures, refugee students drew on a complex web of locally and globally situated relationships.”[vi] There is a need to create integrated learning systems that invest in programs that open gateways and create links between sectors and stakeholders.

Fixed costs are on the rise, income is declining as well as investments in technologies and methods of teaching to counteract the results. The benefit, however, may be the increased pressure to move both to a new model and a much broader and reconceptualized vision of the university. What has emerged as a competitor to the consumer model has been a very different university, one that addresses global issues and not just problems in one’s society, that engages students in active learning in the application of what they know and in the extraction from that action to enrich the body of knowledge informing them. It is a university in which the whole idea of the university as a sanctuary has come tumbling down and the process of embedding universities and colleges into the societies that sustain them is completed.

It is a university engaged in partnerships with business, with civil society organizations and with the larger world and where the foremost problems are worldwide – climate change, refugees and, yes, pandemics at a time when knowledge is more free-flowing than ever, students and scholars more mobile, both physically and electronically, and when teaching and research have both transcended local or national boundaries. Tentatively and for convenience, I have dubbed it the Welcoming University, though a better term would be very welcome – no pun intended.

These trends are already well underway. Waterloo University innovated in partnering with businesses so that students and researchers can split their time between academia and business.[vii] The practice has broadened from computer science and engineering to other fields and has been copied by many institutions. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the 2020 Elevate Technology Conference in Toronto painted a picture of Toronto as a research-driven innovation hub that’s collaborative, inclusive and uniquely Canadian driven by artificial intelligence research at the University of Toronto and in universities in the mega-region as well as close ties between post-secondary institutions and industry players. Hence, Google Brain Toronto in partnership with the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence as well as federal and provincial governments. At Vector, academia and industry work together to support both applied and fundamental AI research. Such partnerships are not without their hazards. The cancellation of Quayside was a serious blow to this collaboration.

Ride-sharing giant Uber plans to invest $200 million into a new Toronto engineering lab, Microsoft plans to open a new office in downtown Toronto. Chip-maker Intel plans to set up an engineering lab north of the city that focuses on graphics processing units, or GPUs. Companies, from LG to Nvidia,  plan to set up new AI-focused research labs in Toronto in connection  with U of T.

In the U.S., Google has offices in many universities and co-hires faculty; Cornell Tech’s new campus on Roosevelt Island is buoyed by many private sector joint ventures; Pfizer created a biotech campus in Boston in 2014 with a specific aim of being able to liaise and partner with the region’s powerhouse universities; Philips Healthcare followed suit to initiate a Cambridge MA the next year for the same reason.  Long before COVID, universities turned to complex partnerships to fund training and applied research in the pursuit of coveted intellectual property.

The eclipse of the national social service autonomous university in favour of an international interconnected global one means new pathways for learning, new models of learning and new modes of producing knowledge. It also moves universities and colleges from support roles in society into central actors in the emergence of a welcoming society, a knowledge and information-based society and one, more specifically, that can serve as a route for refugees to gain the security of membership in a state via their accomplishments in higher education.

COVID-19 has emerged as an inflexion point in this transformation. That is because of the development of online learning which COVID-19 has forced into a central place from its peripheral role in the very recent past. Distance online learning allows university and college courses to be delivered directly to refugees in camps and in urban areas where they may have temporarily self-settled but without the legal security of membership in the state. COVID-19 has spurred and will spur even greater massive investments in online learning.

There will be feedback on the institution, its nature and the way it fulfills its mission as well. First, many universities will be receptive to thinking outside and beyond the four-year educational box, including more programmatic innovation and accessibility for refugee and at-risk migrants while allowing them to combine schooling and work in the process of resettlement. Second, the internalization of distance technologies will enable pathways to develop that lead all the way to the source of the conflicts that produce and contain the global migrant crisis. Third, partnerships are the future. While the focus will largely be on businesses, universities are linking with each other, joining forces with NGO’s and philanthropic organizations to extend their sprawling internship and civic-engagement missions.

At the same time, because of closures, and, more importantly, shifts back and forth in closure plans, variable costs have increased that could have been invested in new teaching tools and skills to suit online learning. At the same time, incomes may decline as students drop out unwilling to pay high fees for an inferior product.

However, if monies are invested in new teaching tools and new technologies, there are long-term savings. Universities will be able to play a dual role, not only in addressing a social problem on a global scale but also in allowing student refugees to acquire higher and marketable skills. At the same time, the student and faculty body in our universities, with the support of society, can lead in the provision of private sponsorship to a proportion of those refugee students in the global south to migrate to cities of the global north.[viii] Private sector partners will have to invest their share based on both longer time horizons that learning and open experimentation require as well as broadening their global vision to deal with humanitarian crises.

The current idea of the university is ill-suited to this purpose as anything but a peripheral role. They are too de-linked, too decentralized, too competitive and too resistant to a top-down approach to higher education. The private sponsorship of refugee students led by universities and colleges will greatly accelerate a process of transformation already underway. Into what? An institution propelled to change from the bottom up based on partnerships of students and faculty. A coalition- sustained higher education system rather than one in which universities have to anticipate the needs of society based on guestimates. A university system in which not only universities and colleges enter into more partnerships much more frequently, but where they conjoin with municipalities, with businesses and with social institutions (NGOs) to enhance the quality of their graduates and ensure a much higher percentage of them graduate.


[i] Leung, Linda (2018) Technologies of Refuge and Displacement Rethinking Digital Divides, Roman and Littlefield. Refugees as a group have received scant attention as technology users, despite their urgent need for technological access, as a minimum for tenuous links to family and loved ones during displacement. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498500029/Technologies-of-Refuge-and-Displacement-Rethinking-Digital-Divides An article in Toronto Life by Raizel Robin (“Class Dismissed”) describes the digital divide within Toronto when the school board tried to adapt distance learning to the absence of classroom education when schools were shuttered. There turned out to be two digital divides, one by about one-third of households, overwhelmingly immigrant, who lacked a computer to which their child could have a dedicated use and about 10% who even lacked internet connectivity. The second was one among teachers, many of whom were computer illiterate, found distance education alienating and were wary of mastering the skills. The Board had to deal with the lack of technology: “they would need to transition to remote learning” and “they had to make sure all 250,000 students…would have a functional and up-to-date computer…Once the kids were finally set up with computers, it became apparent that a quarter of the board’s teachers didn’t know how to use the TDSB-supplied online teaching software or needed a refresher.” (64-65) To complicate the situation further, the teachers’ unions were at war with and were not cooperating with the Board. If you understand the extent of the difficulties that deeply sabotaged the effort to introduce distance education in pre-tertiary schools in a sophisticated region like Toronto, imagine how hard it will be to set up distance learning in refugee camps and in urban areas where refugees have self-settled. Fortunately, as discussed in this paper, we have now had far more experience with distance education for refugees than Toronto has had for its elementary and secondary school pupils.

[ii] See their chapter in Susan McGrath and Julie Young (eds.) (2019) Mobilizing Global Knowledge: Refugee Research in an Age of Displacement. See also Susan F. Martin, Rochelle Davis, Grace Benton and Zoya Waliany (2018) “Working paper: International Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees,” as part of the KNOMAD Working Paper Series of the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD). Multidisciplinary knowledge is used to generate policy options, the latter, in particular, focused on responsibility-sharing. http://www.knomad.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/KNOMAD%20WP_International%20Responsbility-Sharing%20for%20Refugees.pdf

[iii] https://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2020/05/28/york-university-to-grant-masters-degrees-to-first-cohort-of-refugees-in-kenya/  

[iv] Work is underway on child exploitation and protection in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees, but the focus of this paper is on career paths for refugees in their later teen years. For work on the former, see Bina D’Costa from the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, & the Melbourne Social Equity Institute on Migration, Refugees and Statelessness. For an overview of the Rohingya crisis, see the report of Bob Rae, currently the Canadian ambassador to the UN, at IRIN news.

https://www.irinnews.org/in-depth/myanmar-rohingya-refugee-crisis-humanitarian-aid-bangladesh. Also  Ashrafuk Azad and Fareha Jasmin (2013) “Durable solutions to the protracted refugee situation- The case of Rohingyas in Bangladesh decades in the making,” Journal of Indian Research, I:4, 25-35.

[v] See also Asad Hussein, who moved from being a refugee to attending Princeton University as a student, “Chasing the Mirage, from Nairobi to New York City,” New York Review of Books, 4 April 2020. http://www.nybooks.com/contributors/asad-hussein

[vi] Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Negin Dahya, and Elizabeth Adelman (2017) “Pathways to Educational Success Among Refugees: Connecting Locally and Globally Situated Resources.” American Educational Research Journal 54:6, December, 1011–47. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831217714321.

[1] See Sanchit Mittal (2020) “Canadian Contribution to the Global Refugee Crisis,” MBA Vancouver Island University. https://www.academia.edu/keypass/amhnMElHMnNlcXRHT0k2NW5wVU9sZzVFd0Y3QTZSbkUwYVZnY3pYejhKTT0tLTZWUzN5Y1NTQXZRek5FU0lrVTFvUlE9PQ==–3bd838bd769e3a0ef642e4691b2395991cb6c26d/t/bvH43-NWouApr-yrVJ/resource/work/38999592/Canadian_Contribution_to_the_Global_Refugee_Crisis_MBA_541_Corporate_Social_Responsibility?email_work_card=thumbnail

[viii] See Migration Policy Institute (2018) “Decision: Private Refugee Sponsorship: Concepts, Cases and Consequences.” See also Bose, Pablo and Lucas Grigri (2018) PR4: Refugee Resettlement Trends in the Midwest. Refugee Resettlement in Small Cities Reports. University of Vermont. May. This report shows the importance of cities in the effort at resettlement and offers evidence that, in the US, the experience of coastal cities is currently being replicated in cities in middle America. http://spatializingmigration.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/RRSC_PR4_Midwest_Resettlement.pdf. Finally, the scholarship on India is very instructive. Cities are engines of economic growth greatly enhanced by migration. That growth is enhanced when migrants are assisted and undercut when obstacles are put in the way of refugees and migrants. Cf. Samaddar, Ranabir (ed.) (2018) Migrants and the Neoliberal City. Orient Blackswan https://www.orientblackswan.com/BookDescription?isbn=978-93-5287-290-9&txt=Samaddar&t=d See also the pact on the rights of urban refugees entered into in November 2017 by the International Organization for Migration and the umbrella group United Cities and Local Governments, which included 150 cities around the world.

Refugees and Higher Education

Part III: The Changing Mission of the University

The beginning of the pipeline of resettlement for refugees are the camps and urban areas in countries of first asylum where refugees congregate. The proposed terminus is the university for PSSV students. I now want to put such a proposal within the context of the changing idea and function of the university and then within the context of the current inflexion point as a result of the most important influence on the course of higher education in recent years – the COVID-19 pandemic. I will then review the initiatives universities have undertaken, particularly in the last decade, to actually address the refugee issue. I will then place such a proposal within a context of prospective actual numbers and then practically within a framework of how such a program can be initiated and institutionalized.

In the nineteenth century, the university could be characterized as a Sanctuary of Truth[i], a sanctuary because it was held aloof from society as the inheritor of the wisdom of the ages to be transferred to the political and moral leadership of society. It was a sanctuary of truth because it presumed that it was the repository of inherited truth rather than a locus for discovering new truths. Relative to the society around it, the university served as a place for ossified thoughts and ideas. A very small percentage of students attended universities; there were no community colleges.

In the English-speaking world, the idea behind such a vision of education was articulated very clearly by Matthew Arnold in his 1869 volume, Culture and Anarchy. Culture is the study of perfection in order to resist the forces of anarchy extant in a changing society that valued the work ethic and what he called “money-making.”  It was an exercise not simply in praise of great poetry and literature, but in contempt for popular culture and what he dubbed “philistinism.” Such a pursuit was driven, not by greed or by the need to acquire credentials or even to master a specialty, but by a moral and social passion for doing good. A man – and university students were males – was to be valued by his inherent nature and not by striving to become someone or fulfill some role and especially not anything governed by the measure of commercial success. “Our prevalent notion is…that it is a most happy and important thing for a man merely to be able to do as he likes. On what he is to do when he is thus free to do as he likes, we do not lay so much stress.” It was a philosophy of education for the leisure class, for those destined to rule and ensure that the exercise of liberty did not descend into anarchy.

A parallel set of ideas was applied by Cardinal John Henry Newman in his 1873 volume The Idea of a University in which he integrated ideas articulated in two earlier volumes of essays from 1852 and 1859, the latter with the same title as the 1873 volume. In those essays, he articulated his conception of the nature of knowledge, the role of faith in service of such knowledge and the application of both to the liberal education of university students in opposition to the specialized development of defined skills. Higher education was necessary in order to develop a young person’s understanding of the world.

As a believer in liberal and free scientific enquiry unencumbered by oppression and censorship, questioning dogma and wrestling with the struggle between faith and reason (a general preoccupation of the nineteenth century trying to free itself from the shackles of institutionalized religion), he appeared to be a man ahead of his time. What is most interesting about Newman is that he was descended on his mother’s side from Huguenot refugees while his father as a banker was thoroughly immersed in the world of commerce. The social inflexion point that challenged universities simply rooted in the expression of one faith was the Great Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849; one million died and an estimated at least another million migrated abroad.

Newman led the battle against dogma and in favour of intellectual analysis in partnership with a moral conscience. Though he had converted to Catholicism, he opposed the idea of the university as a vehicle for spreading the Catholic faith, but also education that simply focused on training young Irishmen in real world skills for employment in the emerging industrial society.

In the aftermath of World War I, pressures already widely extant in higher education and already implemented in the United States, led to a new vision for a university, The Sanctuary of Method. The university was still a lofty sanctuary for the few – at most 3% of the population – and for instilling a common culture for a leadership class, but the stress was now placed on the discovery and recognition of new “truths” as skepticism about any inherited truth became widespread. The emphasis was placed on mastery of a particular intellectual methodological skill set – whether in writing history, undertaking English criticism or in electrical engineering and medicine. It meant also mastering a set of books that were classics in the field – whether Grant’s Anatomy or Ham’s Histology or the classics of English literature. The university became the repository for the professionalization of different fields and displacing the moral amateurism of The Sanctuary of Truth. Inculcating a set of values became a side story rather than a major focus of the university.

In the 1960s in Canada, the university underwent another radical transformation from a Sanctuary of Method to a Social Service Station, a model that had been developed much earlier in the United States. The model took shape with the move to the forefront of social science studies – economics, sociology, psychology, political science, anthropology – and, more importantly, the shift in focus of the university from a primary obligation to acculturate a social leadership class to one centered on addressing social problems. With that shift came an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies accompanied by the fissures that emerged in disciplinary departments on the core methodology to be taught and the core material to be mastered.

We are now in the throws of a new radical transformation of the university. There was a fear that out of the Social Service University would emerge a university that, instead of stressing the production of skilled workers for society’s needs and research addressed to society’s problems, there would emerge a university as a supermarket offering consumers a range of courses to satisfy individual interests rather than a focus on development of a specific discipline or a broader interdisciplinary perspective to help resolve social ills. The model would be one based on a consumer rather than a producer society.

That the fear is real is demonstrated by the following shifts:

  • The current pressure on universities and colleges to open just as there has been pressure on and from the consumer product and service economy to open in spite of the pandemic still not under control; in the U.S., the pressure became so great that a great many universities opened to disastrous results in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan as well as other institutions.
  • The pressure of the Baumol effect or Baumol’s cost disease, that is the rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no or low increase of labor productivity, in response to rising salaries in other positions with higher labor productivity, growth as is the case with teaching salaries at universities and colleges where the cost of services rise rapidly because they cannot be made more efficient.
  • Declining provincial (and, in the U.S., state) funds below Great Recession levels so that increased costs combined with shortages are passed onto students in fees so that students acquire greater debts to attend; as debt loads increase, so do attrition rates, thereby compounding the problem for both students and institutions; in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for college tuition and fees were 1,411.16% higher in 2020 versus 1977 (a $282,231.63 difference in value and an average inflation rate of 6.52% per year); in Canada, Statistics Canada announced in 2016 that on average, undergraduates paid 40 per cent more in tuition than they did 10 years previously.
  • The attempt to compensate for these declining sources of incomes with foreign students who pay full costs; however, with COVID-19 (as well as international political tensions with China), this source is subject to sudden and dramatic declines, especially pronounced in the U.S.
  • The pressure of additional non-academic costs that increase as a proportion of overall costs to ensure students receive more comprehensive support and ensure “customer” satisfaction; in the U.S., this pressure has even been greater with universities offering better food plans, better amenities, etc.
  • The shift to market-based solutions that solve some short-term problems but aggravate long-term ones and create new challenges, especially increasing student debt loads so that, in the U.S., student debt is greater than debt on consumer credit cards and for auto loans combined: (only mortgage debt exceeds student debt).
  • In the time of COVID-19, students increasingly question the return value, especially as more and more courses are taught by low-paid adjunct faculty and graduate students. (In the U.S., in 1970 80% of courses were taught by full-time faculty.) In Canada, the current figure is 27.5% on average taught by part-time faculty; though in very small colleges like Mount Allison University, 88% of courses are consistently taught by full-time faculty; this is the clear exception rather than the norm.
  • Poorly prepared on-line courses that fail to take advantage of the benefits of the new technology.
  • The resistance of many if not most faculty to the introduction of online courses and more self-directed learning models because of heritage biases and the resistance of young part-time teachers to the believed threat to their employment opportunities – hence the extreme shortfall in investment in enhanced productivity in both teaching and delivery of learning materials.
  • Universities reduce or wave fees when online courses are offered just at the time when there needs to be much greater investment in such courses to improve the quality and expand the delivery so that combined pressures on the bottom line of universities and colleges to costs will be significantly reduced over time.
  • Yet for many, the pressure will focus on pushing for greater and larger subsidies so that tuition can be lowered and more full-time tenure track positions created; given the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario plans to cut tuition fees for college and university students by 10 per cent for the 2019-2020 year and hold them constant for 2020-2021. At the same time, local and provincial polities have their own financial crises.

There is an irony in all of the above. Higher education institutions are facing their greatest economic crisis of the past few decades precisely at a time when the educational premium they confer is most valued. Universities are coveted at the same time as they have become so traumatized and challenged to deliver on their mission by broadening access even more, raising the quality of teaching by taking advantage of new technologies and even expanding the leading edge of research in a very competitive environment with more claims on scarcer public resources.  With respect to teaching, the application of psychology, the development of teaching and learning design, the development of international programs, the rise of MOOCs and online technologies have all had an effect, but most of the possibilities remain untapped.

Nevertheless, the process of transformation is underway as the last vestiges of the sanctuary university are torn down with innovations in extra-mural learning: internships in NGO’s and labs, civic engagement and service, teaching in prisons, reaching out to refugees and at-risk migrants near and far, not to mention the boom in study and work abroad. What is being considered here is not retrenchment but transformation to the next and higher stage and the effort to overcome the sclerotic systems resistant to reform while the economic costs outpace the ability of society to support the old model.                


[i] See Howard Adelman (1973) The Holiversity: A Perspective on the Wright Report, New Press for an expanded characterization of the different stages of the university articulated in this paper.

After the Flood Was Over – Parashat Noah

Last week in Torah study we discussed God being an all-knowing and a perfect being. Certainly, this is clearly the preeminent conception of God in the Christian Gospels. (1 John 3:20); Matthew 10:30) One member of the group asserted that God is omniscient and knows everything. Does not Psalm 139 assert, “Lord you know it all?” (4)” Does not Psalm 147 say, “His understanding is infinite? (5) Psalm 139 is even more detailed:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You understand my thought from afar.

You scrutinize my path and my lying down,

And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. (1-4)

Another member of the group cited the passage, “I shall be who I shall be.” When Moses queried God’s identity, Hashem answered, “I shall be as I shall be.” I am the God of revelation. I am Becoming, not Being. The Noah story of the flood would seem to support the latter interpretation, for God says that he believes he made a mistake in creating humanity. Further, after He wipes out much of the world in the flood, he learns that there is no restart button. And he promises never to do that again, for expecting perfection in humans was a mistake.

Let us go along with the latter line of interpretation and the notion that God’s knowledge is not unlimited as a result but, as Psalm 44 states it, “He knows the secrets of the heart.” (21) He is the most empathetic one around. Is that what it means to say that God knows the hearts of men? God’s knowing does not mean that God knows everything that is, that was and that will ever be, but that God is capable of knowing what you are feeling.

In the Babylonian Atrahasis Epic from which the story of the flood was drawn, the god Enki organized humans into a new order because in the old order humans were noisy, whining complainers. And there were too many of them. In Genesis, the flood is a punishment for human sin rather than a result of the gods’ annoyance at the overpopulation and noise humans make. Most significantly, in the Babylonian epic, limits were set on human reproduction, but in Genesis, humans were instructed to be fruitful and multiply. Why the difference? In turn, in Genesis God promised that there would be no flood and mass extinction in the future.

What was wrong with the first arrangement a few generations earlier that was set on the sixth day of creation? The flood takes place following a seven-day warning (7:4 and 7:10) just as the god Enki told Atrahasis that the flood will come on the seventh night. Why seven days or nights? Further, why was Noah allowed to take his children aboard the ark, but the animals came in two by two (6:18), seven pairs of clean animals and only one pair of each of the unclean ones as in the Babylonian epic?

No sooner is the world totally reordered when God recognizes that the reforms did not work. Evil emerged again. God now proclaimed that he would work with what he had and never again extinguish almost everything to start all over again. God had learned a lesson. Had humans? Had man?

Let’s go back to the first arrangement. Adam is a nerd. God says and there is. Adam is made in the image of God. He imitates. He gives things names and they come into being as distinct objects. Adam may have a bountiful mind, but he has a shriveled heart. He does not even recognize that he is lonely. And when he is offered a companion, he objectifies her. Further, he treats Eve as if she were just a physical extension of himself and he sees himself as just a mind. He has no heart. He has no desires. He even objectifies his own body as Other. It is an erect smooth talking snake who seduces Eve. Adam does not do it. He as Other does it.

Adam knows how to serve God with his whole mind but not his whole heart. In fact, he does not even recognize he has a heart, that he is an emotional being. And he sees God only as middat ha-din, a God who metes out justice, and not a God of mercy, middat ha-rahamim. God is Elohim and not YHWH, the inscrutable God of mercy. If God is too soft, if God is too merciful, everything will get out of hand. The world must be ruled with tough love.

YHWH, not Elohim, saw “how great was the evil of humans on the earth, for every design of their hearts was only evil all day long. YHWH regretted that he had made humans on the earth, and his heart was pained.  YHWH said, “I will wipe out humans, whom I created, from the face of the earth … for I regret that I made them.” (6.6-6.8) How come the source of evil was in their hearts and not in their minds if the original problem was the result of the mind not recognizing that Adam had a heart and had feelings?

The answer is not too hard to find. Feelings without the counterpoint of thought, feelings without critical reflection, lead to evil all day long. Thought without feelings leads to the mindblindness of Adam. The lesson is that man is made in the image of both Elohim and YHWH; his life will be a struggle to reconcile two such opposite attributes.

Regret comes from the heart. So does the will to destroy what you regret creating. However, reason and judgement intervene. God finds Noah who for some reason is worthy of salvation. But the text reads: “But Noah found favour in YHWH’s eyes.” (6:8) Not in Elohim’s eyes. Elohim limited the infinitude of emotional destruction. But it was left to the heart to find Noah, to find a male that was full of caring and empathy. Elohim could not perform that task. YHWH’s heart was pained. His heart has been broken. That is why He wanted to destroy humans. But it is that same heart that recognized Noah as a man with a great heart. God is full of delight. He is willing to try again.

I shall be who I shall be. God’s mind recommends that he changes his heart from regret and resentment to delight in heartfulness. God has a change of heart. God grows. God develops a greater understanding that perfection is a false standard. God promises never to repeat that act of widespread extermination ever again. God savours the smell of the pure animal and we see why a seventh pair of clean animals had to be brought aboard the ark.

Noah built an altar for YHWH. He took one of every clean animal and every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  YHWH smelled the soothing aroma, and YHWH said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the earth because of humans, for the designs of the human heart are evil from their youth. Never again will I destroy all life as I have done.’” (8:20-21)

In the Gilgamesh story drawn from the same Babylonian Atrahasis Epic, Enlil destroys and Enki saves. Enlil is angry, not Enki. What angers him is not the evil humans do but that there are too many of them and they are too noisy. Enlil is a narcissist who decides on what he should do by what affects him. Enki is the superego that berates Enlil for his self-centeredness, for sending the flood, for destroying the wicked. In the Torah, rather than two unchanging divine beings with specific characteristics, the divine has opposing forces operating within and through each wrestling with the other, God learns and can be a better witness for man.

Such an interpretation fits with textual criticism that sees the story as a melding of a J text featuring YHWH and a P text featuring Elohim. In J, in one’s emotional life, there is an ongoing internal dialogue. In P, what happens is a consequence of external forces. In P, creation is undone as the waters from the heavens merge with the waters from the deep. P plans and calculates. Every plan devised by the mind without considering the emotions is “evil all the time.” In J, the flood is a result of a surfeit of water, a plethora of tears that are the basis for all life. Emotion is key and brings about both creation and preservation as well as remorse and destruction.

Then why does the story end with Noah planting a vineyard and getting drunk? Why does he end up naked so that his two sons, Shem and Japhet, have to cover him up? Why is Ham not involved in the cover-up? Why, when Noah wakes up, does he bless Shem and Japhet but curse his grandson, Canaan, the son of Ham, to serving as a slave to his brothers?

If God at the beginning of the story thought that it was the earth that was corrupt and filled with lawlessness and, therefore, decided to end all flesh, how, in the end, does the heart end up on top, as the source of mercy? By God recognizing that he was wrong about the source of evil. The very idea of eliminating evil is a conceit. And Noah, a righteous and good man, is the proof. After the ordeal, Noah understandably cut loose and went on a bender. He appreciated the concern of two of his sons for his embarrassment (great!), but then punished his other son by cursing his grandson. Noah clearly still had a great deal to learn. He had not learned how justice had to be tempered with mercy.

God also had a great deal more to learn and teach in the balance of the Torah.

Refugees and Higher Education

Part II: The Refugee Crisis

For anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the current refugee situation, this material will be familiar. Yet it is important to review it as a prologue to reconceiving the role of universities in tackling the problem. Of the millions of refugees worldwide, almost 17 million are of relatively recent vintage and represent at least two-thirds of the refugees worldwide. The list below includes the largest movements but leaves out a number of refugees – Yemenis, Libyans, Nigerians, Central Americans, Congolese, Eritreans, etc.:

Syria             6.6 million

Venezuela      5.2 million

Afghanistan   2.7 million

South Sudan  2.2 million

Myanmar    ­  1.1 million

Somalia          .4 million

Iraqi                .25 million

Total            17.45 million

Why is Yemen not included? The answer: because though there some refugees from Yemen, this is primarily a humanitarian crisis, one that is currently growing much worse. In Yemen, 3.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes and 80% of the population (24 million) are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations refers to Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis on earth. Severe storms, a destroyed economy, COVID-19, an immanent famine and continuous Saudi-led airstrikes makes Yemen ill-prepared to deal with the massive cutbacks about to take place in UN programs. However, as horrific as the situation is, Yemen refugees are not the prime target of these blogs since there are not enough of them. Just over 16,000 Yemenis sought refugee status in 2018 in Jordan, Egypt and Germany. Yemeni refugees will undoubtedly benefit from the program proposed, but as a side effect rather than a primary focus. The proposal does not address the very severe issue of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Venezuela is a possible target, even though, in the end, the program proposed will not primarily apply to Venezuelan refugees. That is because of the level of education of the refugees and the fact that most have self-settled in the adjacent countries or the USA.[i] There may be a modest program since Venezuelans in Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, the immediate neighbours,[ii] tend to have the lowest educational attainment, but they are also the oldest cohort in age. Those who traveled to nearby Ecuador and Peru tend to be young, but one-third hold a technical degree or higher. Venezuelans who moved to other countries farther away (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay) are more likely to be older on average with high levels of educational attainment, over half with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Those who went to the US form the smallest cohort and are the richest group. Many are dubbed migrants rather than refugees. Only 5% of all of these groups would consider returning. They were (and continue to be) in flight from a failed state and government rather than from a war and violent conflict, the source of the other “official” refugees.

Very few of the latter could claim a well-founded fear of persecution and ask for resettlement as a matter of right. In the case of Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi refugees, in a mass migration from January 2015 to March 2016 that continued until 2019, almost 1.7 million refugees migrated either across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe.[iii] In 2016, 750,000 in 2016 filed asylum requests in Germany. In March 2019, the European Commission declared the “migrant” crisis to be at an end even though most refugees remained in dire straits in the countries of first asylum. In spite of initial forebodings and some security problems at the beginning, the program was a tremendous success[iv] though critics have placed the effort within a securitization and deterrence context.[v] 

There is another major difference between refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq versus those from Somalia, South Sudan and Myanmar. The latter are mostly in camps. The former group have overwhelmingly settled in urban areas.[vi] This difference directly affects how universities can play a role in helping refugees. It also affects possible, even likely obstacles, when the solution is applied to some camps. [vii]

Of the three durable solutions, my focus will primarily be on resettlement. However, one cannot look at resettlement and ignore voluntary repatriation and settlement options in adjacent countries of asylum, if only because a country like Canada has a policy of considering an applicant for resettlement only after first being satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect, within a reasonable period of time, for the refugee applicant to obtain another durable solution.

Let me begin with the prospects of repatriation for Arab refugees from Syria and Iraq (without excluding refugees from Yemen described above and from Libya where wars have also produced refugees). “The prospects for early repatriation of refugees who have fled conflicts in Arab countries in recent years do not yet look promising. The conflict in Yemen is at a stalemate; Libya is wedged in a power struggle between two military/political factions; Iraq is struggling to recover from decades of instability; and Syria remains a country at war.”[viii] There is a limited trickle of return, but any organized large-scale repatriation seems premature. Further, the possibility of naturalization currently is closed, especially given the weakening socio-economic situation in host countries. Prospects of resettlement are also miniscule.

I will suggest that integration in countries of first asylum can best be facilitated through the postsecondary student visa route. In 2019, roughly 1% of refugees worldwide were enrolled in some form of tertiary education prior to resettlement[ix]—compared to 37% of non-refugees.[x] There is a huge gap between demand and opportunity between the global refugee regime and the global higher education regime. Fortunately, the networks developed on refugee research can be used as a basis for improving the network of refugee higher education.[xi]

Canada accepts refugees as permanent residents under its Refugee Resettlement Program for humanitarian reasons to align with its international obligations to protect those in need and reunite refugee families. This report suggests that the pathway of private sponsorship, facilitated by dedicated civil servants as was the case in the flow of Indochinese refugees in 1979-80[xii], can be replicated in the 2020s using a new pathway of private sponsorship for student refugees who are sponsored to come to Canada on student visas. UNHCR has actively promoted the search for such pathways whereby actors to find new ways to bring refugees to safety as well as to rebuild public interest and consensus around the importance of protection. New pathways will not only benefit refugees but discourage irregular migration.[xiii]

Many other countries have programs or plans underway[xiv] to copy the Canadian private sponsorship initiative.[xv] “Amid the divisive debates over migration in Europe, national governments broadly agree on the need to provide safe, legal ways of entry for refugees. The Global Compact on Refugees endorsed by the UN General Assembly provides “a basis for predictable and equitable burden and responsibility-sharing” based on a firmer mechanism for that responsibility sharing. However, development can no longer be the critical vehicle for change as was featured in the past. We suggest that access to higher education is.[xvi]

One initiative that could help achieve this aim is the private sponsorship of refugees whereby communities or individuals take the lead in helping refugees to find jobs, language courses, and other services. Some even envision creating new private sponsorship pathways[xvii]. This kind of initiative, put on the map by Canada and now piloted in different parts of the globe, could work in Europe if planned and implemented carefully. However, civil society and engaged individuals[xviii] are the bedrock of any such program; EU-level oversight should not be heavy-handed.[xix]

In the existing Canadian program, based on targets to focus efforts where needed, these refugees are referred to the Canadian government by IRCC, the UNHCR, other authorized agencies or by a private sponsor in Canada where the refugee can be slotted into the privately-sponsored refugee (PSR) program which pays most of the costs for resettlement[xx] rather than the government-assisted refugee (GAR or Quebec GAR) program which provides full government assistance. There continues to be strong support in Canada for this mode of settling refugees.[xxi] According to a UN Global Trends Report, Canada did relatively well in opening its doors to refugees but not in terms of its past history or the dramatic need. Canada did relatively well in comparison to the Trump Administration’s policies in the US. However, on a global level, Canada’s position does not seem as positive.[xxii]

In addition, there is the Blended Visa Office Referral (BVOR) program[xxiii] where government assisted refugees may benefit from sponsor support and Joint Assistance Sponsorship (JAS) for government-assisted refugees with exceptional needs requiring extended support. Canada also select cases for priority and special processing referred for urgent protection, vulnerable cases, public policies, applicants who are persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity expression (SOGIE-LGBTQI) and other groups requiring special attention.

One purpose of this proposal is to recommend creating a special class of refugees who enter Canada on student visas and only, subsequent to the completion of their studies, become eligible for landed status. These students will be privately sponsored by student organizations partnered with faculty, civil society partners and accepted by postsecondary institutions. This has the benefit of mobilizing students and faculty eager to play an active social role in welcoming and settling refugees arriving on student visas. These might be designated as the Privately Sponsored Student Visa (PSSV) class.

The point of such a program is to use education as not only a vehicle of upward mobility, but of horizontal mobility to end protracted refugee situations over time. Currently, the Canadian Student Refugee Program (CSRP) (administered by World University Service of Canada) receives far more applications than places available. CRSP supports 130 refugees per year. WUS provides a critical foundation on which to build and should definitely be a partner in the scheme proposed.


[i] Diego Chaves-González and Carlos Echeverría-Estrada (2020) “Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Regional Profile,” Migration Policy Institute.

[ii] Cf. Dany Bahar and Sebastian Strauss (2018) “Neighbor nations can’t bear costs of Venezuelan refugee crisis alone.”  https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/neighbor-nations-cant-bear-costs-of-venezuelan-refugee-crisis-alone/

[iii] For an experiential account in 2015, cf.Heaven Crawley, Franck Duvell, Katharine Jones, Simon McMahon and Nando Sigona (2018). Unravelling Europe’s Migration Crisis: Journeys Over Land and Sea. Policy Press. https://policypress.co.uk/unravelling-europes-migration-crisis

[iv] Philip Oltermann (2020) “How Angela Merkel’s great migrant gamble paid off,” The Guardian, 30 August. He tells the specific story of Mohammad Hallak, a 21-year-old Syrian from Aleppo studying computer science at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences.

[v] Susana de Sousa Ferreira (2019). Human Security and Migration in Europe’s Southern Borders. https://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9783319779461

[vi] For a comparison of the two possibilities, see Betts, Alexander, Remco Geervliet, Claire MacPherson, Naohiko Omata, Cory Rodgers and Olivier Sterck (2018) Self-reliance in Kalobeyei? Socio-Economic Outcomes for refugees in northwest Kenya. University of Oxford Refugee Studies Centre and the World Food Programme. This study compares outcomes for refugees from South Sudan who are now in two places in northwest Kenya, the Kolobeyei settlement established in 2015 using a self-reliance model and the older Kakuma camp that uses more of an ‘aid model’. https://www.refugee-economies.org/assets/downloads/Self-Reliance_in_Kalobeyei_website.pdf

[vii] When Howard Adelman was part of the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, we studied the attitudes of NGOs to resettlement and integration of Burmese refugees in Thailand. There was (to us) a surprising resistance. A number of reasons were offered, but a major one was the vested interest of NGOs in humanitarian services to refugee and the concern with disrupting services in the camps because the best resettle first. Further, enhancing critical thinking skills of refugees create a possibly of providing leadership for disruptive behaviour as refugees mobilize themselves. Thus, agencies may prefer traditional “charity” work to tertiary education.

[viii] Ibrahim Elbadawi, Roger Albinyana, Belal Fallah, Maryse Louis, Samir Makdisi and Jala Youssef (2019) “Repatriation of Refugees from Arab Conflicts: Conditions, Costs and Scenarios for Reconstruction,” FEMISE Euromed Report, p.8. See also Samuel Hall (2018) Syria’s The author concludes that returns to Syria should neither be promoted nor facilitated Spontaneous Returns Study. https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/SH1-Syria%E2%80%99s-Spontaneous-Returns-online.pdf

[ix] ESPMI discussion series analyzes the effects of disrupted education on school-age refugees: “What are the most significant impacts of disrupted education on refugee children & youth and what are solutions to address them?” https://espminetwork.com/discussion-series-disrupted-education/ According to UNHCR, 50% of refugee children attend primary school, just 22% of refugee adolescents receive a secondary education.

[x] [x] UNHCR. “Stepping Up: Refugee Education in Crisis.” Geneva: UNHCR, 2019. https://www.unhcr.org/steppingup/wp-content/uploads/sites/76/2019/09/Education-Report-2019-Final-web-9.pdf

[xi] Cf. McGrath, S., & Young, J. E. (eds.) (2019) Mobilizing Global Knowledge: Refugee Research in an Age of Displacement, University of Calgary Press.  The essays by academics and practitioners reflect on the emerging global collaborative research network and the efforts to bridge silos, sectors, and regions to address power and politics in refugee research, engage across tensions between the Global North and Global South, and engage deeply with questions of practice, methodology, and ethics in refugee research. https://press.ucalgary.ca/books/9781773850856/ 

[xii] Molloy, Michael J., Peter Duschinsky, Kurt F. Jensen, and Robert J. Shalka (2017) Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975-1980. McGill-Queen’s Press.

[xiii] Triandafyllidou, A., Bartolini, L., Guidi, C.F. (2019) “Exploring the links between enhancing regular pathways and discouraging irregular migration: a discussion paper to inform future policy deliberations,” International Organization for Migration, Discussion Paper.  https://publications.iom.int/books/exploring-links-between-enhancing-regular-pathways-and-discouraging-irregular-migration-0

[xiv] A 2020 Migration Policy Institute Europe policy brief examines refugee private sponsorship programs as one route increasingly used as a complementary or alternative resettlement pathway. Such initiatives empower community groups, civil-society organizations and even private individuals to take on some degree of responsibility for helping refugees settle and integrate into their new society, and even in some cases to identify and prepare refugees for travel. Interest in refugee sponsorship is booming, with a range of countries joining Canada, which pioneered the concept and has seen more than 306,000 refugees sponsored by private or community groups since 1978. Argentina, Australia, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom have launched or committed to start such initiatives. The brief, Refugee Sponsorship Programmes: A global state of play and opportunities for investment, was released in advance of the 2019 Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which launched a new three-year resettlement strategy, including a commitment to expanding access to complementary pathways such as sponsorship and, presumably, private sponsorship of student refugees on student visas.

[xv] Audrey Macklin, a prominent refugee researcher, and her colleagues, after refugee migrations reached a moment of ‘crisis’ in 2015, started investigating the realities of resettlement and responses to precarious migration. Their respective research projects explored questions of private sponsorship and community resettlement from the perspective of various actors and access to higher education for young adult refugees as well as various other topics related to private sponsorship. See the workshop they ran at the University of Toronto on “Lived Learning as Researchers: Reflections on Migration Research,” 30 March 2020.

[xvi] Refugee Law Initiative’s 9th International Refugee Law Seminar Series, Speaker: Professor Penelope Mathew, Griffith University, Date: 19 November 2018. Matthew was Dean of Law at Griffith from 2014-2018. https://soundcloud.com/refugeelawinitiative/leaving-no-one-behind-a-look-at-the-global-compact-on-refugees

[xvii] M. The Expert Council’s Research Unit (SVR Research Unit (2018) What Next for Global Refugee Policy? Opportunities and Limits of Resettlement at Global, European and National Levels. Berlin. https://www.svr-migration.de/en/publications/resettlement/

[xviii] For a more critical approach to private sponsorship as an expression of neo-liberalism, cf. Enns, T. (2017). The Opportunity to Welcome: Shifting responsibilities and the resettlement of Syrian refugees within Canadian communities, Dissertation, University of Oxford This dissertation asks: to what extent have local and individual resettlement efforts been shaped by a rhetoric of “welcome”, and to what extent have national policies and practices of refugee resettlement reconfigured the scales of responsibility? It starts by providing a revisionist history of refugee resettlement in Canada, it then contextualizes the latter within the recent Syrian resettlement effort, and assess the national, community and individual responses and responsibilities—with a particular focus on the community-led response within the Region of Waterloo. It argues that the Syrian example has revealed manifestations of neo-liberalization, regarding who determines one’s right to resettlement, and on whose shoulders the moral and economic impact of resettlement rests. https://www.academia.edu/37800132/The_Opportunity_to_Welcome_Shifting_responsibilities_and_the_resettlement_of_Syrian_refugees_within_Canadian_communities

[xix] Cf. Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe prepared with ICF International for the European Commission’s Directorate General for Home Affairs prepared by Hanne Beirens and Susan Fratzke. These are a potted version of their words.

[xx]Cf.  Ilcan, S., Thomaz, D., & Jimenez Bueno, (2020) “Private sponsorship in Canada: the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the Kitchener-Waterloo region,”. IMRC Policy Points, Issue 17; see also Suzan Ilcan, Diana Thomaz, and Manuela Jimenez Bueno. (2020) “Private Sponsorship in Canada: The Resettlement of Syrian Refugees in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region,” International Migration Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University. https://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=imrc

[xxi] A majority of Canadians continue to see Canada as an international role model with 86 per cent of respondents saying the country can have a positive impact on world affairs, both in 2008 and in 2018. 25% of respondents think the most important contribution the country can make to the world is accepting immigrants and multiculturalism, a shift from ten years ago when peacekeeping topped the list. Consequently, the survey estimates that two million adult Canadians were involved directly in the sponsorship of refugees, with another seven million who knew someone who did. In addition, a majority of those surveyed believe Canada should either increase the number of refugees accepted over the next two years or continue to accept the same number. Cf. the 2018 survey by Francesca Fionda forEnvironics Institute for Survey Research. https://www.thediscourse.ca/data/canadians-see-welcoming-refugees-as-our-top-international-contribution-survey-find

[xxii] http://carfms.org/blog/the-un-refugee-agencys-report-shows-that-canada-should-welcome-more-refugees/

[xxiii] The BVOR program was introduced in 2013 as a modified version of private sponsorship and middle ground between sponsorship and government-assisted resettlement. While the program was met with criticism and skepticism that the government was off-loading more resettlement responsibility to private sponsors, the Syrian crisis significantly impacted and changed the Canadian resettlement landscape. Labman, S., & Pearlman, M. (2018) “Blending, Bargaining, and Burden-Sharing: Canada’s Resettlement Programs,” Journal of International Migration and Integration, 1-11.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12134-018-0555-3

Refugees and Higher Education

Part I – An Introduction and Overview

Traditionally, there have been three paths to resolving long-term refugee situations: repatriation; settlement in counties of initial asylum; resettlement[i]. This paper focuses on the use of higher education[ii] to facilitate the latter two options[iii] while enhancing the benefits if refugees can and do repatriate. Education becomes the lynchpin to membership for refugees and addresses what is so agonizing and so intractable about the global migrant crisis: exclusion from membership in a society dedicated to their security.[iv]

Without a solution, millions are deprived of their human capacities and condemned to the margins of the international system. The United States, which used to be the leading nation providing resettlement opportunities, has slipped badly under the administration of Donald Trump.[v] Other states overtly subvert efforts of refugees to get a higher education; Hungary is a case in point.[vi] However, in others, access to higher education proves to be transformative[vii].

This series of five blogs reviews the current refugee situation in which the prospect of resettlement has declined precipitously,[viii] though this is one of many initiatives to widen the portal.[ix] Local integration has become more difficult; it has encountered even more obstacles than were already in place and, in most recent cases of refugee outflows, repatriation has seemed more unlikely even when conflicts have significantly subsided. Part II offers an overview of the current refugee situation.

Part III reviews the evolution of the university related to tackling social issues and the impact this has had on the nature and role of the university. In addressing the refugee problem. this situation is placed in the context of both the current global situation of refugees and the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has had an impact on recently arrived refugees[x]; in Canada, some 7500 refugees with PR visas slated for resettlement were also left in limbo as their flights were cancelled or postponed.[xi] After reviewing the development of the idea of the university in the modern period, our interest zeroes in on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education in relationship to refugees overseas. Fortuitously, with all the horrors visited on society by the pandemic, the latter has had, as a byproduct, an important impact in the possibility of enormously expanding the role of institutions of higher learning in tackling the refugee crisis.

Part IV reviews the involvement to this date of universities and other organizations in efforts to alleviate the refugee situation through making higher education accessible. Though these efforts have been very marginal to the overall crisis, they have multiplied significantly in the last twenty years and point to a much broader, more frontal and more central role in resolving the crisis of protracted refugee situations, often called refugee warehousing when those refugees are held in refugee camps.

Part V draws on the discussion of local rather than overseas partners that will be a requisite to advancing such a program. These include other universities and community colleges (including student organizations), NGOs, businesses, philanthropic organizations, the federal and provincial levels of government, but also, and very significantly, municipal government.[xii] This section will offer the outline of a program for offering refugees advanced education in a more comprehensive and organized way tied to programs of resettlement and local integration.[xiii] It will also advance an organizational frame for linking these institutions to advance such a program.

Overview

What follows is a summary statement of the basic elements in initiating such a program.

  1. Higher Education offers a lynchpin to membership for refugees both in countries of first asylum and in countries of resettlement.
  2. Universities and colleges can make higher education accessible to refugees.
  3. There has already been significant expansion of efforts to bring higher education to refugees.
  4. Distance online learning allows university and college courses to be delivered directly to refugees in camps and in urban areas where they may have temporarily self-settled but without the legal security of membership in the state.
  5. Expansion of access to such programs from 1% of refugees worldwide to one-third should be the goal.
  6. Demand must be matched with opportunity.
  7. Integration in countries of first asylum can best be facilitated through the postsecondary student visa route.
  8. At the core of the proposal, a special class of refugees who enter Canada on student visas would be created.
  9. Subsequent to the completion of their studies, they would become eligible for landed status.
  10. This might be called the Privately Sponsored Student Visa (PSSV) class.
  11. This Canadian initiative would be expanded as a mission to the rest of the world.
  12. Universities would both select those students as well as incentivize young refugees.
  13. Canada, with partners, would run a distance education program at the post-secondary level for refugees.
  14. University student organizations would sponsor refugee students for student visas and facilitate resettlement.
  15. University student bodies would partner with civil society to sponsor the refugees.
  16. Key elements of private sponsorship would be:
  17. A dedicated government entry stream;
  18. Student organization of business-family sponsorships
  19. Role of businesses:
  20. Scholarships
  21. Jobs
  22. Training
  23. Networking
  24. Private sponsorships for housing and food.
  25. UNHCR has actively promoted the search for such new pathways to find new ways to bring refugees to safety as well as to rebuild public interest and consensus around the importance of protection.
  26. The Global Compact on Refugees endorsed by the UN General Assembly provides “a basis for predictable and equitable burden and responsibility-sharing” based on a firmer mechanism for that responsibility sharing.

The Consequences of Such a Program

  1. The program would accelerate the transition of universities and colleges from support roles in society into central actors in the emergence of a welcoming society, a knowledge and information-based society and one, more specifically, that can serve as a route for refugees to gain the security of membership in a state via their accomplishments in higher education.
  2. If Canada takes on the responsibility of distance higher education for 10% of refugee students seeking a higher education, or 150,000, if 20% of them enter Canada on student visas (30,000) each year, then students in the PSSV program would constitute about 5% initially of students in Canada on student visas.
  3. For every nine students educated overseas, one student would be brought to Canada.
  4. With the skills acquired, refugee youth would be in a much better position to enter the knowledge economy in their countries of asylum.

To be continued


ENDNOTES

[i] Adèle Garnier, Liliana Lyra Jubilut, and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (eds.) (2018) Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics and Humanitarian Governance.

[ii] For a study of the role of education at lower levels in Canada for refugees, cf. Ratković, S., Kovačević, D., Brewer, C. A., Ellis, C., Ahmed, N., & Baptiste-Brady, J. (2018). Supporting refugee students in Canada: Building on what we have learned in the past 20 years. Report to Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Brock University, St. Catherines, ON.

[iii] Cf. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (2018) Protecting the Promise of a Generation: Education for Refugees and the Forcibly Displaced. The report calls for policymakers, donors, and other decision makers to prioritize education for refugees and displaced people. As the report argues, based on the Jesuit organization’s long experience with refugee education, “education can have transformational, life-saving impact.” This is also true at the tertiary level.

[iv] UNHCR (2019) Stepping Up: Refugee Education in Crisis. This report tells the stories of some of the world’s 7.1 million refugee children of school age under UNHCR’s mandate. In addition, it looks at the educational aspirations of refugee youth eager to continue learning after secondary education. It also highlights the need for strong partnerships in order to break down the barriers to education for millions of refugee children. https://www.unhcr.org/steppingup/wp-content/uploads/sites/76/2019/09/Education-Report-2019-Final-web-9.pdf

[v] Until the advent of the Trump administration in 2017, the U.S. was a leading country in resettlement, even though the US refugee program served US interests and values. Cf. Kerwin, Donald (2018) The US Refugee Resettlement Program – A Return to First Principles: How Refugees Help to Define, Strengthen, and Revitalize the United States. Report. Center for Migration Studies. The report outlines the achievements, contributions and integration of 1.1 million refugees who arrived in the United States between 1987 and 2016 and asserts that the US refugee resettlement program should be a source of immense national pride because it has saved countless lives, put millions of impoverished persons on a path to work, self-sufficiency, and integration, and advanced US standing in the world.

[vi] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/09/punishing-tax-stops-refugees-studying-hungarian-universities-180902213913584.html

[vii] Bailey, Lucy and Gül İnanç (2018) Access to Higher Education: Refugees’ Stories from Malaysia. Baton Rouge, Florida: CRC Press. This book contains stories from a small group of successful refugees who have managed to receive higher education in a context where their existence is not recognized and where most refugees lack access to even basic education. Until 2015, no refugees in Malaysia were able to access higher education, and they were unable to attend government schooling. Since then, six private higher education institutions have agreed to open their doors to refugees for the first time. This book identifies the factors that aided these refugees. It charts the challenges that they and their communities have faced. The stories are framed by a discussion of the situation that refugees face in accessing education globally

https://www.crcpress.com/Access-to-Higher-Education-Refugees-Stories-form-Malaysia/Bailey-Inanc/p/book/9781138495128

[viii] There were 20.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world at the end of 2019, but less than one per cent of refugees are resettled each year. The resettlement spots offered by countries in 2018 were less than half the level in 2016. Only a small number of states take part in UNHCR’s resettlement program – U.S., Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Nordic countries. Resettlement states provide the refugee with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. During the Global Refugee Forum that took place in Geneva, 16-18 December 2019, EU member states made pledges for resettlement efforts in 2020, backed with financial support from the European Commission. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) hosting the event estimated the global resettlement needs at 1.44 million. A delegation of MEPs called for more ambitious resettlement efforts. https://www.ecre.org/global-refugee-forum-eu-ms-pledge-30000-resettlement-for-2020-meps-urges-more-ambition/

[ix] Clair Higgins (2019)Policy Brief: Safe Journeys and Sound Policy: Expanding protected entry for refugees,”, Kaldor center for international refugee law. https://www.kaldorcentre.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/Policy_Brief_8_Protected_Entry.pdf,

[x] As examples of such recent foci see the following 2020 studies: Hojati, Z. (2020) “Post-Covid 19: The Need to Revisit Canada’s Work Regulation Toward Professional Immigrants;” Yael Schacher & Rachel Schmidtke (2020) “Harmful Returns: The Compounded Vulnerabilities of Returned Guatemalans in the Time of COVID-19”; Yvonne Su, Yuriko Cowper-Smith & Tyler Valiquettem (2020) “LGBTQI+ Populations Face Unique Challenges During Pandemic.”

[xi] https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/dap hne-bramham-covid-19-challenges-refugees-and-those-helping-them-to-settle/

[xii] The synergy among business organization, municipalities and refugee support organization was confirmed in a Dutch study. Ruben Munsterman (2019) Amsterdam’s Hire-a-Refugee Program Takes On Tight Labor Market,” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-26/amsterdam-s-hire-a-refugee-program-takes-on-tight-labor-market

[xiii] Such a program can play a critical role itself in integration. Cf. Jay Marlowe  (2018) Belonging and Transnational Refugee Settlement: Unsettling the Everyday and the Extraordinary, https://www.routledge.com/Belonging-and-Transnational-Refugee-Settlement-Unsettling-the-Everyday/Marlowe/p/book/9781138285453

The Trial of the Chicago 7

I told one of my daughters that I was going to write a review of this film after seeing it this past weekend and would compare my memory of what happened to the film. She emailed me that Vanity Fair had beaten me to that approach. In fact, Jordan Hoffman’s article in the 16 October issue, “The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Wildest Things the Movie Left Out” is different. I do not want to write a review about what was left out as much as about what was in the movie that seemed to be at odds with my memory. Hence, the Alert.

Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed The Trial of the Chicago 7 as well as Moneyball and a host of other films such as the 2010 film about the initiation of Facebook, The Social Network.In The Trial, he made a film about one of the momentous moments of my life, the protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 and the long trial that lasted from April of 1969 to February of 1970, which both enraged me and made me cry. Sorkin turned it into a comedy, a tragic-comedy, but a comedy nevertheless. An all-too-earnest Tom Hayden, the head of The Students for Democratic Action (SDS) and author of the infamous Port Huron Statement, became the straight man for Abbie Hoffman’s stand-up comedy and satirical riffs.

Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abby as only Cohen could, as a wiseacre rather than a brilliant and insightful clown and master of the sight gag. He did offer one example of the latter. He and Rubin wore judicial robes into court. The judge ordered them to take the robes off. They did. Underneath, in the film, they reveal police badges pinned to their chests. In history, I believe they wore yellow stars. If this was the case, I do not know why Sorkin made the switch except to underplay the Jewish role in the protests and to provide a greater link with the present.

In reality, Abbie Hoffman was known as the co-founder of the Youth International Party, the Yippies, but he was also one of the progenitors of identity politics in his claim that we are constructed by the media we watch and the myths embedded in that media. At the other end of the spectrum was Rennie Davis, played by Alex Sharp, as Hayden’s owl-eyed pedantic sidekick whose notebook becomes the star of the day at the end of the trial. Did something like that happened halfway through the actual trial? I don not recall. However, putting it at the end was a great emotional way to end the movie.

I remember Rennie Davis, not as a nerd, but as a brilliant strategist and tactician who played a far more important role in writing the Port Huron Statement with Tom and in developing the practices of the American New Left. He was assigned a peripheral role in the film.

Cohen has his own sidekick, another Yippie who became a Yuppie. Jerry Rubin, played by Jeremy Strong, comes across as a naïve idealist and romantic rather than as Abbie Hoffman’s cynical but very realistic clever buddy. I understood that Strong had really immersed himself in studying the period and the character of Jerry Rubin so I cannot guarantee that my memory is correct.

The movie, while drawing on the actual transcript of the trial and the events that took place, is not a historical documentary. Certainly the horror of the American Vietnam War and the draft to enlist sufficient soldiers as fodder for that fruitless battle in Indochina provide the background, but until the very end, the Vietnam War slips well into the backroom in favour of courtroom antics that turns an institution, supposedly the repository of justice, into a theatre stage as Richard Nixon, as the hidden puppet master for a malicious prosecution, pursues revenge against dissidents. Further, we know it could not be a representation of the actual trial, which was an exercise in chaos as well as injustice, while the movie reconstructs the courtroom battle as much more of a polished and orderly affair, though with volcanic eruptions paced throughout.

The central event in Chicago was the organized attack by Mayor Daley’s “police” against the counter-cultural hippies and pro-democratic protesters trying to get their message to the attendees at the Chicago 1968 Democratic convention and the wider American public. The past is used to speak to the present – the conflicts in Minneapolis over the killing of George Floyd (“I can’t breathe”), the seemingly endless confrontations in Portland, Oregon, Jacob Blake’s killing in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Breonnna Taylor’s “execution” in Louisville, Kentucky, Ahmaud Arbery’s killing by police in Brunswick, Georgia, Rayshard Brook’s death in Atlanta, Georgia at the hands of police, Dijon Kizzee’s murder in Los Angeles, and a myriad of confrontations with “officers of the law” across America.   

These did not start in 1968. Chicago 68 was an echo fifty years after the Red Summer of Chicago 1919. Nor will they end in 2020. Nevertheless, “the times they are a changin’.” For 38 were killed in the 1919 riots. Over 500 were injured. The police turned their backs and arrested Blacks for defending themselves from their white assailants. 1968 was mainly a white affair. Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers, was in Chicago at most for two days during the confrontation. And his visit had nothing to do with the Yippie celebrations in the park or the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) protesters. In 2020, the demonstrators have been black and white and came from all age groups, not just youth.

However, in 1968, the property destruction of white areas, such as the Gold Coast Historic District where Michigan Avenue, the key street where the confrontations took place, terminates, had been enormous. That was largely the responsibility of the Weathermen, a radical breakaway from SDS. I never learned why Mark Rudd and John Jacobs, the founders, were never charged. For these Columbia University radicals were the real instigators of the destruction. Further, in contrast to the destruction in Chicago on rich white consumer shopping, the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1920 totally destroyed the black parts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The perpetrators were primarily white mobs. Following the Rodney King killing by police, the 1992 Los Angeles Watts riots were a response to the acquittal of the four cops. 60 died.

In comparison, in spite of the extensive media coverage of the Chicago police brutality, their use of tear gas and clubs, relatively, it was a tame affair. This was not a credit to the police and Mayor Daley, whom Senator Abraham Ribicoff rebuked for using police as Nazi thugs, but because the protesters had been well-trained in using non-violence, even though a great deal of property destruction took place on the sides – but not by followers of the main people accused. Further, Daley had mustered 12,000 police, 2,500 National Guardsmen and 1,000 intelligence officers borrowed from the FBI and other agencies. A military corps was on standby. And there were only an estimated 5,000 protesters and counter-cultural exhibitionists. In contrast, in this past year, 14,000 people were arrested. Millions protested. Further, no mayor today would dare do what Daley did; he gave his officers orders to shoot to maim. On the other hand, in the case of the Chicago 1968 riots, 8 cops were indicted. I do not know whether they were convicted

To-day, because protesters are much better behaved, and so are most police forces, over 90% of protests have been without incident. Nevertheless, the movie speaks to the present, a present characterized by deep divisions between the democratic left and the officious and indifferent right. But in 1968, the schisms within the left were as deep or even deeper than the divide between the defenders of the Vietnam War and its critics. Only then, the presidency was occupied by a truly malevolent figure, while in the present, the occupant in that high office is an incompetent and ignorant clown full to the eyebrows with mendacity on public display everywhere. Nixon’s lies were covered up in a pretense of honesty. Donald Trump could not display honesty even if one could find a trace of it in his anatomy.

The racism and prejudice are, however, underplayed as a sideshow to the main drama, the confrontation of peace protesters with police with billie clubs, with tear gas and a total indifference to the rights of peaceful protest. The system is corrupt and the blindfold on Lady Justice comes to represent deliberate blindness rather than very carefully preserved impartiality. The period makes today’s events look like a comedy festival in which keystone conspirators threaten to kidnap the Governor of Michigan and even assassinate her. Back then, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. And the Yippies were the keystone anti-cops.

Sorokin succeeds in part because of the writing, in part because of the direction and mostly because he was able to attract a terrific cast. However, in the end he succeeds so well because he constructs a courtroom drama that both evokes sympathy for a bunch of characters, many of whom are personally unattractive, as collectively they subvert formal but totally inauthentic authority, each in his own way.

Other than the corrupt office of the Attorney General, which is represented by a sincere and seemingly honourable prosecuting attorney, Richard Schultz, and his silent and dishonourable boss, the central source of that inauthentic authority is a caricature, Judge Julius Hoffman, played brilliantly by Frank Langella. There is not the slightest attempt to show that he represents the rule of law as he is characterized as using his perch to bully the defendants and their attorneys. Shades of today’s Trumpian days, he is an enforcer rather than a judge, a stand-in for the Nixon administration and John Mitchell as the Attorney General playing William Barr, determined to use the Chicago 7 as exemplars in his new law and order regime.

Except for the most enraged, the most frustrated and, in the end, the most intemperate of those on trial, Bobby Seale, when the rule of law finally peaks its forehead above the theatre boards, reveals himself as the one most victimized. When he is chained up and gagged, as well as beat up by the courtroom bullies there to enforce decorum, the thin, wispy prosecuting attorney who represents the state, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Schultz, in contrast to his appeasing boss, Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie), does have his own humanity and backbone as much as he disagrees with and condemns the actions of the leaders of the protest. He moves for a mistrial in the case of Bobby Seale to the enormous consternation of the comic book judge and the trial becomes that of the Chicago 7.

I did not recall Ramsey Clark (played by Michael Keaton), who was the U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, taking the stand at the end of the trial and declaring that his department’s investigation of the protesters found no evidence of either a conspiracy or intent to engage in violence. And the testimony was explosive. But, of course, under the direction of Judge Julius Hoffman, the jury never heard it.

I realized that the drama did not work because it simulated events at the time, though a great many of those events were included. Nor did it work because Aaron Sorkin tried to make the characters resemble the historical figures who were on trial in 1968. They are not simulacrums, but fictional creations in their own right. They are his characters, though they bear a resemblance to actual history, but not an exact one to the historical figures.

Bobby Seale, head of the Black Panthers and played by Yaha Abdul Mateen, never had legal representation. He did have an adviser, Fred Hampton, I believe a co-founder of the Black Panthers. He is played by Kelvin Harrison. Fred was neither a lawyer nor on trial, He was assassinated by the police during the trial. He was the one who insisted that the Black Panthers keep their distance from the anarchistic and opportunistic so-called radical whites. Together, Bobby and Fred demonstrated the roots of Black Lives Matter as each complements the other. But I do not recall knowing Bobby Seale, though, of course, I knew of him. 

I did not know William Kunstler either, but I did have a powerful memory of him and it did not correspond at all to the character of the lead defence attorney in the film. William Kunstler, as I recall, was a flamboyant and thoroughly unconventional courtroom lawyer; for me, in the film he was made over into a very serious, very learned, very compelling, very clever and extremely frustrated man of the law. In real life, he was a very serious man on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union. He co-founded the Law Center for Constitutional Rights. But he was a big man. He had been a major in the army during WWII. He was a brawler. He was a rumpled mess, but a very colourful character. He was also a poet. As interesting as the character was in the movie. I barely remembered him as the guy I recalled. I heard that Jeffrey Sweet’s play, kunstler, does a far better job of depicting the real historical personality.

I knew David Dellinger from his writings in Liberation for I was a pacifist in the late fifties and early sixties, but I had never met him, though I had been at a conference with A.J. Muste and Bayard Rustin and he must have been there. I would have liked to have met him for he was a pacifist, an anarchist and an experimenter with intentional communities. He also hated bureaucracies. He was, if I recall, a down-to-earth kind of guy whom I did not recognize as the suited pacifist and demonstrator in the movie. I had liked him even though I never met him because he seemed decent, reasonable, affable and never took himself too seriously. If my memory is better than the film, where he comes across as a stuffed shirt misfit in the yippie and student protest movement of the sixties, this was perhaps the greatest misrepresentation in the film. I remember that when he became enamoured with Fidel Castro, he fell totally out of favour with me so that by 1968, I had lost respect for him. But that said more about me than him.

The only person depicted in the film that I ever met was Tom Hayden, though I had seen both Rubin and Hoffman at a demonstration. Eddie Redmayne played Tom as a very serious small “l” liberal who laughed too little and scolded too much. He played the role of the superego of the group and apparently the most intellectual, though he was wise enough in the film to understand that Hoffman was much smarter than he ever thought. I remember him as very tolerant and proud of the wide variety of personalities and positions in the New Left and never imagined him as a hectoring person. Further, he was much more playful. I think that this was the way he should have been portrayed when he let the air out of the tire of the police car.

I remember one thing about the events that stood out and which Sorkin tried to capture in Abbie Hoffman’s humour. When Judge Julius Hoffman tried to make clear that he was totally unrelated to the plaintiff, Abbie Hoffman cracked, “Dad, why hast thou forsaken me.” (The movie may have had a slightly different version, but that is the one I recall.) Later in the movie, Hoffman quotes the Gospel according to Matthew; I have no memory of that. What I recall is that he told a lot of Yiddish jokes, I believed at the time, to embarrass the judge who tried so hard to resemble a WASP. I wish I would and could have remembered more of Hoffman’s Yiddish wit.

In mid-film, when Abie Hoffman takes the stand, the judge asks him to state his name. “Abbie.” “State your last name.” “My grandfather’s name was Shaboysnakoff, but he was a Russian Jew protesting anti-Semitism, so he was assigned a name that would sound like yours.” Later in the film, Hoffman cracks, “”You are a shande für de Goyim.” (You are a disgrace to gentiles.) Hoffman then shoved the knife in. He added, “You would have served Hitler better.”

The Jewish element was ever present in real life in the whole protest movement, but only glanced at in the film. Hoffman, Rubin and Lee Weiner, 3 of the 8, were Jewish. So was the legal cohort on all Sides – Judge Hoffman, Richard Schultz, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass (Kunstler’s associate played by Ben Shenkman). And Mark Rudd and John Jacobs, the Columbian University radicals from the Weathermen, who were not in the film, were both Jewish. Jacobs would have been a great addition to the film given his arrogant pugnaciousness and sneering personality. It would also have accounted for the property damage in a clearer way.

I cannot even remember many of the other representations of the trial that I have seen over the years. One was a documentary. Another was a docudrama. One was a satire. And, of course, there is Woody Allen’s Bananas which I have seen twice on TV recently. I believe there may have been others. But in spite of the differences with my memory, Sorkin’s film clearly made the strongest impression on me by far.

VIII. One or Two States – The Oslo Accords

A quarter century after the Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) face a legitimacy crisis. The PA failed to bring about peace, justice, and self-determination for the Palestinian people. Failure of leadership marked the Palestinian struggle during the twentieth century from the British Mandate, the 1929, the 1936-1939 uprising and the loss of the war with the Zionists, even with the help of five invading Arab states. The Palestinians were the most serious losers in the Six Day War.

In the aftermath, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on 22 November 1967. The preamble specifically refers to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Paragraph One “Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires…withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Pedantically, some argue that it does not specify “the” territories and thus can mean just some withdrawal. However, conjoined with the preamble, such an interpretation seems to be a distraction, especially since the French version includes the definite article “des” before “territories.” And French, along with English, is an official language.

Conjoined with other clauses referring to “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of every state in the area (my italics), a different argument is made. Palestinians did not have a state. The only state in the region referred to can be Jordan. However, when Jordan gave up its claim to the territory in 1988, with the exception of guardianship over the Holy sites in the Old City, then the West Bank, though occupied by Israel, was no longer the territory of another state but disputed territory. As the Israeli Ambassador told the Security Council at the time of Resolution 232, “I am also authorized to reaffirm that we are willing to seek agreement with each Arab State (my italics) on all matters included in that resolution.”

On the other hand, successive Security Council resolutions, such as 1515 in 2003, presumed by most governments that the captured territory in the West Bank was occupied territory of a proto-Palestinian State. Such is the problem with equivocation in peace agreements intended not to clarify but to obfuscate and cover up differences in order to get an agreement. In 1994, the Secretary of State of the United States, Madeleine Albright, informed the UN Security Council that it did not recognize 242 as referring to Palestinian occupied territory. Instead, sovereignty had to be determined through negotiations. However, Secretary of State Rogers in 1969, while admitting that the reference was not to “all” the territory, had insisted that adjustments to the border could be made but could not be “substantial.”

Yet Resolution 1515 makes clear that the objective was two independent homelands by means of two states, not just one state and another autonomous polity – Israel and Palestine. Palestine was to be contiguous and viable. However, it did not specify that Palestine would have all the territory that Israel captured in June of 1967. Further, the President of the U.S. insisted in 2004 that Israel’s borders had to be defensible ones, specifically echoing the Alon Plan language. Ever since 1967, various parties have weighed in on the issue, including those who helped write it. It became clear that the resolution was as disputable as the border.

In 1970, when the PLO tried to stage an uprising against King Hussein of Jordan in Black September, they were defeated and driven out of the country into Lebanon. Thus, when Jordan, as well as Egypt, weighed in on the Israeli side against the PLO, it seemed that politics as much as language determined the interpretation. The Palestinians gained nothing from the 1973 Yom Kippur War as Israelis moved right and became super-conscious of their security needs. Resolution 338, passed in its aftermath (15 June 1973), reaffirmed 232 but without clarifying the dispute over its meaning. In fact, it muddied the waters further because the lack of clarification was interpreted to mean that the degree of withdrawal was to be negotiated.

Again, when Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, flew to Israel to take part in negotiations in Jerusalem to forge the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Agreement (1979), the Palestinians lost considerable leverage, even though the deal was considered a stab in the back and a betrayal of their cause across the Arab world. Yasser Arafat mistakenly pronounced that, “it would not last.” It has lasted, even though prominent Egyptian leaders remained critical of the deal. The Egyptian government repeatedly asserted that the terms of the “cold peace” would be kept.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo I Accord. In the aftermath, on 26 October 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in the Arava Valley crossing between Israel and Jordan, hence the name, the Wad Araba Treaty. It was perhaps the biggest impetus to the Israelis and Palestinians crossing the finishing line and signing the Oslo II Accord in Taba, Egypt in 1995. The Oslo Accords are not peace agreements, but the start of a peace process based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 that gave the Palestinians the “right to self-determination,” recognized the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people  at the same time as the PLO recognized the State of Israel.

Finally, a two-state solution seemed within reach. But the Accords themselves did not bring a Palestinian State into existence. Palestinian self-government is not the same as Palestinian sovereignty. A process was started. After Oslo I, the Gaza-Jericho Agreement provided that the issues outstanding would be settled in preparation for signing a permanent peace treaty that would end the conflict before May 1999.

In sum, the OSLO Accords:

  • Created the Palestinian Authority (the PA)
  • Acknowledged the PLO as Israel’s negotiation partner
  • Specified that borders had to be negotiated
  • Mentioned that the status of the Israeli settlements was to be resolved
  • Similarly, so was the status of the Old City and East Jerusalem
  • The Palestinian right of return had to be negotiated
  • Israel’s security and military presence in all those areas had to be determined.

Instead of a state, Oslo created a tripartite division of the West Bank into Area C (60%) controlled administratively and for security purposes by Israel; Area B (22%) controlled for security purposes by Israel but administered by the PA, and Area A (18%) with the PA assuming both security and administrative control by a strengthened police force, while Israel continued its military control of all external borders. Oslo did not lead to a Palestinian state. Instead, increasingly, Palestinian critics of Oslo claimed it legalized creeping annexation.

In 1967, of the 2.5 million Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the population of Palestinians in the West Bank, excluding the Old City and East Jerusalem, was just under 600,000 of whom about 100,000 were refugees from the 1948 war. Almost thirty years later, Areas A and B alone in the West Bank consisted of about 2 million Palestinians. However, whereas Area C in which most of the settlements were located, originally held 600,000 Palestinians, that number has been reduced in 2020 to less that 150,000 at the same time as the total population of both Gaza and the West Bank has increased to 4.8 million (2 million of them former refugees and their descendants from Israel), with 2.8 million in the West Bank.

The final boundaries were not determined. The degree of sovereignty of the PA was not determined. The timing of the phases of withdrawal of the Israeli military and the assumption of greater authority by the Palestinian Legislative Council was not determined. However, Oslo specified that, “Area ‘C’ means areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B, which, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.” Excluding any reference to Jerusalem or the evacuation of settlements, these became subjects for further negotiations.

The deadline for resolving all of the above remaining issues by May 1999 was not reached. In fact, there was not very much progress in that direction. The first Palestinian Intifada ended with the signing of Oslo I. Violence erupted on 29 September 2000, first in the Old City and then spread to the rest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza when it evolved into widespread terrorism targeting Israeli civilians in buses and cafes. For Israelis, Oslo became a dead letter that failed to deliver security. For the Palestinians, Oslo became a dead letter because it failed to lead to an independent sovereign Palestinian state. And all the while, new settlements were started; old settlements were expanded. Palestinian critics of Oslo understandably began to see Oslo as merely a cover for the creeping annexation underway.

By 2020, Oslo had turned from a great success to an enormous historical failure. The question of Two-States which Oslo appeared to settle was reopened and a One State solution was back on the table, particularly since the whole area of Mandatory Palestine now consisted of over 13 million, half Jews(6.9 million) and half Arabs (6.5 million). Though Jews had a razor-thin majority, the Arab population in the area was projected to outstrip that of the Jews even though the birthrate had dropped from 7 to 5 children for each Palestinian mother, for the birthrate among Jews, including the ultra-Orthodox with a high birthrate, was much lower.

The reality is that the fight over territory, the fight over political boundaries and political organization of the territory is more a fight over demography than anything else.