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April 16, 2024

Clark fires back as outgoing Holocaust center director admonishes school in WSJ op-ed

Two people with backpacks walk towards a large brick school building Photo | Grant Welker Clark University's campus in Worcester's Main South neighborhood

Alleging admonishments and threats from both students and staff in an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, the executive director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University has left the Worcester institution to join Assumption University. 

Clark responded with a statement to WBJ denying Mary Jane Rein’s claims, including admonishments and emphasized the university’s freedom of expression policy, which the university noted applied to Rein. 

“As a matter of policy, we do not address details related to employment matters. However, because Ms. Rein brought this situation into the public domain, we can address some of her claims,” Clark said in a statement sent to WBJ by Angela Bazydlo, the school’s media relations director.

The Clark policy, which went into effect on Feb. 9, 2019, says:

"Clark University is committed to the principles of free speech, the free pursuit of inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. These fundamental tenets are central to our educational mission. As an institution, we strive to create a productive learning environment in which we can engage respectfully in public debate, ask difficult questions, discuss new ideas, and express opinions." the Clark statement read.  

In a statement provided to WBJ by Assumption University, Rein emphasized the validity of her claims in the WSJ article and said she is shifting her attention to her new role of director of the newly established Center for Civic Friendship at Assumption. 

"My letter of resignation is an accurate representation of what I described and I can substantiate every line. Recent events do not diminish my genuine respect for the work of the Strassler Center and Clark University, an institution I served with enthusiasm and respect for 20 years. I am now focused on the exciting work of Assumption University. The Center for Civic Friendship has never been more important as we seek to educate fair minded students to be thoughtful citizens. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important initiative," said Rein.

Rein’s WSJ column and very public admonishment of Clark comes as tensions are rising over free speech on college campuses across the nation, since Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, and Israel subsequently attacked the organization in Gaza, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. College campuses across the U.S. have experienced protests, physical violence, antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes, and calls for changes in executive leadership, including high-profile resignations of the leadership of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania.

In the WSJ column, Rein said confrontations between her and members of Clark spurred from a March 13 event she helped organize at Worcester State University. The event featured Shahar Peled, an Israel Defense Forces soldier and first responder to the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel. 

The event was met with protests as various students yelled at Peled, and the fire alarm was pulled. In a video of the event posted to social media, protesters can be heard over the alarm yelling statements such as “Free Palestine”, “The IDF are terrorists”, and “Genocide supporter”. 

During the event, Rein wrote in the WSJ column three Clark PhD students she was familiar with leveled a specific attack against her.

“When the director of the Jewish Federation called me to the podium to introduce the speaker, one of them shouted at him not to use my title, as my views didn’t represent the Strassler Center. I had yet to express any views,” Rein wrote in WSJ. 

In the statement sent to WBJ, Clark addressed the March event, saying it did not take place on Clark’s campus and the university did not participate in the planning or execution of the event. If it had, the incidents would have been handled differently.

“We would have intervened and handled the disruption consistent with our community standards and policies articulated in our Student Code of Conduct. As specified in our Code of Conduct Clark students are responsible for their behavior outside the University’s confines. However, the university may invoke disciplinary action when notified of violations of federal, state, and local laws,” the university wrote in the statement to WBJ. 

In the WSJ column, Rein wrote the day after the WSU event, contentions escalated at Clark.

“In an email the next day, a senior administrator admonished me against using my university affiliation in connection with non-Clark events, saying it was ‘highly problematic’. I hadn’t mentioned my title, either in my brief remarks or in the event announcement, but the administrator warned me to ensure that others also refrain from connecting me to Clark – something that had never been an issue over the previous two decades,” Rein wrote in WSJ.

Clark denied Rein’s allegations of admonishments.

“Ms. Rein was not admonished,” Clark wrote in its statement. “As a non-faculty administrator of the Strassler Center, Ms. Rein was provided guidance after the event about appropriately clarifying when participation in future activities is in a professional or personal capacity.

“This is important because it avoids confusion by making clear when an administrator is representing the university. We would provide this guidance to any administrator at Clark University regardless of religion, identity or political views,” Clark wrote.

In response to the senior administrator’s email, Rein said she asked if other Clark professionals would be asked to not share their affiliation with the institute at non-Clark events, reporting the administrator answered they would not. Instead, Rein wrote the employee stated her expressing her affiliation to the university in her role as an executive administrator running a center, as opposed to a faculty member, would cause confusion.

“I suspected I was being asked to censor myself on the basis of my Jewish identity and support for Israel, as I inferred there would be professional consequences if I presented that disfavored view,” wrote Rein.

The university did not directly address this claim, instead it described its beliefs on the climate of the institute as a whole, one of which Rein claimed, “lacks the strength of character to protect diverse points of view.”

Clark said the university has hosted events over the turmoil in the Middle East, but has done so in a respectful way.

“There have been various forms of gatherings on our campus focused on the many different and divergent views related to the situation in the Middle East – including faculty expert-led panel discussions, small and large group dialogues, and student-organized programs. The interactions at these events have been respectful and without the rancor Ms. Rein experienced elsewhere.”

In the WSJ column, Rein wrote she felt more welcomed at the Catholic institution of Assumption, rather than the secular Clark. Rein wrote she looks forward to a warmer welcome from the university and finds common ground with the institute’s causes. 

“[I] have chosen to align myself with its mission to pursue truth in the company of friends. Its commitment to a style of learning that acknowledges and respects different opinions gives me hope that universities can lead us toward a better future,” wrote Rein.

Worcester State University did not respond to WBJ’s request for comment. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated Tuesday evening to include Mary Jane Rein's statement submitted to WBJ by Assumption University.

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April 16, 2024

As a long ago grad student at Clark, it is my belief that the school’s professional leadership relies on its established “policies” as a convenient excuse to side with the paths of least resistance on political matters it doesn’t want to deal with. The fact is, the day following the October 7th invasion, murders, rapes and hostage taking by HAMAS in Israel, Clark’s leadership did not do the right thing and condemn these crimes against humanity. But Clark has allowed and fostered harassment and a sense of insecurity of Jewish members of its community by Palestinians and their supporters. If Clark’s current leadership had been in place in the 1970s, we’d still be dying in Vietnam.

April 16, 2024

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