Hiring pause at U of M holocaust center leads to vote of no confidence

Banners line a walkway
Students walk on the University of Minnesota campus between classes.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023

A group of faculty members at the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts have given the interim president of the university a vote of no confidence, following his handling of the hiring process for the next leader of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Earlier this month, the university extended an offer to Raz Segal, an Israeli historian and genocide scholar, to lead the center.

But shortly after that offer was made, he was criticized by some for calling Israel’s military campaign in Gaza a “textbook case for genocide” in an essay published in October 2023 in the magazine Jewish Currents.

In the weeks that followed his hiring offer, two professors resigned from the center’s board in protest, and the decision also drew criticism from some Twin Cities Jewish organizations.

Other faculty showed support for Segal’s hiring.

The university decided to “pause” the hiring process and say they’ll likely wait a year to hire a new director for the center.

But a group of faculty members and administrators at the College of Liberal Arts Assembly say that process was flawed and sets a bad precedent.

The CLA Assembly held a special meeting Thursday to discuss the rescinded offer to Raz Segal.

The issue, they say, was the president and provost’s “unprecedented interference in the college’s hiring process.”

The voting members of the Assembly voted 24 to 6, with three members abstaining, to give Interim President Jeff Ettinger and Provost Rachel Croson a vote of no confidence.

“Unlike a traditional faculty appointment, the provost plays no role, accepting recommendations, approving or intervening in the hiring of a director,” said Michael Gallope, the Vice Chair of the CLA Assembly.

“So there’s a concern about precedent that this has not happened before. And it goes against the constitution of the College of Liberal Arts, in terms of how it designates hiring authority,” he said. “This is really a dean’s decision, not a president’s decision to make.”

Gallope said the Assembly has issues with how this occurred procedurally. The hiring process, up to the point at which the job was offered to Segal, followed a long-used, intense vetting of the candidate, that included public meetings.

He also said there’s concern that the president was responding to public concerns over a job candidate’s views, especially after they’ve been offered a job, which he said raises concerns for future hires.

“This type of intervention into faculty hiring, that has no basis in policy, no precedent in the institution’s history that we are aware of, cannot be accepted without protest,” he said. “This seriously undermines the procedures and policies in place to ensure that all faculty, staff and students are protected by academic freedom, that they feel that they can express opinions without reprisal or punishment.”

Gallope, who is also a member of the University Faculty Senate, said the university senate could take up a similar measure next week at its meeting.

In a statement, Interim President Jeffrey Ettinger said, “I’ve listened and engaged openly with our faculty throughout my time as the interim president. I defend academic freedom, and I recognize the value of shared governance.”

His statement continues, “I believe that my actions throughout the past year have demonstrated that. I disagree with the outcome of the CLA Assembly vote on this topic, but I respect their right to use their voice as they see fit.”