YPSA looks to broaden appeal

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Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

Four months after administrators ended the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, anti-Semitism scholars are once again coming to campus, this time under the auspices of the new Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.

The program — one of only two university anti-Semitism programs in the nation — will explore historical and contemporary forms of anti-Semitism, YPSA Director Maurice Samuels said. YPSA will sponsor guest lectures and courses taught by visiting professors and offer research grants to students and faculty, Samuels said. The program is striking a more scholarly tone after its predecessor, YIISA, was criticized by administrators for not producing enough scholarship and by outside observers for being too political.

“Our goal for the future is to promote serious research and scholarship on the problem of anti-Semitism, to better understand its causes and effects,” Samuels said.

YPSA will soon announce new research grants funded by the Salo W. and Jeannette M. Baron Foundation, Samuels said. The grants will be awarded to students and faculty to pursue anti-Semitism research at Yale or elsewhere and will likely range from $500 to $5,000 per project, he said.

The program, which held its third event of the year Tuesday, has already lined up lectures for this academic year, and Samuels said he hopes to start bringing guest professors to campus to teach courses on anti-Semitism by fall 2012.

YIISA did not provide grants or organize courses while it existed between 2006 and 2011.

“There’s really a lot of will to have undergraduate participation [in YPSA] and undergraduate courses,” said Risa Sodi, director of undergraduate studies for the Italian department and a member of YPSA’s advisory group.

While YIISA held only one conference during its five-year tenure, YPSA will hold a conference annually, Samuels said. The first of those will take place at the beginning of the 2012-’13 academic year and focus on “Anti-Semitism in France, Past and Present,” he added.

YPSA is also trying to appeal to a larger cross-section of Yale than its predecessor did. Economics professor Gustav Ranis, who co-chaired a faculty governance committee that reviewed YIISA last year, said YIISA often lacked participation from students and faculty on campus.

“[YIISA] attracted mainly members of the Jewish community of New Haven, which is not an appropriate purpose for a research program at Yale,” Ranis said.

Ranis said YPSA has so far managed to attract a “much more academic clientele” than YIISA did. The new program is cosponsoring lecture events with the History department and other related departments, Samuels said, and hosts a reading group open to all University faculty.

Though faculty and Jewish groups initially protested the June closing of YIISA, they said they were pleased that Yale chose to start a new program later that month.

YIISA came under review in fall 2010, shortly after it hosted a controversial conference titled “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity.” The conference was criticized as Islamophobic by op-eds in the News.

“Some of the speakers were fine and academic, and some were more political about current events in the Middle East,” Ranis said. “There was some negative reaction to the conference, and I think that’s what led to the appointment of the governance committee [to review YIISA].”

Administrators maintain that the review was a standard procedure for new programs, which undergo a review within five years of their creation. The review found that YIISA “had not stimulated or supported sufficient faculty research or courses for students to warrant its continuance,” Provost Peter Salovey wrote in a June statement.

Samuels said he and other members of the YIISA governing board sent a letter to Salovey and University President Richard Levin asking them to reconsider the decision to end YIISA. A few weeks later, the administration announced that YPSA would take its place.

Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, said his organization was puzzled by Yale’s decision to create a new program rather than reform YIISA. Still, he said he found the new program’s focus on both contemporary and historical instances of anti-Semitism reassuring, adding that YPSA should not avoid “real issues and challenges” in Islamic countries.

“I don’t think [the study of anti-Semitism] should be used as a political tool, but it is impossible to talk about anti-Semitism today without talking about the element of anti-Semitism coming from parts of the Muslim world,” he said.

YPSA’s 2011-’12 lecture series includes three guest speakers who will address contemporary forms of anti-Semitism, such as its presence in the Muslim world, Samuels said.

YPSA held its inaugural lecture on Sept. 21.

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