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THE MONITOR

  • Eric Santomauro-Stenzel

Wippman Meets with Students for Justice in Palestine, Declines Ceasefire Statement Demand

BUTTRICK HALL, Office of the President – Nearly 30 students with Students for Justice in Palestine met with President David Wippman in the Buttrick Hall Trustee Room today at 2:30pm, for which Monitor was present to report. SJP presented an open letter from a coalition of student organizations demanding Wippman follow the lead of Wesleyan University’s President Michael S. Roth and  “make a statement acknowledging the scale of devastation faced by the Palestinian people, and call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.” The letter cites the rising death toll caused by Israel’s attacks of over 34,000, with nearly 77,000 injured and displacement of millions. 


Wippman declined, saying a piece he co-wrote for the Hill in 2022 “remains” his view on statements. “I really think we should focus on issues that directly affect either [sic] our institution of higher education, and by directly I mean in ways that don't affect the general society. So I appreciate Michael Roth's perspective, I don't agree with it.”


He previously issued an October 11th statement condemning Hamas’s attack on Israel after facing pressure from some Zionist community members. Statements since then have focused on alleged bias incidents on campus.


SJP’s message to other community members is, “If you wish to press for a ceasefire, please email David Wippman at dwippman@hamilton.edu.”


Wippman’s previous statements


Wippman’s response to SJP differs significantly from past precedent. He told students that, were he to redo his time as president, he would have decided against issuing political statements.


During his tenure, set to end this summer, Wippman issued statements on Hamas’s attack on Israel, the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, several instances of police brutality across the country, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, numerous racist massacres across the US and world, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd, the January 6th assault on the Capitol and democracy, and more.


Most notably, Wippman was the only college president to sign an advocacy letter in August 2020 urging the US Department of State to “make a public determination that genocide has been committed against the Rohingya population of Myanmar.” Wippman worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration “where he worked on war crimes issues, the International Criminal Court, economic sanctions, and U.N. political issues,” according to Hamilton’s web bio.


At the March 5th faculty meeting, Wippman spoke at length about how he has handled the global crisis in approaching campus discourse.


The meeting


SJP had originally entered Buttrick last week during Wippman’s scheduled office hours to find he was in California. They scheduled this week’s meeting in advance, and Hamilton seemed prepared. As students filed into Buttrick, they were greeted by Wippman and Dean of Faculty Ngoni Munemo, who directed them up the stairs to the Trustee Room. Wippman alone followed, sitting at the head of the table.


Wippman attempted to break the ice by going around the room to get students’ names, ending on himself and inquiring about the previous night’s Sacerdote Great Names event. “I’m David and I’m a senior, about two months left. Did you all go to see Venus Williams last night?”


A student answered by reading aloud the open letter signed by SJP, the Green Apple, Climate Justice Coalition, Feminists of Color Collective, Black and Latine Student Union, and Muslim Students Association. Another student provided Wippman with a copy of a zine containing the statement.


A copy of the zine provided to Wippman. | Eric Santomauro-Stenzel '24 for Monitor

In response, Wippman disagreed. He cited his article on why college presidents should rarely issue political statements, expressed his displeasure with the way congressional hearings with other college presidents have gone, and emphasized that, “believe me,” he had “heard from some of those students, same within faculty” who held opposite views to SJP.  “I don't believe Hamilton College as an institution should have a foreign policy.”


Until recently, Hamilton College has faced little organized public pro-Palestine advocacy. 


A student asked about Israel’s destruction of Gazan universities, and whether Wippman felt that had a tie to higher education.


 “I think you want to isolate particular aspects of a much broader conflict,” Wippman said.


Another student asked him about Columbia University’s recent behavior, including President Minouche Shafik ordering the arrest of over a hundred peacefully assembled pro-Palestine student demonstrators.


“I've written a number of pieces that address not specifically Columbia, although I think I've mentioned Columbia,” Wippman responded. “But I've talked about how colleges and universities should think about protecting free speech, while also creating a safe and welcoming environment for all groups of students. So I don't feel it’s my obligation to write about every single issue that arises that affects higher ed. I would spend all of my time doing that we'd have no time for nothing else and still have only scratched the surface.”


“Over a hundred students were arrested for exercising free speech,” the student replied.


“I saw that,” Wippman said.


“So I feel like that does qualify,” the student continued. Another student asserted that Wippman’s response was an “excuse.”


“I'm not comfortable with the word ‘excuse’,” Wippman began. “This is an explanation. I hope we can keep this a civil and respectful conversation.”


“What I think we're seeing is an escalation at colleges and universities in some areas are clamping down on protests and posing all kinds of restrictions on the circumstances in which people can protest. I've tried to avoid that at Hamilton. We have not changed our policies. We've tried to encourage everyone to speak.” Wippman said he would “hate to see” arrests happen at Hamilton.


Additional questions from students focused on academic freedom in Israel and Palestine, where the State of Israel has destroyed universities and censored dissent, Hamilton’s tax contributions to the federal government, and at what point – if any – he would consider issuing a statement.


Wippman reiterated he feels institutions should not comment on these matters and expressed that while Hamilton qualifies for federal taxation, he and the College have long been lobbying against the 2017 law requiring them to pay taxes. He said an example of an instance where the issue would directly impact campus would be antisemitic or Islamophobic bias incidents, which he has sent messages about.


Dissatisfied with Wippman’s answers, students committed to future action and left. One SJP leader said, “We don't accept your assertion that this war – or this genocide, really – is independent of higher education.”

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