- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2024

Another college president has stepped down over a botched response to the anti-Israel campus protests, this time at the nation’s largest public university system.

California State University Chancellor Mildred Garcia announced that Sonoma State University President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee has retired, a day after he was placed on leave for “insubordination” over his widely denounced deal with anti-Israel campus encampment protesters.

“President Ming-Tung ‘Mike’ Lee has informed me of his decision to retire from his role at Sonoma State University,” said Ms. Garcia in a Thursday statement. “I thank President Lee for his years of service to the California State University — starting at California State University, Sacramento — and to higher education overall. I wish him and his family well.”

Mr. Lee apologized Wednesday for failing to obtain the appropriate approvals before the release of his agreement with encampment leaders, a deal that included an academic boycott of Israel.

His decision to retire comes as the latest high-profile exit by a university president tripped up by the pro-Palestinian protests that erupted on U.S. campuses after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians, which prompted Israel to declare war.

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned in December after a disastrous House hearing on campus antisemitism, followed a month later by Harvard President Claudine Gay. Both had served in office for less than two years.

So far Columbia President Minouche Shafik has stood her ground despite calls for her resignation from Republicans, led by House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The Columbia faculty passed Thursday a vote of no confidence in her leadership, citing her decisions to bring in police twice to arrest pro-Palestinian protesters occupying the university lawn.

Mr. Lee was accused of capitulating to anti-Israel activists for a deal that included starting an Advisory Council for Students for Justice in Palestine; launch a “disclosure and divestment” review of the university’s investments; creating a Palestinian Studies curriculum, and supporting a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

The agreement also said Sonoma State would not participate in any study abroad programs or faculty exchanges with Israeli academic institutions.

Mr. Lee expressed regret for the deal shortly after its release, saying Wednesday that he sought to “create a safe and inclusive campus for all,” but later realized that “many of the statements I made in my campuswide message did just the opposite.”

Amy Bentley-Smith, CSU director of strategic communications and public affairs, said the “commitments that were made will be reviewed in the near future.”

Marc Levine, Anti-Defamation League regional director for the Central Pacific, said that Mr. Lee’s Monday memorandum unveiling the deal with protesters “made Sonoma State University a less tolerant & more hateful place.”

“I am grateful for the leadership that brought a swift end to Lee’s career,” Mr. Levine said Friday on X.

A professor of business administration, Mr. Lee served as chief financial officer and vice president for administration and business affairs at Sacramento State University before moving to Sonoma State to become interim president in August 2022. He was appointed president in May 2023.

Chief Academic Officer Nathan Evans, the deputy vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, was named Wednesday as acting president of Sonoma State.

“I will continue to work with Acting President Nathan Evans and our Board of Trustees leadership during this transitional period. Additional information will be forthcoming,” said Ms. Garcia in her statement.

Sonoma State is one of 23 colleges located throughout California that belong to the California State University system, the nation’s largest four-year public collegiate system.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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