Following demands by St. Olaf students that alumnus Arne Christenson be removed from a university advisory board for his Christian and pro-Israel views, one of Christenson’s former bosses is speaking up.
Former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber said he was in disbelief when he first saw the demand to remove his former chief of staff from the advisory board of the college’s Institute for Freedom and Community given his “political views and values as a Christian Zionist.”
“It’s insane to me. It’s not just unfair. It’s insane,” said Weber, who served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1993. He made the comments in a telephone interview with The College Fix.
The pressure to oust Christenson, managing director of policy and politics of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), comes after racial protests took over the campus in late April and forced classes to be canceled on May 1 after a student found a racist note on her car. The note was later confirmed as a hoax.
In the wake of the fabricated note and other alleged racial incidents on campus this year, a student group called “A Collective for Change on the Hill” issued a lengthy list of demands seeking to hold the university “accountable for the institutionalized racism that is embedded within the structures of this campus.”
Of Christenson, the demands originally stated his political and Christian values conflicted with his university position.
Though the demands have since been revised, removing the reasoning of Christenson’s “political views and values as a Christian Zionist.” That language has been replaced by mentioning his position with AIPAC.
“Given Mr. Christenson’s position as the Managing Director of Policy and Politics for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, St. Olaf College risks his influence upon the speakers brought to the school, the educational offerings, faculty development workshops, and scholarships sanctioned by the Institute,” the demand now states.
The group’s media contact didn’t respond to an email asking why the previous language was removed.
Furthermore, an online petition spearheaded by Oles for Justice in Palestine also calls for Christenson’s removal. The group argues “his presence poses a serious threat to academic freedom at St. Olaf College,” also questioning his ability to be objective given his role with AIPAC.
Christenson (pictured) declined to comment for this article. Weber said he found it “disturbing” that students are targeting Christenson in the wake of recent racial incidents on campus, especially given that his views are “mainstream conservative views.”
“To say it’s unfair is not enough, I’m afraid. It’s a deeply disturbing, almost deranged approach, on the part of the students displaying huge intolerance and intellectual shallowness,” Weber said.
Weber said he also found the demand’s original description of Christenson offensive.
“I don’t immediately describe people in terms of their religious beliefs and that’s really the only description they gave of him — a Christian Zionist,” he said.
Weber described Christenson as someone with deep roots in Minnesota, who’s deeply devoted to St. Olaf College.
“People who know Arne Christenson without exception would say he’s one of the very finest people they’ve known in their entire lives,” he said.
A university spokeswoman didn’t respond to The College Fix’s request for comment on the demands to remove Christenson. Though, the university’s opinions toward the request should be known soon.
As part of an agreement between student protesters and the university, the administration must release a public document before the end of the week addressing each demand separately. President David Anderson serves on the Institute for Freedom and Community advisory board along with Christenson.
How the college responds to the demand will say a lot about its administration, Weber suggested.
“This is really not a test for Arne Christenson. This is a test for the administration of St. Olaf College,” he said.