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Sonoma State president resigns after cutting deal to boycott Israel


Pro-Israel group is glad university leaders took action

The president of Sonoma State University retired after a suspension for cutting a deal with pro-Palestinian activists.

President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee agreed to “divestment strategies,” in order to end an encampment on campus. However, he did so without proper approval, leading to his suspension for “insubordination,” according to Chancellor Mildred Garcia.

“That message was sent without the appropriate approvals,” the announcement stated.

The university has since walked back the agreement, according to a message sent on Friday, May 31.

Spokesman Jeff Keating declined to answer questions from The College Fix about if the agreement would be upheld. “The university would prefer not to comment until we have had an opportunity to fully review these matters,” Keating had previously told The Fix via email.

The memo, which was sent to students on May 14, included a section on the academic boycott of Israel. It says that the university will not exchange faculty or students with Israeli institutions, nor will it have any study abroad programs.

The memo announced that “programs are terminated until further notice and not simply suspended.” It also stated all university platforms will remove references to study abroad programs in Israel.

“Both SSU Students for Justice in Palestine and I, President Mike Lee, oppose and condemn all acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, antisemitism and other activities that violate fundamental human rights,” Lee also wrote, as reported by KQED. “And thus, I call for a cease-fire so that a process for permanent, peaceful resolution can be established.”

The agreement announced a new advisory council with members of Students for Justice in Palestine, which would be renewed every semester if agreed upon by both parties and have regular meetings with administrators. The pro-Palestinian group would set the agenda.

In a follow-up email sent by Lee (pictured) the next day, he said, “[i]n my attempt to find agreement with one group of students, I marginalized other members of our student population and community.”

He then said that while he was stepping down, he would support the interim president, and reiterated that the harm he caused was not intentional.

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The campus Students for Justice in Palestine chapter did not respond to two emails from The Fix sent in the past two weeks that asked for comment on the situation. The Fix asked if the group believed the agreement would be upheld.

The group reposted a message from the Party for Socialism and Liberation Bay Area that criticized Chancellor Garcia, calling her decision “cowardly.”

“We join the students in demanding that acting president, Nathan Evans, uphold the deal reached by the students and president Mike Lee before he was unjustly terminated,” the post stated.

Interim president Nathan Evans said Lee had come out of retirement in 2022. “He was an effective and enthusiastic spokesperson for stewardship of place and the value of a Sonoma State education,” Evans wrote in a message to the university community.

The acting president said Lee “developed community partnerships and philanthropic opportunities that connected the campus more closely to the people and workforce needs of the region. He will be missed.’

Pro-Israel group StandWithUs told The Fix it is glad the university system removed Lee.

CEO Roz Rothstein, commenting on the initial suspension, said her group “deeply appreciates leaders across California who acted quickly after Sonoma State’s shameful agreement became public.”

“We hope this case sets an example for all universities that face pressure from anti-Israel extremists,” Rothstein told The Fix via a media statement. “Instead of caving to the demands of hate groups and their supporters, campus leaders must enforce their policies and stand up to antisemitism.”

Editor’s noteThe article has been updated to show the prior agreement has been retracted and to correct Rothstein’s pronoun.

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IMAGE: California State University

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About the Author
College Fix contributor William Hurley is a student at Hope College where he studies political science and theology. He is active in many clubs including Hope Republicans, Hope Catholics, and Students Cherishing Life. He has written for the Hope College student newspaper, The Anchor.