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St. Olaf defends pro-Israel adviser, says demand to oust him won’t be met

Student protesters at St. Olaf College said alumnus Arne Christenson should lose his post on an advisory board because of his political and “Christian Zionist” views, as well his position with a pro-Israel organization. The university has now said otherwise.

In a document released Friday, the President’s Leadership Team at the small Lutheran college said calls to remove Christenson from his position on the advisory board of the school’s Institute for Freedom and Community “should not be met.”

Christenson is managing director of policy and politics of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The request to remove Christenson was included within a lengthy list of demands issued by the student group “The Collective for Change on the Hill,” following a string of alleged racial incidents on campus.

The university agreed to review the demands and publicly address them amid massive protests that began last month and stemmed from a hate note found a student car. The note was later found to be a hoax.

“We demand the removal of Arne Christenson from the Advisory Board of The Institute for Freedom & Community. Given Mr. Christenson’s political views and values as a Christian Zionist, 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 through financial means,” the demands stated.

Additionally, an online petition called for Christenson’s removal and questioned his ability to be objective given his role with AIPAC.

The report from the college’s administration dismissed those concerns, stating Christenson (pictured), in his position, doesn’t determine speakers brought to campus or educational programming. It also defended his employer as a “legitimate organization” that holds bipartisan support.

“In the last presidential election, most major candidates from both parties made presentations to AIPAC. This is a good barometer of whether it is a fringe organization or a part of the fabric of American political life,” it stated.

The report went one step further, saying that cutting ties with Christenson over his political views would violate academic freedom.

The decision not to meet the demand comes after former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber called the request “insane.” Weber, whom Christenson previously served as chief of staff, said the choice to retain Christenson was “a test for the administration of St. Olaf College.”

Other demands referred to task force, being undertaken

The 15-page document released Friday also touched on the other demands issued by student protesters. Those demands were either referred to a task force that the administration agreed to set up or were listed as “demands that are or will be addressed through other channels.”

The Collective for Change on the Hill, the group behind the demands, did not respond to The College Fix’s request for comment on the document.

Among the demands referred to the task force include calls for mandatory diversity training, more programs for students of color, additional resources for recruitment of students of color and more gender-neutral housing options.

The task force, created as part of an agreement reached between student protesters and the St. Olaf administration, expects to release its findings this fall.

Demands being addressed through other means include changes to the university’s general education requirements, improvements to the college’s Discrimination and Bias Report form and public reporting on initiatives undertaken to improve the school’s racial climate.

MORE: Former congressman calls St. Olaf demand to remove ‘Christian Zionist’ adviser ‘insane’

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About the Author
Nathan Rubbelke served as a staff reporter for The College Fix with a specialty on investigative and enterprise reporting from 2017 to 2018. He has also held editorial positions at The Commercial Review daily newspaper in Portland, Indiana, as well as at The Washington Examiner, Red Alert Politics and St. Louis Public Radio. Rubbelke graduated from Saint Louis University, where he majored in political science and sociology.