University President Retires Amid Pro-Palestinian Protest Controversy

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Photo courtesy of Manny Becerra

Sonoma State University President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee has retired, officials announced Thursday, following a controversial message he sent earlier in the week. The message, sent by Lee on Tuesday, promised pro-Palestinian protesters a review of the university’s investments and an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

Lee’s message, which also called for a cease-fire in Gaza, did not have the “appropriate approvals,” said Mildred García, chancellor of the California State University System, in an announcement

García described Lee’s actions as “insubordination” and noted that his message had “challenging and painful” consequences for some Sonoma State students and community members. She placed Lee on administrative leave on Wednesday while officials reviewed the situation.

In his Tuesday message, Lee expressed support for the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Sonoma State and emphasized opposition to genocide, racism, and antisemitism. “None of us should be on the sidelines when human beings are subject to mass killing and destruction,” he wrote. Israel denies committing genocide in Gaza, but an ongoing case before the International Court of Justice alleges that Israel is violating international law.

Lee apologized in a second campus-wide message on Wednesday, acknowledging that he had not consulted with García or other leaders before sending the initial announcement. “In my attempt to find agreement with one group of students, I marginalized other members of our student population and community,” he wrote.

The protest at Sonoma State began on April 26, with students setting up a peaceful encampment on Person Lawn. The university has been in discussions with protesters, but the status of those talks remains unclear.

In her message announcing Lee’s retirement, García thanked him for his service and indicated that the California State University System is experiencing a “transitional period,” with more information to be shared later.