First Lady Michelle Obama and her Princeton classmate whose company received the no-bid government contract to build the HealthCare.gov Obamacare website were both members of a black student organization that caused a tense scene on campus by inviting a PLO leader who advocated for terrorism.
Michelle Obama ’85 and her classmate Toni Townes-Whitley ’85, a senior vice president at CGI Federal, were both students at the university when their groups the Organization of Black Unity (OBU) and the Third World Center (TWC) engaged in a confrontation with Jewish students on campus.
“It was an ugly scene, but few expected perfect harmony when the OBU, in conjunction with the Third World Center (TWC), invited Hassan Rahman, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s deputy UN observer, to appear on campus,” according to a January 25, 1982 Princeton Alumni Weekly (Volume 82) article entitled “War of Words” in the column “On the Campus” by Ted Lempert ’83.
Rahman “reiterated the PLO’s position that the Palestinians deserve a homeland and that they are entitled to use terrorism to achieve their goal, just as American revolutionaries did against the British.”
“We have the right to kill them if they are traitors and negotiate with the Israelis,” Rahman said of non-PLO supporting Palestinians at the event.
“The OBU met with Jewish students to discuss the event, and Hillel leaders affirmed Rahman’s right to speak on campus… As about 400 students poured into McCosh 50, tension replaced this short-lived calm. The entire center section of the auditorium had been reserved for TWC members, most of whom are black. The remainder of the audience, mostly Jews, filled the outer sections. OBU’s Murphy stepped to the microphone, but instead of giving a standard welcome and introduction, he noted the ‘subdued controversy’ surrounding the speech and noted that disruptions ‘would not be tolerated.’ He even mentioned the possibility of disciplinary action or prosecution. Patrolling the room were a dozen OBU members wearing security badges, a supplement to the university proctors manning the doorways. Before Rahman had said a word, hopes of a congenial atmosphere were dashed.”
“For the question-and-answer session, OBU monitors took down the names of those wishing to ask questions. No questions could exceed one minute, and follow-up questions were not allowed. Because of time restraints, only the first person on each list was recognized.
“Organizers adhered closely — almost militantly — to their rules, intimidating and antagonizing many,” Hillel member Stuart Rabner ’82 wrote in a Princetonian column. “One usher warned Hillel Rabbi Edward Feld to be silent or proctors would remove him physically. Rabbi Feld had apparently disrupted the event at one point by shouting ‘answer the question.’”
Michelle Obama, according to a 2008 puff piece in the Boston Globe, served on the Third World Center’s governance board and was particularly active in OBU.
“Although Obama had friends who were both black and white, her social world revolved around several of the black organizations on campus, as it did for many other black students,” the Globe’s Sally Jacobs wrote. “Obama was a member of the Organization of Black Unity, a primary resource for black students on campus which arranged speakers and programs.”
Obama and Toni Townes-Whitley, senior vice president at CGI Federal, are now both members of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni.
Toni Townes ’85 is a onetime policy analyst with the General Accounting Office and previously served in the Peace Corps in Gabon, West Africa. Her decision to return to work, as an African-American woman, after six years of raising kids was applauded by a Princeton alumni publication in 1998.
George Schindler, the president for U.S. and Canada of the Canadian-based CGI Group, CGI Federal’s parent company, became an Obama 2012 campaign donor after his company gained the Obamacare website contract.
As reported by the Washington Examiner in early October, the Department of Health and Human Services reviewed only CGI’s bid for the Obamacare account. CGI was one of 16 companies qualified under the Bush administration to provide certain tech services to the federal government. A senior vice president for the company testified this week before The House Committee on Energy and Commerce that four companies submitted bids, but did not name those companies or explain why only CGI’s bid was considered.