April 25, 2009
Joel Michaelsen, Academic Senate Chair
Henry Yang, Chancellor
University of California, Santa Barbara
Dear Professor Michaelsen and Chancellor Yang,
We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, are all deeply disturbed to hear about the charges brought against Professor William Robinson. The charges of anti-Semitism and of violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct, based on an email he sent to his class condemning the Israeli assault in Gaza, are clearly without merit. First, criticism of the state of Israel and of Israeli leaders and government policy obviously does not constitute anti-Semitism, which is defined as “hatred toward Jews – individually or as a group – that can be attributed to the Jewish religion or ethnicity.” Second, the information that Prof. Robinson sent was certainly relevant for a course on global issues and in no way involved harassment of students nor “a misuse of University resources…on a significant scale.”
It appears in fact that University officials have violated university procedures in bringing these charges. The right to present controversial material in the context of a course – including opinions that may be deeply disturbing to some students – is an essential element of academic freedom. This includes the right to criticize government actions, whether they be American, Israeli, or those of any other government.
We request that the Academic Senate dismiss these charges, apologize to Professor Robinson, and publicly uphold the right of Prof. Robinson and other members of the University community to discuss controversial issues in a free and open environment.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Nora Hamilton, Political Science, University of Southern California – nhamil[at]usc.edu
Katherine King, Comparative Literature, University of California, Los Angeles – king[at]humnet.ucla.edu
David Klein, Mathematics, California State University, Northridge – david.klein[at]csun.edu
The California Scholars for Academic Freedom is a two-year old group of over 100 academics who teach in 20 California institutions. The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives.
Many attacks were aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.