April 23, 2009
In News What We Can Do
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UCSB has become the latest front in the war against Academic Freedom.
Professor William I. Robinson, a Sociology and Global Studies professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been attacked by the Anti-Defamation League and two of his former students. In January of this year, he forwarded an email condemning the Israeli attacks on Gaza. The email contained an editorial by a Jewish journalist condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza as well as juxtaposed images of Nazi atrocities with congruent images of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. The email was an optional read for students, intended to spark conversation by relating contemporary events to conceptual ideas discussed in class.
One week later, the ADL wrote him a letter charging him with anti-Semitism and sundry violations of the Faculty Code of Conduct (none of which were coherent claims). Another week passed, and the Academic Senate Charges Officer then notified him that two of the students in the class to which he circulated the email had filed complaints against him.
The complaints are that 1) critique of Israel is evidence of anti-Semitism and 2) the Israeli-Palestinian issue should not be discussed in a class on Globalization.
This case has already escalated way too far. Throughout the process, the Charges Officer violated several elements of the charges procedure, shirked his responsibilities, and ultimately acted as a co-complainant by fabricating charges that were not raised by the students. The charges have reached the Committee on Committees, which is now in the process of convening an ad hoc Charges Committee to assess the complaints against Professor Robinson.
Based on patently absurd and malicious claims, the charges should have been dismissed out of hand from the beginning. Further consideration of the charges by the Academic Senate serves only to sanction politically-motivated attacks on academic freedom. The longer this case is pursued, the worse its chilling effect; it will spread fear among those who wish to present controversial and critical subjects. Even though the original complaint is regarding Israel/Palestine, the rights at stake extend beyond this specific topic. Academic freedom is a right that enables scholars to express diverse perspectives over contentious topics, free from the intimidation of political repression campaigns. If the case against Professor Robinson continues to go forward, it will lead down a slippery slope that may expose academics to repression tactics for addressing controversial issues such as stem cell research, evolution, feminism, LGBT rights, etc. It is incumbent upon members of the UCSB campus and the broader academy to roundly oppose this silencing campaign.
This is an obvious attack on Professor Robinson’s academic freedom, one that ominously recalls similar campaigns against other critics of Israel across the nation. This is part of a broader campaign to automatically vilify and attack any and all critiques of Israel’s policies and practices through unfounded use of the term “anti-Semitic.” A critique of the Israeli state, its policies, and the leaders responsible is not and should not be considered an affront to Jewish people as a collective, the Jewish religion, or Jewish heritage. In fact, conflating the state of Israel with the Jewish people essentializes the assorted political opinions of a diverse religious group by reducing them to the set of policies espoused by the prevailing regime.
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Thank you for your time,
Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UC Santa Barbara
Send an Email – the e-mail should be addressed to UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and cc’d to the following faculty and administrators involved in the case.
Please copy and paste the addresses – please also replace [at] with the ‘@’ symbol:
CC: mgscharl[at]math.ucsb.edu, gene.lucas[at]evc.ucsb.edu, moliver[at]ltsc.ucsb.edu, mazer[at]lifesci.ucsb.edu, joel[at]geog.ucsb.edu, joel.michaelsen[at]senate.ucsb.edu ,sarah[at]isber.ucsb.edu, butler[at]chem.ucsb.edu, scott[at]theaterdance.ucsb.edu, hcallus[at]music.ucsb.edu, gaulin[at]anth.ucsb.edu, spieker[at]gss.ucsb.edu,stemmer[at]mrl.ucsb.edu, caselle[at]lifesci.ucsb.edu, goulias[at]geog.ucsb.edu, amar[at]lawso.ucsb.edu, Stephanie.smagala[at]senate.ucsb.edu, ettenberg[at]psych.ucsb.edu, hualee[at]ece.ucsb.edu, mithun[at]linguistics.ucsb.edu, zok[at]engineering.ucsb.edu, helen.henry[at]ucr.edu, cdaf.ucsb[at]gmail.com
To Whom It May Concern,
I am a dismayed [undergraduate/graduate/alumna/faculty member] at
[your university] writing you to express support for Sociology and
Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson. As you may know,
Professor Robinson and academic freedom have come under recent attack
on the UCSB campus. Toward the end of February 2009, Professor
Robinson received notice from the Academic Senate’s Charges Committee
that two of his students had filed charges against him. The students
alleged that an email forward he’d circulated to his class,
criticizing Israel’s then-ongoing siege on Gaza, comprised anti-
Semitism. These charges are patently absurd and should be dismissed
out of hand before further damage is done to the university’s purpose
I demand the immediate dismissal of all of the charges against
Professor Robinson as frivolous, unfounded, and malicious. Any
further consideration of these baseless attacks is unacceptable. I
join other students and faculty in pledging that we will not accept
any resolution of this matter that is unfavorable to Professor
Robinson and academic freedom.
I also insist that the attack on Professor Robinson’s academic
freedom, one that ominously recalls similar campaigns against other
critical academics across the nation, be publicly condemned. This
condemnation is essential to preserve full and fair discussion within
the most important of the U.S.’s civic institutions. Any genuine
consideration of these absurd attacks will have a severe chilling
effect on the production and dissemination of scholarly research in
all disciplines. Further, the attacks must be condemned to protect
faculty and students from wasting valuable time and energy defending
themselves against frivolous allegations and political repression.
In fact, a critique of the Israeli state, its policies, and the
leaders responsible is not and should not be considered an affront to
Jewish people as a collective, the Jewish religion, or Jewish
heritage. Conflating the state of Israel with the Jewish people
essentializes the assorted political opinions of a diverse religious
group by reducing them to the set of policies espoused by the
prevailing regime. The charge of anti-Semitism is made in bad faith;
its real purpose is to automatically vilify and stifle any honest
critiques of the state of Israel’s policies and practices.
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