Academic freedom controversy brewing at University of California

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Article/book #: 109479
Title: Academic freedom controversy brewing at University of California
By: Max Ajl  
Published in: Electronic Intifada
Date of issue: Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Topic(s) addressed: People/entities mentioned in this item:


»A controversy is quickening at the University of California centered around William Robinson, professor of sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and a critic of globalization, capitalism and United States imperialism in Latin America. On 19 January, Robinson sent an e-mail message to the students in his Sociology of Globalization class containing some sharply critical commentary on Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip. Robinson wrote that:

Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide ... a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.

He added that Israel was "founded on the negation of a people," and sent along an article by a Jewish writer savaging Israeli policies (when it was published by The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, the editor responsible was immediately fired), as well as juxtaposed images of the Palestinian dead in Gaza and the Jewish dead from the Holocaust.
Some of his students didn't think the e-mail acceptable, and apparently trundled off to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of Southern California and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, querying how they should proceed. The ADL of Southern California drafted a letter to Robinson and copied UCSB senior academic bureaucrats. The letter, dated 9 February, notes that Robinson "crossed the line well beyond legitimate criticism of Israel," adding that "we urge you to unequivocally repudiate them."«

»According to Professor of History Herbert Marcuse, the ADL's Abraham Foxman got involved in the case after the initial exchanges between Scharlemann and Robinson regarding the students' complaints. On 9 March, Foxman had a meeting with several deans and faculty members. Although the meeting had "no specific agenda items," one professor explained that "Foxman was there to discuss the situation of Jewish students on campus." During the meeting Foxman demanded that Robinson be investigated "for introducing materials critical of Israeli state policies in a course on globalization."«

»Marcuse adds that "When the meeting started, Foxman quickly launched into what I would call a rant about what he said was an anti-Semitic email that Professor Robinson sent to his class ... Nothing else was discussed." Robinson denies the accusations in the strongest terms, adding that he himself is Jewish, that a class on the Sociology of Globalization by definition includes the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that sending a strongly-worded e-mail to students in no way constitutes a violation of accepted faculty comportment.«

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