The controversy surrounding a professor’s e-mail comparing Israeli soldiers to Nazis will be the focus of a panel tonight at Embarcadero Hall.
On Jan. 19, sociology and global studies professor William Robinson sent an e-mail – which included a portion authored by Robinson as well a forwarded article – to 80 of his students concerning the recent Gaza conflict. The e-mail, passed on to Robinson’s Winter Quarter Sociology 130: Sociology of Globalization course, drew parallels between Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the Nazi siege of Warsaw, Poland and included side-by-side photos of Israeli and Nazi troops.
“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,” Robinson wrote in the January email. “We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide.”
In protest of the e-mail, two students dropped the course and filed complaints with the Academic Senate’s Charges Committee.
Three months later, Robinson is under review by the Academic Senate, and his e-mail has spawned a debate over whether his actions were anti-Semitic or an expression of academic freedom. Accusations levied against the professor by two Jewish-affiliated organizations – the Anti-Defamation League and StandWithUs – have gained national attention.
The Committee to Defend Academic Freedom, a campus group started in support of Robinson, will host tonight’s panel on academic freedom at 7 p.m.
According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Paul Desruisseaux, the UCSB Academic Senate is currently investigating Robinson’s alleged violation of university rules.
“This process is still going forward,” Desruisseaux said. “The complaints are being evaluated to try to determine if there’s indeed grounds to think there was a violation of university conduct.”
CDAF media spokesperson Alba Pena-Leon, a fourth-year sociology major, said the administration violated campus policy by discussing details of the issue with the ADL and the director of UCSB’s Hillel prior to any official investigation.
“They skipped through many procedures that were supposed to be done,” Pena-Leon said, “and went straight to investigating.”
Additionally, she said, the administration is investigating the situation not due to possible misconduct, but because Israeli lobbyists have threatened to stop donating funds to the university if the professor is not prosecuted.
On the other hand, Hillel member Leah Yadegar said the issue of academic integrity takes precedence over freedom of speech in this case.
“While professors do have much free range to discuss the topics they may discuss, they aren’t allowed to use private e-mail list serves of students to propagate their own agenda, like [Robinson’s] e-mail which had nothing to do with the syllabus,” Yadegar, a third-year history of public policy and sociology major, said.
Some UCSB faculty are in vehement support of Robinson, however, and are circulating a petition that asks the Academic Senate to disclose the process by which it decided to initiate a formal case against him. sociology professor Dick Flacks said the entire investigation infringes on Robinson’s academic freedom.
“This is very disturbing to many of us on the faculty level because students often find something they don’t like,” Flacks said. “And in some ways, this is what education is about, bring taken for granted and [having your] beliefs questioned.”