Last Thursday a coalition of UCSB grad students and undergraduates held an event at Embarcadero Hall that they promoted as a forum on academic freedom.
Led by four university professors, the “forum” was in fact a two-hour polemical rant in support of William Robinson, the professor who sent his students a now infamous e-mail with the subject heading “Parallel Images of Israelis and Nazis.” Robinson is currently under investigation by the Faculty Senate to determine whether he violated the Faculty Code of Conduct.
All four panelists at the rally – sorry, “forum” – asserted that academic freedom requires the testing of ideas through dialog and intellectual exploration, yet there was little room for dialog or honest exploration on Thursday night. All four speakers agreed that academic freedom requires critical analysis of complex situations, but their talks were, for the most part, highly polemical. It is telling that they never once challenged or disagreed with one another on any point.
The part of the evening given over to audience comment was also tightly controlled; a time-keeper handled the microphone with grim precision, snatching it away from members of the audience mid-sentence if they exceeded their allotted 60 seconds to frame a thought. Even Nobel Laureate Dr. Walter Kohn suffered this ignominy, as did interim Hillel Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer. How ironic that a panel on academic freedom should be so restrictive about allowing other voices and perspectives to be heard.
Put colloquially, the organizers and panelists at Thursday’s event were dealing from a stacked deck. It is sad that a panel on academic freedom should itself be so lacking in academic integrity.