After months of controversy, UCSB has terminated the investigation against global studies and sociology professor William Robinson.
Since January, Robinson – who came under fire for forwarding online material to his students that compared Israeli soldiers to Nazis – has been the focal point of a highly publicized debate on academic freedom. The affair ended on June 24, however, when UCSB officials announced they had dismissed the case and cleared Robinson of all charges.
According to UCSB Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas, the Academic Senate Charges Committee found no cause to discipline Robinson.
“The Committee did not find probable cause to undertake disciplinary action in this matter,” Lucas wrote in a letter to Robinson on June 24. “I have accepted the findings of the Charges Committee. Accordingly, this matter is now terminated.”
The case against Robinson arose when two of his students dropped his class (SOC130, the Sociology of Globalization) after receiving the material from the course list server, which included a statement written by Robinson as well as a forwarded Internet photo essay.
“Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw – a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians,” Robinson wrote. “… We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide.”
The two students filed complaints with UCSB stating that Robinson had unfairly pushed anti-Semitic material on them. An ad hoc committee was then formed to investigate the professor on the grounds of faculty misconduct and abusing academic freedom by feeding his students propaganda.
Although the case has been swept under the carpet by the university, almost everyone who took part in the entangled argument has a sour outlook on the events.
Professor Robinson declined to comment, but according to a press release from the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB – a student group formed in support of Robinson – he may be filing grievances with the university for the manner in which they handled his case.
Daniel Olmos, a sociology graduate student and CDAF member, said the whole ordeal has had a chilling effect on UCSB. He said the case has raised concerns within the academic community about the influence of pro-Israel groups such as StandWithUs and the Anti-Defamation League.
“We’re happy that this case is dropped,” Olmos said. “However, what we’d like is for the university to ensure that we can trust the process, and that this is a safe campus for discussion. I guarantee [that] other TAs and other professors are concerned about what they are going to put on their syllabi’s because they are asking themselves, ‘Am I going to get attacked by the Israeli lobby?'”
Two days before the case was dropped, SWU – an international nonprofit Israel education organization – delivered a petition to the UCSB administration that had 6,000 signatures stating public support for the case. After hearing UCSB’s decision, SWU International Director Roz Rothstein said the university bungled the investigation.
“We are surprised and disappointed that UCSB chose not to uphold their standards for professional conduct, and that it has blurred the lines between responsible education and the peddling of propaganda,” Rothstein said in a press release. “It is unfortunate that students will continue to be victims of partisan indoctrination and misinformation.”
Some groups, such as Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, have stated that Robinson should not be punished for what he forwarded to his students, but reprimanded for his ignorance. An international academic collective made up of over 28,000 academics, researchers and professionals from around the world, SPME released a statement last Monday, June 29 voicing concerns about Robinson.
“…Professor William Robinson committed no infraction worthy of further charges or sanctions,” the release said. “Nevertheless, we feel obligated, as faculty colleagues, to point out that… a tenured professor chose to draw such exploitive analogies and to impose them on his students raises serious questions about his judgment and the value of his teaching. Concern for academic freedom does not justify or erase what is clearly and profoundly flawed pedagogy.”
However, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education – a nonprofit education organization based in Philadelphia – called the investigation of Robinson an egregious violation of the First Amendment and academic freedom standards in a letter to Chancellor Henry T. Yang on June 10.
Meanwhile, Cyndi Silverman, regional director of the ADL, said she hopes the university ultimately learns a lesson from this saga.
“I think it’s unfortunate that there wasn’t some kind of recognition of what [Robinson] had done wrong,” Silverman said. “I think that the students need some kind of a program on campus to help them understand what is academic freedom, and how it can be violated by faculty members espousing their own political agendas.”
Olmos said the CDAF expects the university administration to review the Academic Senate’s investigation procedures and to hold an educational conference about academic freedom for students next year. Additionally, Olmos said, the CDAF believes that a number of people unduly politicized the university investigation when it was underway and that the university needs to identify and discipline those individuals.