Jewish Journal


May 1, 2009

StandWithUs gets signatures for UCSB prof investigation


Within five minutes of publishing the previous post about the UC Santa Barbara professor under fire for his strong criticism of Israel, I received this e-mail from the pro-Israel campus organization StandWithUs:

The StandWithUs petition supporting the University of California- Santa Barbara (UCSB) investigation of a professor’s possible violations of faculty conduct codes has been overwhelmed with endorsers. Released on April 30 at 5:00 PST, the petition had over 1,500 signatures by 10:00 AM May 1.  StandWithUs expects thousands more signatures from around the world and will deliver t he petition to UCSB administration in May.

StandWithUs is an international Israel education organization.  The petitions, sample letters to UCSB administration and background information can be found at:  http://standwithus.com/rup/ucsb.asp?tab=5

“People are genuinely concerned because crucial principles are at stake. This case is a litmus test of whether professors can exploit their positions of authority to impose their political prejudices on students or whether the university truly will remain a place where all points of view can be comfortably and responsibly discussed.  That is the reason we support the administration and wrote this petition,” stressed Esther Renzer, international president of StandWithUs.

On January 19, Professor William I. Robinson used one of his class e-mail lists to send inflammatory comments, an article, and lurid photos that equated Israel and Nazi Germany. He admitted they were unrelated to the course. Two students dropped the class and filed grievances against Robinson for violating the Faculty Code of Conduct by intruding material unrelated to the course, exploiting his position of authority to foist one extreme point of view, and using a university class e-mail list for political purposes.

When UCSB administrators decided to formally investigate the violations, Robinson’s supporters launched a campaign to oppose it. They claim they are defending academic freedom, but they are undermining it, according to StandWithUs. The Faculty Code guidelines that Robinson may have violated are designed to uphold academic freedom.

Robinson’s supporters also claim that he is being accused of anti-Semitism merely because he criticized Israeli policies. “This is disingenuous,” stated Roberta P. Seid, PhD, StandWithUs education/research director. “Robinson’s e-mail demonized I srael, its founding, and its history. The university should be concerned about the degradation of academic standards when professors present such polemics as reasonable analyses. But that is not the case against him.  The case is that he inappropriately used university resources to impose and promote his personal political prejudices, stifling students’ ability to critically examine controversial issues.  I’m sure he would be glad that the Code of Conduct safeguards are in place if a homophobic or racist professor took the liberties he took to influence students.”

StandWithUs launched the petition also to protect the right of students to register grievances against faculty without fear of hostile faculty reactions. “Robinson’s supporters’ assault on the students’ complaints could disempower other students with grievances and intimidate them into silence,” said Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs international director.

“The politicization of academia is a serious problem today. We applaud the UCSB administration for trying to uphold standards of academic freedom and responsibility. They are under a lot of pressure, and our petition lets them know that tens of thousand of people support them and their commitment to ensure that the university remains what it should be—a place for the critical examination of ideas, facts, and values,” said Rothstein.

For more, check out the profile of StandWithUs that I wrote last year.

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