History professor attended meeting where Abraham Foxman pushed UCSB to act against sociology professor
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Date: May 2, 2009
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Harold Marcuse, associate professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said he attended a March 9 meeting on campus where Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman pressured university officials to investigate charges of “anti-Semitism” against sociology professor William I. Robinson.
Marcuse said Foxman discussed the charges against Robinson for nearly an hour with about a dozen faculty members and university officials, including Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young and the executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, David B. Marshall.
“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,” Marcuse said. “We then had an open discussion about Foxman’s comments and the charges against Robinson. In my recollection, that was the only thing we talked about at the meeting. Nothing else was discussed.”
Marcuse said the meeting lasted about an hour, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
During Foxman’s presentation and the ensuing discussion, Foxman demanded that Robinson be investigated for introducing materials critical of Israeli state policies in a course on globalization in January.
The materials included a photo essay that Robinson forwarded to students from the Internet and that had been circulating in the public realm. The photos juxtaposed images of Israeli treatment of Palestinians during the recent military invasion of Gaza with Nazi abuses during the holocaust. Two students took offense at the images and withdrew from the course, prompting the Anti-Defamation League to pressure the university to investigate Robinson for “anti-Semitism.”
Cynthia Silverman, director of the ADL’s Santa Barbara office, accompanied Foxman to the meeting on campus.
Marcuse said the meeting was organized by Leonard Wallock, associate director of the Walter Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life. Wallock sent an e-mail invitation to Marcuse on Feb. 24 to attend a luncheon with Foxman, although Wallock didn’t mention any specific agenda items in his e-mail.
When the meeting began, religious studies professor and Capps board member Richard Hecht introduced Foxman. Hecht said Foxman was there to discuss the situation of Jewish students on campus, at which point Foxman launched into his “rant” about the Robinson email, Marcuse said.
At one point, Foxman apparently thought Michael Young was the university chancellor, Henry Yang.
“Foxman was talking directly to Young, chastising him that he should have been reprimanding Robinson,” Marcuse said. “Young had to clarify that he was not the chancellor and that he had nothing to do with overseeing faculty.”
When the meeting was opened to discussion, a number of faculty members intervened. “One professor rose in support of Foxman,” Marcuse said. “He was vehemently on Foxman’s side.”
Marcuse intervened to say that he could envision using an e-mail like the one sent by Robinson in his own courses to examine similarities and differences between Nazi policy in occupied Poland and Israeli policies in Gaza.
Eventually, Hecht intervened because it appeared Foxman was chastising the attendees for doing nothing about Robinson, Marcuse said.
“Hecht said not to blame the faculty members or Young because the incident was being handled through normal channels,” Marcuse said. “That’s when the meeting broke up.”
Marcuse’s statements contrast with the official university response to press inquiries about the Foxman meeting.
University spokesman Paul Desruisseaux told the Chronicle of Higher Education that David Marshall intervened in the meeting to say an investigation was already underway in response to two students’ complaints, and that it would be inappropriate to continue to discuss the Robinson case. At that point, Desruisseaux said Marshall ended discussion of the subject.
Marcuse said many, if not most, of the meeting participants appeared to have no knowledge of the Robinson incident prior to the event.
Marcuse also said he didn’t recall anybody at the meeting stating that it was “inappropriate” to discuss the Robinson case.
“There was quite a bit of discussion and exchange of ideas,” Marcuse said. “One colleague rose in staunch support of Foxman, I made my comments, and so did many others. It went on for awhile.”
It’s unclear if Foxman’s pressure had any impact on university officials. However, the Academic Senate has opened a formal investigation of the charges against Robinson.
For more information about the Robinson case, visit the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom Web site at http://www.sb4af.wordpress.com.