Letters from Professors

Below, you will find letters from:

  • Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at MIT
  • Robert Potter, Former Chair of the Academic Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure, Professor Emeritus, UCSB
  • Sondra Hale, Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at UCLA
  • David Fasenfest, Editor of Critical Sociology, Associate Professor at Wayne State University
  • Mark Rupert, Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University
  • Alan Nasser, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy
  • Patrick Bond, Senior Professor and Director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
  • Robert Austin, Ph.D Fellow, School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne
  • Raúl Delgado Wise, Director, Program in Development Studies, Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Mexico
  • William A. Cook, Professor of English at the University of La Verne
  • Juan Vicente Palerm, Acting Chair of the Chicana & Chicano Studies Department at UCSB
  • Lawrence E. Sneden, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, CSU Northridge
  • T.M. Scruggs, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Music at the University of Iowa

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at MIT

Dear Chancellor Yang,

I was surprised and disturbed to learn that William Robinson is being subjected to an investigation in connection with charges related to his expression of his views on the Israeli invasion of Gaza, with US arms and support.  I have followed Professor Robinson’s scholarly work for many years, with great appreciation and profit.  Much to his credit, in addition to his outstanding scholarly work, he has taken forthright positions on critical issues of international affairs and human rights, carefully and responsibly.  What I know of his work and actions brings honor to the university, and is exactly what should be supported and encouraged in a university that is dedicated to fulfilling its societal  responsibilities. It is, in my opinion, entirely improper that the charges in this case should even be considered, let alone be submitted for investigation. Unfortunately, there has been a wave of similar efforts to undermine academic freedom throughout the country in recent years.  I hope and trust that the university will take a clear and strong stand in favor of principles that are central to free inquiry and expression, particularly so in a distinguished institution of higher learning such as this one.

Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor (retired)
MIT

Robert Potter, Former Chair of the Academic Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure, Professor Emeritus, UCSB

As the former chair of the Academic Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure I was deeply concerned to read reports of the campaign of accusations of anti-Semitism and violations of the faculty code of conduct leveled against Professor William Robinson.  These charges were first broached by a local official of the Anti Defamation League (ADL), then by two students (acting on the advice of the Simon Wiesenthal Center), and finally by Abraham Foxman, the national director of the ADL, in a meeting with UCSB administrators and faculty on March 9, ostensibly called for another purpose.

This orchestrated attempt by outside agencies to pressure the university into disciplining a faculty member over the content of a course is an entirely improper attack on academic freedom.  There are established Academic Senate procedures for dealing with student complaints of this sort. It is imperative that such procedures be carried out in a way that scrupulously protects the rights of the accused.  In the meantime the campus community should express concern over this very troubling sequence of events, which seem to represent, in the aggregate, a serious assault on academic freedom at UCSB.

Robert Potter
Professor Emeritus
Department of Theater and Dance

Sondra Hale, Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at UCLA

Dear Professor Joel Michaelsen:

I am  a  faculty member at UCLA who is shocked to hear of the violation of the academic freedom of one of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s distinguished faculty members.  I am writing to express support for Sociology and Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson.   I am writing as a Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies who is Acting Co-Chair of the Islamic Studies Ph.D. Program and the Chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee of UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies.  I also serve on the comparable committees of the African Studies Center and International Development Studies.  The acts that your university and your Academic Senate have engaged in serve as a form of harassment to all of us in the field and outside.   It is unbelievable to me what has been reported:  that toward the end of February 2009, Professor Robinson received notice from the Academic Senate’s Charges Committee that two of his students had filed charges against him.   The information I have is that these two students alleged that an email forward which Prof. Robinson had circulated to his class was critical of  Israel’s then-ongoing siege on Gaza  and was, therefore, anti-Semitic.   Such charges that r esulted from the dissemination of material to a class taught by a Global Studies professor in the midst of a brutal invasion are alarming, to say the least.   Prof. Michaelsen, last time I checked, critiques of war and invasions certainly fall within the realm of “global studies.” These charges should  have immediately been dismissed and not allowed to go beyond the trash bin of the first to receive them.  The fact that these charges went all the way to the Academic Senate, which acted on them, is astonishing !  Such blatant lack of protection of faculty by its primary governing body can be highly damaging to UCSB and to the UC system as a whole.

Let me pause to say that I know Prof. Robinson’s work and know him to be a person of conscience and integrity. This kind of act puts a chill on all of us who teach international courses or courses on the Middle East (as I do).  I would have to ask if all of us will soon be subjected to such harassment.  I  urge the immediate dismissal of all of the charges against Professor Robinson as  not only unfounded , but malicious.  Any further consideration of these baseless attacks is unacceptable.  I join other  faculty from all over the UC system and outside in pledging that we will not accept any resolution of this matter that is unfavorable to Professor Robinson and academic freedom.

At this point, it is, however, not enough to dismiss the charges.  We must also insist that the attack on Professor Robinson’s academic freedom, one that ominously recalls similar campaigns against other critical academics across the nation, be publicly condemned.  This condemnation is essential to preserve full and fair discussion within the most important of the U.S.’s civic institutions.   Further entertainment of these unfair  attacks will have a severe chilling effect on the production and dissemination of scholarly research in all disciplines.  Further, the attacks must be condemned to protect faculty and students from wasting valuable time and energy defending themselves against  irresponsible allegations and political repression.

The charges of anti-Semitism  are used all too loosely these days when criticisms of the Israeli state are the subject.  One wonders if comparable charges occur when scholars are criticizing other government/state policies.  I am very critical of many U.S. government policies.  Does that make me anti-American?  Perhaps to some people outside the academy, but hopefully not to an Academic Senate of a major and respected university.

Sincerely,

Sondra Hale, Professor

Anthropology and Women’s Studies

Co-Chair, Islamic Studies

UCLA

David Fasenfest, Editor of Critical Sociology, Associate Professor at Wayne State University:

Dear Chancellor Yang,

I am writing you to express support for Sociology and Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson.  As has been reported, Professor Robinson and academic freedom have come under recent attack on the UCSB campus based on spurious accusations of anti-Semitism stemming from his efforts to engage his students in a discussion of the Isreali/Palestinian situation.

I am appalled at both the fact of the charges arising from is normal teaching, and the exaggeration of the meaning and impact of his actions.  We have seen this sort of tactic used time and again, in this country and others, to silence and recast legitimate discussion.  Ironically, just such forms of attack met Jewish faculty in Nazi Germany forcing them out of their position, silencing meaningful discussion about the events of the day, and in most cases either drove them out of the country or led them to be murdered by the Nazi regime.

As a child of a survivor I have spent most of my 60 years studying and striving to understand what happened and how it could happen–especially in a country held (at the time) as representing the apex of civilized culture.  Indeed, I have engaged Jewish Studies Programs in most of the universities at which I taught to critically evaluate official Israeli policies since (and before) its formation as a state.  Many of the dominant political actors started out using proto-fascist tactics (indeed, Albert Einstein and other prominent Jewish scholars petitioned Truman not to permit Menachim Begin entry to the US for his clear violation of democratic principles).

A well publicized “Mesada” complex and the cry of “Never Again” has, in my opinion, blinded most Jews from the realities of the actions of the State apparatus.  Media coverage in this country has successfully silenced any awareness of well organized and extensive political opposition within Israel for its actions.  Akin to the mobilizing against the Vietnam War in this country, there are organizations of veterans in opposition to these policies–early ones include Yesh Gvul (There is a border), and most recently we can see the internal dialogue in the film “Waltz with Bashir” about coming to terms with the murders of Palestinians as Israel’s military stood by (this would be akin to US Armed Forces standing by and implicitly supporting the worst attrocities during the Pol Pot regime).  An essential reality is that victims of horror and inhumane treatment are not automatically immune from in turn acting in horrible and inhumane ways.

Jews everywhere are in danger because of the false association between them as a people and the actions of a State Government.  A critique of the Israeli state, its policies, and the leaders responsible is not and should not be considered an affront to Jewish people as a collective, the Jewish religion, or Jewish heritage.  Conflating the state of Israel with the Jewish people essentializes the assorted political opinions of a diverse religious group by reducing them to the set of policies espoused by the prevailing regime.  The charge of anti-Semitism is made in bad faith; its real purpose is to automatically vilify and stifle any honest critiques of the state of Israel’s policies and practices.  In my mind it would be as if we as a private citizen were to be charged with murder because our government, at the highest levels, condoned torture that led to someone’s death…or more recently, be assailed as unpatriotic in this country for questioning the veracity and wisdom of dragging this country into an illegal and unjustified war that has resulted in so much death and destruction.

Professor Robinson’s scholarship of the highest level, and his commitment to both his students and social justice, cannot be in question.  To participate in this witch hunt, to permit this sort of charge to not only persist but gain legitimate traction, is no different than the administration bringing these charges in the first instance.  We live in a difficult time and it is precisely at these junctures that the voice of reasoned opposition must be protected if we are to move forward in our quest for justice and humanity.  In response to a question about Western Civilization, Ghandi responded that it would be a good thing!  I trust you and your fellow administrators will choose to act in favor of civilization and against those seeking to strike down any voice of oppostion.

Sincerely,


Prof. David Fasenfest
Dept of Sociology
Wayne State University

Editor, Critical Sociology
crs.sagepub.com

Series Editor
Studies in Critical Social Science
www.brill.nl/scss

Mark Rupert, Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University:

Dear Chancellor Yang and UCSB faculty and administrators,

Since before 9-11, but with special intensity following that tragedy, intellectual freedom has been under deliberate and systematic assault in this country. In particular, well organized and funded right-wing forces have allied themselves with similarly well-organized and funded pro-Israeli forces to stigmatize and silence any academic questioning of Israeli policy or US militarism in the Middle East. From Lynne Cheney’s American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), to William Bennett’s Americans for Victory over Terrorism (AVOT), to Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch, to David Horowitz’s perversely named “Students for Academic Freedom” pushing for “Islamo-Fascist Awareness” on campus, academic discourse on global politics and especially the Middle East has been systematically targeted. Among other tactics, these groups have encouraged students to monitor and publicly denounce their professors’ classroom speech, even providing web pages specifically for the purpose of naming and intimidating professors whose perspectives they don’t like. In this climate, academics who show a willingness to seriously consider critiques of Israeli or American policy are very likely to be called terrorist-sympathizers, enablers of “Islamo-fascism,” and/or anti-Semitic. A number of reputable, even distinguished, scholars have been targeted for public calumny of precisely this kind. William Robinson is but the latest of these scholars whose reputations are being deliberately tarnished in order to deter other academic critics from speaking out. In other words, this is a campaign of intimidation directed at all of us in the academy with the deliberate intention of creating a campus climate in which political positions or questions are unspeakable. Important as it is to respect Robinson’s professional judgment and academic freedom, all of us have an important stake in this because our ability to fulfill our professional responsibilities is under attack. You and the UCSB faculty and administration have a duty not just to your own institution and faculty, but to all of us in the academy, to defend the core principle of our professional lives.

In this context, we need you to stand up and defend the principle of academic freedom from the attacks of those who neither understand nor value it. I hope you will make a public statement defending the principle of academic freedom in general, and that of Professor Robinson in particular. Critical discussion of Israeli policy is not prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism, and to the extent that you entertain charges against Professor Robinson which are made on the basis of such an equation, you lend further credibility to those who would use that equation to suppress academic discourse which discomfits them.

My own research overlaps somewhat with Professor Robinson’s. I have read a good deal of his scholarship, cited it in my own work, and have collaborated with him in various professional workshops over the years. I know him to be an internationally recognized scholar and someone whose important work reflects a profound commitment to social justice, often expressed through critique of transnational power structures. You are fortunate to have such a scholar at your institution. If you are not able to defend his academic freedom against this sort of scurrilous attack, you will badly damage your own institution’s reputation and contribute to the erosion of academic freedom across the country. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to defend academic freedom for all of us by defending Professor Robinson’s well-deserved professional reputation.

Mark Rupert

Professor of Political Science

Syracuse University

Alan Nasser, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy:

To Whom It May Concern,

I write as professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington. I wish to  express my astonishment at the University’s handling of the rather bizarre charges leveled against Sociology and Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson. Surely you are aware that extra-academic elements, including the ADL, have frequently mounted concerted efforts to vilify legitimate criticism of the policies of the state of Israel. You may be interested to know that when the respected organization Human Rights Watch identified a significant number of human rights violations by Israel against the Palestinian population, the ADL accused the Director of Human Rights Watch of “a record of anti-semitism.” No such charges were made prior to HRW’s criticism of Israel. HRW’s Director is Jewish, and his mother a holocaust survivor. HRW’s criticism of Israel was, in the eyes of ADL, sufficient grounds for labeling him “anti-semitic.” There is no evidence whatever in the work of HRW or its Director of anti-semitism.

This kind of thing has happened repeatedly: critical comments re Israel have been met with well funded campaigns to denounce the alleged “anti-semite” and indeed to sever his/her employment at his/her institution. This kind of thing has become a virtual epidemic. And in every case I know of, the charges have been conspicuously ill-founded. Robinson’s responses to his critics provide conclusive evidence that University officials have neglected to adhere to the University’s own procedures for prosecuting complaints of this kind.

The University’s behavior constitutes a textbook case of violations of academic freedom. I urge you to conceive a face-saving way to withdraw these unfounded charges and thereby derail an avalanche of publicity that will reflect badly on the University. You must not allow this preposterous show to continue. I have in my 45 years of university teaching referred a number of my promising students to UCSB for continued studies. Under present circumstances I would do no such thing again.

I strongly urge the immediate dismissal of all of the charges against Professor Robinson as groundless and politically motivated. I join other students and faculty in pledging that we will not accept any resolution of this matter that is unfavorable to Professor Robinson and academic freedom.

I also urge that the attack on Professor Robinson’s academic freedom, one that echoes similar campaigns against other critical academics across the nation, be publicly condemned.  This condemnation is essential to preserve full and fair discussion within the most important of the U.S.’s civic institutions.  Any genuine consideration of these absurd attacks will have a stifling effect on the production and dissemination of scholarly research in all disciplines.  Further, the attacks must be condemned to protect faculty and students from wasting valuable time and energy defending themselves against frivolous allegations and political repression.

Sincerely,
Alan Nasser, PhD
Professor Emeritus, The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Wa. 98505

Patrick Bond, Senior Professor and Director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

5 May 2009

Wade Clark Roof, Director, Capps Center
Leonard Wallock, Associate Director
Richard Hecht, Forum Moderator

Dear Capps Center officials,

Though I’m an unfamiliar name and live on the other side of the world, I did have an exceptionally rewarding time at the Capps Center and La Casa de Maria in August 2003, at a water conference. I remain grateful for your organization’s hosting and sponsorship.

For the reason that my impression was so favorable, I must write to express concern. I received news today that according to UCSB staff, your facilities were the base for an attack by Abraham Foxman on the rights of William Robinson’s academic expression.

Robinson is amongst the world’s most respected sociologists of globalization, and certainly among UCSB’s most impressive scholars. For him to suffer an Academic Senate investigation when he was simply practicing his craft is, in my mind, extraordinarily careless of UCSB. I have not had personal contact with Professor Robinson or any of his colleagues about this matter, although I’ve met him at conferences and during my Capps Center visit in 2003. I do think you owe it to him and to all academics supportive of social justice to sharply distance your institution from the attack on Robinson’s basic freedom of academic expression.

Sincerely,
Patrick Bond

Robert Austin, Ph.D Fellow, School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne

Dear Chancellor,

Throughout history public universities have had one central social responsibility: to speak the truth to power. Over time the UC system has played its part, despite enduring efforts by the forces of barbarism to distort its activities. McCarthyism was the first post-war form which their agenda took, with serious consequences for enlightened learning and critical research. Since then placing research at the service of the military industrial complex has further eroded university independence, especially since globalisation set in. As a former lecturer in International Studies at RMIT, it seems to me inescapable that any course on Globalisation include the Middle East conflict, and that any informed debate on that topic can not but conclude what leading critical Jewish scholars have themselves concluded: that a state born of German barbarism has ironically taken the side of barbarism itself (Chomsky & Pappe come to mind). Moreover, Zionism and any form of racism are incompatible with academic freedom and strike at the very core of public education.

The attack on Sociology and Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson falls precisely into this category. It follows a pattern: in 2006 we learned that the group Campus Watch, backed by the powerful Zionist lobby, has professors of Middle East Studies under surveillance and promotes termination of their careers for non-conformist views. This followed revelations of payments to students to spy on Left professors at UCLA, vilified as the Dirty Thirty. Elsewhere Norman Finkelstein, outstanding Middle East scholar, lost his tenure after Zionist Alan Dershowitz intervened. When a university allows racist groups to determine its agenda, it can no longer claim to be pursuing knowledge or promoting spaces where academics and students teach and learn without fear of reprisal.

A critique of the Israeli state, its policies, and the leaders responsible is not and should not be considered an affront to Jewish people as a collective, the Jewish religion, or Jewish heritage. Conflating the state of Israel with the Jewish people essentializes the political opinions of a diverse religious group by reducing them to the set of policies espoused by the prevailing regime. The charge of anti-Semitism is made in bad faith; its real purpose is to automatically vilify and stifle any honest critiques of the state of Israel?s policies and practices.

Against this background, I am writing you to express unconditional support for Professor Robinson. Further, having familiarised myself with the details of the case, it is patently clear that the trumped-up charges against him are no more than a resurrection of McCarthyism in the service of Zionism, are patently absurd and should be dismissed out of hand before further damage is done to the university’s purpose and reputation. I demand the immediate dismissal of all of the charges against Professor Robinson as frivolous, unfounded, and malicious. I join other students and faculty in pledging that we will not accept any resolution of this matter that is unfavorable to Professor Robinson and academic freedom.

As Chancellor, you have a public responsibility to actively repudiate the attack on Professor Robinson?s academic freedom, one that ominously recalls similar campaigns against other critical academics across the nation. This condemnation is essential to preserve full and fair discussion within the most important of the U.S.?s civic institutions. Any genuine consideration of these absurd attacks will have a severe chilling effect on the production and dissemination of scholarly research in all disciplines. Further, the attacks must be condemned to protect faculty and students from wasting valuable time and energy defending themselves against frivolous allegations and political repression. If you are unable to defend academic freedom, then  the university should move you to a non-toxic role and install someone who will. Professor Robinson would surely be an excellent candidate.

Sincerely,

R. W. Austin

Raúl Delgado Wise, Director, Program in Development Studies, Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Mexico

May 10, 2009

Dear Chancellor Yang:

I am the Director of a PhD program in Development Studies at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, in Mexico, which is ranked by the Mexican National Council of Science and Technology as one of the country’s top internationally-recognized programs in higher education.  I am also President of the International Network on Migration and Development and co-Chair of the Global Network on Critical Development Studies.

I met Professor William Robinson at a Conference at Princeton University in 2005 and since then have had ongoing communications and academic exchanges with him.  Some of his books and articles have been incorporated in thesyllabus of our core courses.  His contributions to the understanding of globalization as well as to the problems and challenges faced by Latin American countries are recognized word-wide.

The academic community of my program and the academic networks in which I interact are shocked and deeply concerned over the campaign of accusations raised against Professor Robinson regarding his points of view on the Israeli invasion of Gaza, which took place with the acknowledgment and acquaintance of the US government.  We consider this embarrassing episode an attack not only to academic freedom but also an attempt to silent qualified and responsible voices engaged in exposing the truth and in defending human rights around the globe.

I totally agree with Professor Chomsky’s comment in the sense that Professor Robinson’s work and actions honor the University of California at Santa Barbara and are an example of outstanding scholarship engaged with scientific knowledge and humanitarian causes.  I sincerely hope that the University assumes a position regarding this case in accordance with the principles of academic freedom and against any form of censorship which may lead to a new era of obscurantism and scientific regression.

Raúl Delgado Wise, PhD
Director, Program in Development Studies
Autonomous University of Zacatecas, Mexico
President, International Network on Migration and Development
Co-Chair, Global Network on Critical Development Studies

William A. Cook, Professor of English at University of La Verne:

Dear Chancellor and Members of the Board:

This note comes to you from a man who has spent 50 years in academia as Instructor, Professor, Department Chairman, Dean, Vice President of Academic Affairs and, again, tenured full Professor of English. Never in all my years have I considered or allowed voices from beyond my institution to influence and dictate the professional decisions I had to make relative to my contractual relations with my faculty. UCSB is just the most recent of many institutions bulldozed by CAMARA and Habara and JDL and a certain Harvard Professor, all forcing their self-serving positions on the professoriate that guards the only road to truth left in America, the freedom of the learned mind to research, investigate, argue and defend the multiple byways to truth. I would ask you to consider the referenced article I wrote when I was pilloried clandestinely by Canada’s CJC and B’nai B’rith with allegations yet to be proven.
This article appeared in the Atlantic Free Press, the Pacific Free Press, MWC News and others. I offer it to you as a means of understanding how those intent on destroying freedom of speech can achieve their ends by muzzeling the learning process by unprovable allegations. Protect, Ladies and Gentlemen the institution you serve, please.

William A. Cook, Ph.D.

Juan Vicente Palerm, Acting Chair of the Chicana & Chicano Studies Department at UCSB:

As one who started his teaching career in Francoist Spain  –always knowing that either secret police or planted students would report to authorities my “blasphemies”–   and who in Mexico was heckled and harassed by Stalinist colleagues and their acolytes who violently disagreed with my brand of Marxism, I have come to appreciate and trust the University of California’s authenticity regarding the practice of academic freedom.  I am, therefore, appalled and saddened by ADL’s inappropriate overtures to our administration, and the administration’s apparent cowing to their demands. Not only has Professor Robinson been unfairly placed in terrible situation but  the horrid realization that we might not be able to speak our mind in our classrooms is unbearable.

Juan Vicente Palerm, Acting Chair
Department of Chicana & Chicano Studies

Lawrence E. Sneden, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, CSU Northridge:

Dear Chancellor Yang:

I know the work of Professor Robinson of the UCSB Sociology Department to be excellent and find his academic and teaching credentials beyond reproach.  As an academic who has studied, taught, and written on globalization, it is clear to me that the topic in question was completely appropriate and his handling of it exemplary.  It is clear that this is a political attack, an attempt to silence criticism of Israel.

If UCSB lends credence to this assault on academic freedom I will be utterly shocked and dismayed.  As a former university academic and bureaucrat, I realize that procedures have to be followed, but, really, this attack is absurd on the face of it.

Please add my voice to the chorus insisting that political attacks on Professor Robinson not be allowed to go unanswered.  A wise faculty and administration will see this attack for what it is.  This attack is really over the top!  It seems nobody can be allowed to criticize Israel without being called anti-semitic by certain groups.

Sincerely,

Lawrence E. Sneden, PhD

T.M. Scruggs, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Music at the University of Iowa

Dr. Scruggs letter-p.1Dr. Scruggs letter-p.2

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