Letters from Scholarly Organizations

Below, you will find letters from:

  • The American Association of University Professors, who wrote a letter urging Chancellor Yang to follow the resolution which closed Professor Robinson’s case with an investigation of how the charges were handled by the Academic Senate
  • The National President of the National Lawyers Guild, Marjorie Cohen
  • California Scholars for Academic Freedom
  • Global Studies Association
  • Members of the Department of Feminist Studies at UCSB
  • Middle East Studies Association of North America
  • Race & Class Journal, Editorial Board
  • The Graduate Student Assembly at UCSB, who passed a resolution supporting Professor Geoff Raymond’s critical analysis of the Academic Senate procedures
  • AAUP Letter to Chancellor Yang
  • The Department of Asian American Studies at UCSB
  • A letter collectively authored by the Chapter of Teachers Against Occupation at UCR
  • The Department of Film & Media Studies at UCSB
  • The Department of English at UCSB

The American Association of University Professors:

A letter urging an investigation of how the charges were handled by the Academic Senate

A letter urging an investigation of how the charges were handled by the Academic Senate

The National President of the National Lawyers Guild, Marjorie Cohen:

Dear Chancellor Yang,

I am a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, president of the National Lawyers Guild, the mother of a UCSB student, and a Jew.

I am deeply disturbed by the recent charges of anti-Semitism against Sociology and Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson.  The conflation of the expression of views critical of the policies of Israel with anti-Semitism is simplistic and dangerous to academic freedom.

The university is a place where critical thought should be encouraged, not punished. Making an example of Professor Robinson will have a chilling effect on the willingness of other professors and scholars to espouse views that do not comport with the prevailing sentiment.

The attack on Professor Robinson’s academic freedom is reminiscent of similar campaigns against other critical academics around the country.  The charges against him must be dropped and the attack roundly condemned. Such condemnation is essential to preserve full and fair discussion within the academy.

Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

Marjorie Cohn

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Dear Professor Michaelsen and Chancellor Yang,

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, are all deeply disturbed to hear about the charges brought against Professor William Robinson.   The charges of anti-Semitism and of violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct, based on an email he sent to his class condemning the Israeli assault in Gaza,  are clearly without merit.  First, criticism of the state of Israel and of Israeli leaders and government policy obviously does not constitute anti-Semitism, which is defined as “hatred toward Jews – individually or as a group – that can be attributed to the Jewish religion or ethnicity.”  Second, the information that Prof. Robinson sent was certainly relevant for a course on global issues and in no way involved harassment of students nor “a misuse of University resources…on a significant scale.”

It appears in fact that University officials have violated university procedures in bringing these charges.  The right to present controversial material in the context of a course  -including opinions that may be deeply disturbing to some students – is an essential element of academic freedom.  This includes the right to criticize government actions, whether they be American, Israeli, or those of any other government.

We request that the Academic Senate dismiss these charges, apologize to Professor Robinson, and publicly uphold the right of Prof. Robinson and other members of the University community to discuss controversial issues in a free and open environment.

Sincerely yours,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contacts:
Nora Hamilton, Political Science, University of Southern California (nhamil@usc.edu) Katherine King, Comparative Literature, University of  California, Los Angeles (king@humnet.ucla.edu) David Klein, Mathematics, California State University, Northridge (david.klein@csun.edu)

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom is a two-year old group of over 100 academics who teach in 20 California institutions. The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

Global Studies Association (GSA) of North America

The following letter was adopted at the annual business meeting of the Global Studies Association on May 10th 2009 and approved by the Executive Board.

Dear Chancellor Henry Yang,

We are deeply concerned over the unfounded charges of anti-Semitism against Professor William I. Robinson. Professor Robinson is a member of our Executive Board and has shown himself to be an outstanding scholar whose work in highly influential. These charges are a serious violation of academic freedom and undermine intellectual inquiry which is the heart of academic scholarship.  Additionally, these actions reflect poorly on the University of California at Santa Barbara and we urge an immediate dismissal of all charges against Professor Robinson as frivolous and malicious.

Attacks against scholars who criticize the policies of the Israeli government have turned into a national witch-hunt. A critique of the Israeli state, its policies, and the leaders responsible is not and should not be considered an affront to the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, or Jewish heritage. Conflating the state of Israel with the Jewish people essentializes the political opinions of a diverse community by reducing them to the set of policies espoused by the prevailing regime. The real purpose of charging anti-Semitism is to stifle discussion of the state of Israel’s policies and practices. This constitutes a deeply anti-intellectual ploy and we are dismayed that the university would tolerate such practices.

Sincerely Yours,

Jerry Harris

Secretary, Global Studies Association

Members of the Department of Feminist Studies at UCSB

We, the undersigned faculty members of the Department of Feminist Studies, would like to express our strong support for the principle of academic freedom at UC Santa Barbara.  The case of Professor William Robinson, which is garnering national attention, has raised the issue of interference with and restrictions on academic freedom in ways that we find disturbing.

The principle of academic freedom is especially important to us as members of a discipline that is often targeted by opponents of feminism and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer studies.  We would like to believe that if a member of our faculty were under attack, especially by outside organizations or individuals,  the university would stand up for our academic freedom.

We take this opportunity to state publicly our support for academic freedom at and beyond UCSB, joining with others who defend this most valuable principle.

Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America

8 May 2009

Dear Professor Michaelsen,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, I am writing to express our grave concerns about the investigation that UCSB’s Academic Senate is conducting into allegations of misconduct on the part of Professor William Robinson. Specifically, we are troubled by the university’s willingness to open an investigation into Professor Robinson’s conduct based on criticism of his views by students, by an apparent lack of due process and adherence to university procedures, and by the possibility that outside interference influenced the decision to move forward with an official investigation despite strong evidence suggesting that the claims that Robinson had committed violations of the Faculty Code of Conduct were without merit.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

It is our understanding that this investigation stems from an email message that Professor Robinson sent to students in his course “Sociology of Globalization” on January 19, 2009. In that email message Professor Robinson forwarded an article that juxtaposed images from the Holocaust with images from Gaza during the Israeli assault of December 2008-January 2009, drew a parallel between the plight of Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto under Nazi rule, and strongly denounced Israeli policies and actions toward the Palestinians. His message accompanying the article accused the Israeli government of engaging in genocide against the Palestinians, though he noted that (as he saw it) Israel’s intent was “not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.”

On February 9, 2009, the regional office of the ADL sent a letter of complaint to Professor Robinson, with copies to university officials. Ten days later two of Professor Robinson’s students complained that they believed the content of his email message to be anti-Semitic, and they also alleged that that message constituted an “abuse of an instructor position” and violated “the integrity of the faculty-student relationship.” We also understand that on March 9, 2009, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, accompanied by a local ADL representative, met with a group of UCSB administrators and faculty members, and that at that meeting Mr. Foxman pressed university officials to investigate Professor Robinson and sanction him for the email message he had circulated. It is our understanding that Executive Dean David Marshall relayed to Foxman and others in attendance that a charges process against Professor Robinson was underway.

If true, this would constitute a violation of the confidentiality of such procedures. Moreover, it is our understanding that the Ad Hoc Committee was tasked with opening a formal investigation two weeks after Mr. Foxman’s meeting with university personnel, on March 25, and that there is ongoing pressure from the ADL on the university to continue this investigation.

Whether or not one agrees with the substance of Professor Robinson’s views on Israel or with the way he chose to express them, we believe that there are grounds for grave concern about the allegation that his email message is anti-Semitic as well as about the university’s decision to bring him up on charges for the content of that message and its circulation to students. As a faculty member at UCSB, which claims to be firmly committed to the defense of academic freedom, Professor Robinson is entitled to express his views freely, even on controversial issues and even when some students may be upset or offended by what he has to say. The expression of those views in the context of a course that deals with global issues seems entirely appropriate as well. In this regard, there is no evidence that Professor Robinson “intimidated” the students through the email’s dissemination or prevented them from expressing views challenging its content or arguments.

According to the standards established by the American Association of University Professors, instructors have the right to “stimulate discussion and encourage critical thought by drawing analogies or parallels the vigor and vibrancy of classroom,” in the absence of which “discussion will be stultified.” It further declares that “ideas that are germane to a subject under discussion in a classroom cannot be censored because a student with particular religious or political beliefs might be offended.” The issues raised by Robinson are clearly germane both to the study of globalization in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to the specific themes addressed by the course as set forth in its description in the UCSB catalog.

Beyond our concerns about the Charges Officer’s apparent reliance on an overly broad definition of anti-Semitism to bring charges against Professor Robinson, we are also very concerned that Professor Robinson’s chair and dean were apparently not alerted to the students’ complaints, the appropriate initial procedural recourse in such a situation. More generally, we are concerned that university officials may have been unduly influenced by the pressure brought to bear on them by Mr. Foxman and his organization, which is known for aggressively attacking the kind of speech at the heart of this case. Discussing the case with ADL representatives in any manner constituted a violation of Robinson’s right to confidentiality, and opened the door to the appearance of outside influence in the adjudicatory process. The events that transpired at this March 9 meeting should be the subject of investigation in this regard.

Universities are often subjected to pressure by outside groups with their own political agendas, but it is the responsibility of university officials to defend their faculty against such pressure and uphold the principles of academic freedom. There are indications that this did not happen in Professor Robinson’s case. Moreover, we cannot ignore the larger context which surrounds this case: the fact that in recent years faculty at many colleges and universities across the United States have been targeted by advocacy organizations in an apparent attempt to stifle criticism of Israeli policies, often by alleging that such criticism is anti-Semitic.

We call on the UCSB Academic Senate to reconsider the charges against Professor Robinson to ensure that they do not constitute a violation of his academic freedom. We also call on the university to do whatever is necessary to ensure that its own procedures for investigating a faculty member accused of violating its Faculty Code of Conduct were strictly and fully adhered to in this case. Finally, we call on UCSB to reiterate its commitment to academic freedom for all faculty, including those who address controversial and sensitive issues, and to assure its faculty that it will not succumb to pressure from external organizations pursuing political agendas intended to stifle free speech and undermine the principles of academic freedom.

Respectfully,
Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor of History, McMaster University

cc:
Henry Yang, Chancellor
Gene Lucas, Executive Vice Chancellor
David Marshall, Executive Dean
Melvin Oliver, Dean of Social Sciences

The editorial board of Race and Class journal:

Dear Professor Yang,

We are writing with regard to the charges brought against Professor William I. Robinson by the Academic Senate’s Charges Committee at UCSB. As academics, scholars, writers, editors and others associated with the journal Race & Class, we are shocked that these charges have been pursued against Professor Robinson, with whom we have had a long association. His work as a sociologist has always been marked by objectivity, academic rigour and high standards of scholarship.

It is patently absurd to allege that his circulating of material comparing the Nazis and Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians is evidence of anti-Semitism. The charges should be dismissed out of hand. Since its founding thirty-five years ago, the journal Race & Class has stood for academic freedom and we join with many others in pledging support for Professor Robinson’s academic freedom today. It is clear that the charges against him are unfounded and part of a political campaign to suppress legitimate discussion on campuses of Israeli government policy.

Sincerely,

Arun Kundnani, editor
Dr A. Sivanandan, founding editor
Dr Hazel Waters, editor
Professor Lee Bridges, Warwick University
Professor Neil Lazarus, Warwick University
Chris Searle, Manchester University
David Edgar, playwright
Colin Prescod, filmmaker and playwright
Frances Webber, barrister
Fizza Qureshi, community activist

The Graduate Student Assembly at UCSB, who passed a resolution supporting Professor Geoff Raymond’s critical analysis of the Academic Senate procedures:

We, the UC Santa Barbara Graduate Students Association, support Geoff Raymond’s letter (Geoff Raymond, April 9, 2009) regarding processes related to academic freedom at UCSB.  In addition, we call on the academic senate to follow their own guidelines and rise to the highest level of their own standards as a pillar of institutional justice.  May 5, 2009; GSA Assembly Voted Unanimously

AAUP Letter to Chancellor Yang

The Department of Asian American Studies at UCSB

May 20, 2009

To:     Joel Michaelsen, Chair, Academic Senate

Fr:     Diane Fujino, Chair
Department of Asian American Studies

cc:    Melvin Oliver, Dean, Social Science Division
David Marshall, Executive Dean
Gene Lucas, Executive Vice Chancellor
Henry Yang, Chancellor

Re:      Academic Freedom

We, the entire faculty of the Department of Asian American Studies, affirm our commitment to academic freedom at UC Santa Barbara.  The case of Professor William Robinson has raised the issue of interference with and restrictions on academic freedom.  We request that the Academic Senate drop the charges against Professor Robinson and return the complaint to the departmental level, allowing the Department Chair and Professor Robinson to meet about the complaint.

It is the responsibility of the university to protect academic freedom and to resist efforts by outside interest groups to intimidate or otherwise discourage faculty from discussing controversial ideas.  In fields like Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies that have been targeted for their focus on racial and ethnic equality, we understand the importance of academic freedom.  Our mission, as educators, is to foster critical thinking in our students.  This includes critically engaging with material that may make them uncomfortable.  Such discussions foster the development of critical analysis, appreciation of different perspectives, open mindedness, and engaged citizenship.

We affirm our strong commitment to academic freedom at UCSB and beyond.

Diane Fujino, Chair and Associate Professor
Jim Lee, Associate Professor
erin Ninh, Assistant Professor
John Park, Associate Professor
Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Associate Professor
Xiaojian Zhao, Associate Professor

A letter collectively authored by the Chapter of Teachers Against Occupation at UCR:

Dear Chancellor Yang,

As faculty members who teach at the University of California, Riverside, we write to register our deepest concern about the ways in which Professor William I. Robinson, a highly respected sociologist at UC, Santa Barbara, has been targeted for his pedagogical stances around the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

We are profoundly troubled by what appears to be, first, a sharp attack on academic freedom.

Many of us are critical scholars of state violence in its many forms, in many sites. Some of us write and teach about the history of settler colonialism in the United States; some of us teach openly and critically about U.S. foreign policy in its covert and overt support of militarization and occupation in different parts of the world. Some of us, like Professor Robinson, seek to draw out the connections between contemporary state and military violence on an entire people, the Palestinians, and seek to question the Israeli military state’s actions in this regard. Given the recent military campaign in the Gaza strip, we believe that there is increasing urgency to draw out the historical, political and economic sinews of this conflict and the disproportionate effects of violence that continue.

We understand that these are oppositional stances to mainstream positions in the United States, but this is precisely why this specific issue must be discussed in a university classroom. Surely, in a great public university, a professor’s freedom to offer critical, provocative, and oppositional material to students is not only his or her right, it is also a vital part of our pedagogical work to encourage critical thinking.

However, Professor Robinson has been attacked as someone who is anti-Semitic because of his sharp, historical critique of the Israeli state’s continuing policy of military occupation of Palestine. This is an old conflation. To criticize the policies of the Israeli state is not the same as being anti-Jewish. Such an accusation is deeply misinformed and simply inaccurate. It must be seen for what it is, a powerful way to stop any discussion about the roots and consequences of Israeli state violence, and what it means to be located in the United States, as students and teachers, given our economic support of the Israeli state.

We would like to remember, of course, that even a former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter, was not immune to similar charges when he dared to write a book linking apartheid to the terms of Israeli military occupation.

We recognize, also, that such rhetorical strategies have provoked reprisal for other scholars and colleagues across the nation who have spoken up against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Some have lost their jobs but all these cases create a terrible climate for our work in these great civic institutions.

Lastly, we are equally troubled by how Professor Robinson has been framed within the UCSB’s internal review process. We ask that the university’s juridical system not be used against a scholar because he espouses views that are discomforting for some. Some of us are familiar with the process and hope that external and internal pressures do not compromise Professor Robinson’s freedom, integrity and livelihood.

The attempt to silence and censor Professor Robinson in this manner is an egregious violation of the very basic principles of freedom of expression. As members of the University of California, we urge you to not permit a climate of censorship, which would mar the reputation of your institution. Such acts undermine the very foundations of critical and democratic education and signal an abandonment of the most basic civil liberties that an institution of higher learning should protect.

Thank you for your consideration,

Yours sincerely,

Piya Chatterjee (Women’s Studies, UCR)
Setsu Shigematsu (Media and Cultural Studies, UCR)
Feras Abou-Galala (Electrical Engineering, UCR)
Freya Schiwy (Media and Cultural Studies, UCR)
Amalia Cabezas (Women’s Studies, UCR)
Jane Ward (Women’s Studies, UCR)
Tania Hammidi (Dance Department, UCR)
Keith Harris (Media and Cultural Studies, UCR)
Jodi Kim (Ethnic Studies, UCR)
Alessandro Fornazzari (Hispanic Studies, UCR)
Dylan Rodriguez (Ethnic Studies, UCR)
Kiana Green (American Studies & Ethnicity, USC)
Mariam Lam (Comparative Literature, UCR)
Marta Hernández Salván (Spanish, UCR)

The Department of Film & Media Studies at UCSB

The Department of English at UCSB

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