Professor Robinson’s March 9 Response to Charges Officer, Re: Students’ Charges

Professor Robinson’s Response to Academic Senate Charges Officer Martin Scharlemann Regarding Process Problems and the Substance of the Students’ Complaints

9 March 2009
Professor Martin Scharlemann
Academic Senate
Charges Officer
University of California-Santa Barbara

Dear Professor Scharlemann,

I am back from my research trip from Zacatecas and in receipt of your February 27 email response to my letter to you of February 25 in relation to allegations of violations of the Faculty Code of Conduct filed against me in the Academic Senate. I want to reiterate from the start that I view this complaint to be a patent, ominous, and politicized violation of academic freedom and I call on you on this basis to dismiss this complaint without further consideration.

I am confused by sequential steps you are taking with regard to this complaint procedure because they appear to be out of accord with the procedure as stipulated in “Campus Procedures for Enforcement of the Faculty Code of Conduct [Revised 6/1/06].” I requested in my February 25 letter that you clarify the ambiguities with regard to this procedure and you did not do so. According to the “Procedures,” formal complaint
procedures are initiated upon receipt of a formal complaint and the first step is notification of the faculty member that a formal complaint has been lodged. You have done so. The “Procedures” then states that “The second stage in the initiation of the formal procedures shall be the formation of an ad hoc Charges Committee…” The third step is a decision by the Charges Officer as to whether the complaint is frivolous or unfounded. The fourth stage is for the faculty member to “have the right to file a preliminary written response to the complaint with the Charges Committee…” Yet you solicit my written response (step four) and at the same time affirm in your February 27 email that no ad hoc charges committee has been formed and that you have not yet yourself made a determination as to whether these charges have enough basis to move forward (steps two and three). I would like you to clarify this sequence and how it is in accord with the procedures that are indicated in the “Procedures” document.

And in particular, I would like you to re-affirm here for the record of this complaint procedure that you have: 1) met with me informally with regard to the original informal charges by the two complainants and heard my views and explanation on this matter; 2) reviewed carefully the formal written complaint that you received from these two complainants, which includes letters from each of them and as attachments the written material distributed to students in my course and which form the basis for the complaint.

This is important because you have reviewed these formal written complaints and accompanying material and yet did not find them to be “frivolous or unfounded” enough to have dismissed this complaint process prior to soliciting from me a written response, which, to reiterate, should have been done, according to the “Procedures” document, only after such time that you found the complaint not to be sufficiently “frivolous or
unfounded” so as to refer it to the Advisory Committee and to establish an ad hoc Committee.

Let me now turn to the written complaints submitted by the two students.

The first letter, by Ms. XXXXX, runs through a litany of items from the Faculty Code of Conducts that she believes I violated, including, curiously, self-violation of my own right “to present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction,” intrusion of material unrelated to the course, discrimination, participating in or deliberately abetting disruption, interference, or intimidation in the classroom, violations of scholarship
(cannons of intellectual honesty, etc.), unauthorized use of university resources or facilities, etc., and “community ethical principles,” specifically creating the impression that I speak for the university. The lead-up to this litany claims that I expressed anti-Semitic views on the basis of course material distributed to students that condemns the Israel invasion of Gaza.

The second letter, by Ms. XXXXX, also claims that I violated the Faculty Code of Conduct by engaging in anti-Semitism, by introducing material unrelated to the course, and by “participating in or deliberately abetting disruption, interference, or intimidation in the classroom,” by unauthorized use of university resources, and so forth.

I do not know either of these two students personally and as far as I know I have never had any direct contact with them. They apparently both dropped the course in the second week of the current quarter. The course materials to which the two students refer are in your possession and as I already discussed in my meeting with you and with Ms. Smagala on February 17 they involve two items from the world on-line media that I forwarded to all students in the class, including an article published by a Jewish journalist that condemns the recent Israeli invasion of Gaza and a series of photos that show Nazi atrocities against Jews and Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.

My classes are spaces of open discussion and debate on a wide range of global affairs. Students are encouraged to discuss and debate any and all material introduced into my courses and to introduce their own related material. They often debate each other at the same time as they exchange views and analyses with me, including views and analyses that may be entirely contrary to my own. These complainants do not claim that they were unable to discuss or express their views on the Israeli invasion of Gaza in the class. Rather, the basis of their complaint is: 1) I have engaged in anti-Semitism by introducing the course material in question; 2) this course material was not related to the course. Both these charges are absurd.

Regarding the first, anti-Semitism means “having or showing prejudice against Jews; discriminating against or persecuting Jews” (Webster’s). The students are conflating criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli state with discrimination or persecution of Jews. This much is crystal clear from the material that they attached to their letters and that form part of my course and there is no room for ambiguity. You yourself – after having received all the material on which this allegation is based and having presumably reviewed that material carefully – could have pointed this out to them and explained that on the basis of your review of the material in question their allegations are unfounded.

Regarding the second, that the material in question is unrelated to the course, I will remind you what we previously discussed in the February 17 meeting: this is a sociology course on global affairs and by definition the Israel-Palestine conflict is related to the course. In that meeting you and Ms. Smagala asked several questions, including as to whether I had placed on the course syllabus the topic of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which raises the concern for me that either or both of you may believe that you are empowered as part of this complaint procedure to examine the content of my course and to determine what is and is not relevant to that content. I do not acknowledge any such examination as a legitimate part of this complaint proceeding and would view such an examination as constituting an attempt to externally monitor course content and a violation of academic freedom.

The letter of complaint by Ms. XXXXXX states that “I was asked to speak to him and get him to apologize.” Did you or Ms. Smagala recommend to this student that she seek an apology from me? If so that would have been grossly inappropriate conduct on either or both of your parts as an apology is an admission that some offense has been committed.

You state in your February 27 letter that “the focus of the charges process is on potential violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct, not on any political issues that may or may not be involved.” This suggests that you have chosen to ignore the clear and manifest political basis to these allegations. I am being accused of anti-Semitism on the basis of a political critique of the recent policies and conduct of the state of Israel. Can you please explain to me what is not political about such allegations? Let us not deny the obvious. The allegations that I have violated the Faculty Code of Conduct by introducing into my class material that critiques the policies of a state is, as a matter of course, political in nature. The complainants have taken a political position with regard to the policies and practices of the Israeli state that differs with the political positions contained in the
material I distributed to students. By definition, this complaint is political. I am not being accused of discriminatory practices towards any individual student or students. I am not being accused of sexual harassment. I am not being accused of abusive behavior, retribution or unfairness in grading or anything else of a non-political nature. And I am not being accused of repressing the political views and the academic freedom of the
complainants. I am being accused of violating the Faculty Code of Conduct because I introduced material into my course which disagrees with the political views of the complainants. This much is crystal clear and therefore I am absolutely perplexed at why you would claim that there is no political basis to these allegations.

Similarly, let us not pretend we are not aware of the obvious. If I had introduced into my course material critical of the policies and practices of the Iranian state would you have moved forward to this point with a complaint by students that such critical material is constitutive of discrimination or persecution against Muslims? If I had introduced material critical of the Chinese state policies and practices would you have moved forward with a grievance by students that such material is constitutive of discrimination or persecution of Chinese? And so forth. As you are fully aware, officials from the state of Israel and defenders of the policies and practices of the state of Israel routinely claim that condemnation of those policies and practices constitute anti-Semitism. This unfounded and politically odious claim is the precise basis for the complaint that has been lodged against me. Among the larger U.S. and international public this claim has the effect of intimidating those who attempt to engage in open and uncensored debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict and in the academy it creates an environment of fear and censorship that threatens academic freedom.

Let me conclude by stating I understand you are responsible for receiving informal complaints and you did so, appropriately. And I understand you appropriately called me in for an informal meeting. You also are responsible for receiving formal complaints and you did so, appropriately. At that point, you could have determined the obvious – the unfounded nature of this complaint – and you chose not to. The most appropriate – indeed, the only appropriate – course of action for you to proceed with at this time is to immediately dismiss these allegations and in the name of academic freedom that is what I call on you to do. Should this charges process go any further I would consider it a grave and an ominous threat to academic freedom on this campus and in the University of California, with potentially chilling effects not only on said academic freedom but as well on the ability of the university community to engage in open debate and exchange of ideas of contemporary matters free from intimidation and the threat of sanctions.

Academic freedom is not negotiable. It is a sacred and fundamental principle of the academic community, indeed, the life blood of the academic mission. It encompasses, I remind you, and in accordance with the definition set forth by the American Association of University Professors, among others, the right of faculty to full freedom in research and in the publication of results, freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, and
the right of faculty to be free from institutional censorship, discipline or other forms of restrictive interference in teaching, research, speaking and publishing, wherever the search for truth and understanding may lead.

I intend to defend my academic freedom and the broader principle of academic freedom with all the means in my power and I am calling on you to uphold and defend it.

Lastly, please note that I am leaving in a few days for a two-week research/conference trip to Eastern Europe and will be largely off-line until the first day of the spring quarter.

William I. Robinson

c.c., w/attachments
Professor Verta Taylor, Chair, Department of Sociology
Professor Melvin Oliver, Dean of Social Sciences
Gene Lucas, Executive Vice Chancellor
Ms. Stephanie Smagala, Academic Senate Analyst

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