Professor Robinson’s Response of April 6 to Charges Officer’s Articulated Charges

6 April 2009

Dear Professor Scharlemann,

I asked you on 3 April to produce a charges sheet for the basis of your decision to constitute an ad hoc committee investigation and you responded with a “summary of the allegations.” I find your charges sheet ludicrous, at best, if not a dereliction of your responsibilities as Charges Officer, including your responsibility to uphold academic freedom.

I reproduce here what you have submitted to me as a charges sheet:

“* You, as professor of an academic course, sent to each student enrolled in that course a highly partisan email accompanied by lurid photographs.
* The email was unexpected and without educational context.
* You offered no explanation of how the material related to the content of the course.
* You offered no avenue to discuss, nor encouraged any response, to the opinions and photographs included in the email.
* You directly told a student who inquired that the email was not connected to the course.
* As a result, two enrolled students were too distraught to continue with the course.
* The constellation of allegations listed above, if substantially true, may violate the Faculty Code of Conduct.
In the (“not exhaustive”) list of examples included with that Faculty Code of Conduct, the most proximate are part II, A. 1. b and A. 4.”

What do you mean by “highly partisan”?  What do you find “highly partisan” about the material I introduced?  Why do you believe that the introduction of what you refer to as “partisan” material is not protected by academic freedom and not part of my mission as a professor and how is it in violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct?  Where in the Faculty Code of Conduct is it indicated that course material must not be “partisan”?  Exactly what would constitute in your view “non-partisan” material in a course on global affairs?  Do you believe that students in a sociology course should be empowered to determine what “partisan” material is appropriate or not appropriate content for the course?  Is it “partisan” material in general that you believe should not to be introduced into a University course?  Or is it the particular and specific “partisan” material to which the student complainants refer whose introduction into my course is in your view in potential violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct?

What do you mean by “lurid photographs”?  “Lurid” is defined by Webster’s as “vivid in a harsh or shocking way.”  In what way is the introduction of images vivid in a harsh or shocking way a violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct?  Why would photos of military conflict not be “harsh and shocking”? And why would their presentation in a University course be a violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct? Are any photographs that are vivid in a harsh and shocking way in your view not to be introduced into a University course?  Or is it just the particular harsh and shocking photos to which the student complainants object that should not be introduced?

Moreover, it is not the photographs contained in the course material that are shocking but the events that they document.  By suggesting that images that document shocking events and “partisan” material should not be introduced into a University course your charges sheet appears to advocate – beyond the suppression of academic freedom – outright political censorship.  The Faculty Code of Conduct does not, in any way, proscribe “partisan” material or images that are vivid in a harsh and shocking way.  To the contrary, the Code establishes as the right of faculty the “right to present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction” and its very Preamble states that the intent of the Code is to protect academic freedom.

Your charges sheet states that I “directly told a student who inquired that the email was not connected to the course.”  My email said nothing of the sort.  Not even the student complainants made this claim.  My email to the student list is attached to the student letters and therefore it is plain for you and anyone else to inspect.  You have on your own invented this allegation.

Your charges sheet states that the course material in question was “unexpected and without educational context.”  What do you mean by “unexpected”?  In what way, directly or indirectly, is “unexpected” course material – what ever you mean by that – a violation of the Faculty Code of Conduct?  Can you point to something in the Code that would make “unexpected” course material a violation of the Code?  What do you mean by “without educational context”?  Exactly what did you find in the course material to which the student complainants objected that does not have “educational context”?

Remarkably, your charges sheet says absolutely nothing about anti-Semitism.  Yet this is the crux of the students’ complaints – that the course material I introduced was anti-Semitic.  In my correspondence with you and in correspondence of several of my colleagues with you on this matter you have been asked what, if anything, you found anti-Semitic about the course material in question.  You have chosen not to reply.  Why?  If anti-Semitism is the core of the students’ complaint is it not incumbent on you to inspect the course material and indicate in the charges sheet what you found may constitute anti-Semitism?  Moreover, as I have pointed out in previous correspondence with you, the students’ letters are explicit in charging me with anti-Semitism for no other reason than because the course material in question is critical of the policies of the Israeli state.

Your charges sheet states that I “offered no avenue to discuss, nor encouraged any response, to the opinions and photographs included in the email.”  How would you conclude that from the complainants’ letters if they themselves in their letters stated that upon receiving the electronic course material in question at the start of the second week of the quarter they withdrew from the class?  One of the letters mentions absolutely nothing about whether the complainant did or did not have any opportunity to address the course material.  The other letter merely states that the complainant, after withdrawing from the course, bumped into another student several weeks later that did not withdraw, asked him whether the material was discussed and was told it was not discussed.

It is clear that these charges have no other basis than to limit academic freedom.  Your conduct makes a mockery of the Office to which you are entrusted and comprises beyond repair your participation in any of these proceedings.

Sincerely,

William I. Robinson

c.c.:

Henry Yang, Chancellor
Gene Lucas, Executive Vice-Chancellor (gene.lucas@evc.ucsb.edu)
Melvin Oliver, Dean of Social Sciences (moliver@ltsc.ucsb.edu)
Stephanie Smagala, member, AS Charges Advisory Committee (Stephanie.smagala@senate.ucsb.edu)
Susan J. Mazer, Chair, AS Committee on Committees (mazer@lifesci.ucsb.edu)
Joel Michaelson, Chair, Academic Senate (joel@geog.ucsb.edu)
UCSB Committee to Defend Academic Freedom
“Helen S. Callus” <hcallus@music.ucsb.edu>
“Steven J. Gaulin” <gaulin@anth.ucsb.edu>
Susanne Stemmer <stemmer@mrl.ucsb.edu>
Sven Spieker <spieker@gss.ucsb.edu>
“Jenn E. Caselle” <caselle@lifesci.ucsb.edu>
Kostas Goulias <goulias@geog.ucsb.edu>
rich@isber.ucsb.edu
henry.yang@chancellor.ucsb.edu
Lisa Hajjar <lhajjar@lawso.ucsb.edu>
amar@lawso.ucsb.edu

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