The chill of academic censure on the sunny West coast

William Robinson is a professor of Sociology and Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara.   This attempted case of academic censure allegedly revolves around an email Robinson forwarded to his class containing an editorial (by a Jewish journalist)  “condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza as well as juxtaposed images of Nazi atrocities with congruent images of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.”   This was an optional reading for the class and was “intended to spark conversation by relating contemporary events to conceptual ideas discussed in class. “

The Anti-Defemation League wrote Robinson, who is Jewish, a letter a week later, charging him with anti-Semitism as well as other (spurious) alleged violations.   A week after this two students in his class had filed complaints against him (according to the the UCSB Academic Senate Charges officer ) The complaints? 1) critique of Israel is evidence of anti-Semitism and 2) the Israeli-Palestinian issue should not be discussed in a class on Globalization. I kid you not.  One of the students, no surprise here, is a graduate of StandWithUs‘ Emerson Fellowship program, which trains students in campuses in “response techniques” to anti-Israel efforts on campus.  Although this group has the free speech right to say pretty much whatever it wants, its main goal, is in fact, to limit the free speech of those who do not hold the party line on all things Israel.

Apparently the Senate Charges officer has violated elements of the “charges” procedure, shirked his responsibilities, and ultimately acted as a co-complainant by fabricating charges that were not raised by the students. The process is currently going through continuing levels of adjudication.

The Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB writes that:

The longer this case is pursued, the worse its chilling effect; it will spread fear among those who wish to present controversial and critical subjects. Even though the original complaint is regarding Israel/Palestine, the rights at stake extend beyond this specific topic.  Academic freedom is a right that enables scholars to express diverse perspectives over contentious topics, free from the intimidation of political repression campaigns.  If the case against Professor Robinson continues to go forward, it will lead down a slippery slope that may expose academics to repression tactics for addressing controversial issues such as stem cell research, evolution, feminism, LGBT rights, etc.  It is incumbent upon members of the UCSB campus and the broader academy to roundly oppose this silencing campaign.

They go on to say that this “obvious attack” on Robinson’s academic freedom recalls similar attempts to silence critics of Israel and that this is part of a large campaign to “vilify any and attack any and all critiques of Israel’s policies……………..through unfounded use of the term anti-Semitic.”


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. In fact, 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.

In an interview with Doug Henwood on WBAI, Professor Robinson discusses Abe Foxman’s effort (head of the ADL) , who personally traveled to UCSB, to call for some kind of punishment in this case.  Such intimidation in an academic setting needs to be countered as rigorously as possible.

The Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB asks that you:

1) email the UCSB Chancellor and responsible authorities on campus to express your outrage and register your protest, and 2) sign the petition.

Their website http://sb4af.wordpress.com.

The student campaign can be reached at cdaf.ucsb@gmail.com

Sample letters:

Send an Email:
The e-mail should be addressed to UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and cc’d to the following faculty and administrators involved in the case. Please copy and paste the addresses.

To: henry.yang@chancellor.ucsb.edu

CC: mgscharl@math.ucsb.edu, gene.lucas@evc.ucsb.edu, moliver@ltsc.ucsb.edu, mazer@lifesci.ucsb.edu, joel@geog.ucsb.edu, joel.michaelsen@senate.ucsb.edu, sarah@isber.ucsb.edu, butler@chem.ucsb.edu, scott@theaterdance.ucsb.edu, hcallus@music.ucsb.edu, gaulin@anth.ucsb.edu, spieker@gss.ucsb.edu, stemmer@mrl.ucsb.edu, caselle@lifesci.ucsb.edu, goulias@geog.ucsb.edu, amar@lawso.ucsb.edu, Stephanie.smagala@senate.ucsb.edu, ettenberg@psych.ucsb.edu, hualee@ece.ucsb.edu, mithun@linguistics.ucsb.edu, zok@engineering.ucsb.edu, helen.henry@ucr.edu, cdaf.ucsb@gmail.com

To Whom It May Concern,

I am a dismayed [undergraduate/graduate/

alumna/faculty member] at [your university] writing you to express support for Sociology and Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson.  As you may know, Professor Robinson and academic freedom have come under recent attack on the UCSB campus.  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 students alleged that an email forward he’d circulated to his class, criticizing Israel’s then-ongoing siege on Gaza, comprised anti-Semitism.  These charges 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.  Any further consideration of these baseless attacks is unacceptable.  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 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.  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.

In fact, 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.

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