UBSB Gives Green Light to Professorial Propaganda · 09 July 2009

By Stand With Us

If you are concerned about our college campuses, here is an important bulletin: UCSB professors are free to peddle propaganda designed to indoctrinate students with their personal prejudices. Neither professional conduct codes nor intellectual standards set limits on this freedom. Anything goes. This anarchy is defended in the name of “academic freedom.”

On January 19, 2009, UCSB sociology professor William Robinson spammed his student email list with propaganda equating Jews and Nazis that he admitted at the time was unrelated to his course. Two students filed grievances against him for violating the Faculty Code of Conduct with his offensive polemic. The UCSB administration determined the charges were serious enough to warrant investigation by the Faculty Senate. Subsequently, Robinson supporters from UCSB and beyond barraged the school with petitions, letters, and publicity to pressure them to drop the investigation. In response, over 6,000 people signed a petition and wrote letters supporting the administration’s decision. The faculty committee decided against proceeding with the investigation. Robinson is now angrily demanding an apology from the administration for even considering his actions a possible breach of professional conduct.

The Robinson case is a disturbing window into academia today.

Apparently UCSB does not set guidelines about professional behavior for its faculty. Robinson’s spam email undoubtedly was legal, but most professions and educational institutions set standards of conduct that go beyond basic legalities. The AAUP [American Association of University Professors] agreed on these standards in 1940: as members of a “learned profession,” faculty have a “special position” which “imposes special obligations,” including that “they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others.”1 In the Robinson case, UCSB abandoned these standards.

Apparently, UCSB sets no limits on professors’ freedom to impose their personal prejudices on students even when the topic has nothing to do with the course they are teaching or their scholarly expertise. Robinson’s specialty is Latin America. His email didn’t explain why his views on Israel’s war with Hamas were relevant to his class. He didn’t recommend other sources for students to learn more about that war. He didn’t put the issues in any theoretical framework that might have fit his globalization course. He didn’t plan to discuss them in class, and he didn’t invite discussion. His intention clearly was to inflame hostility not just against Israel’s current policies, but against its history and very existence.

Apparently UCSB does not try to uphold academic standards. Robinson’s email distorted facts, lied by omission, and deliberately manipulated images and historical facts to evoke an intense emotional, not rational or intellectual, response to modern Israel’s history and self-defense measures. Part of the email spread the lie that Israel commits indiscriminate, Nazi-like atrocities though a display of preposterous photographic parallels between Palestinians and Jews under the Nazis. Robinson had picked the montage up off the internet. Yet, he and his supporters defended the email as responsible “educational” material. We should be very concerned when such overt propaganda is considered a legitimate source of information.

Apparently UCSB professors are also free to foster an environment that stifles the free exchange of ideas. By equating Nazis and Israel, Robinson’s email made open discussion almost impossible. Any group capable of Nazi-like atrocities, including its supporters, is evil, indefensible, and a legitimate target for abuse. Few students would feel able to challenge such extreme accusations and prejudice, especially when the professor controls their grades. Hopefully, Robinson’s furious response to the student grievances is not indicative of how he would have reacted if any students dared to disagree with his polemical email.

Unfortunately, one lesson from the UCSB ordeal is that university administrators and concerned faculty can expect to be bullied and harassed when they do try to uphold academic and professional conduct standards. Many of Robinson supporters are part of a faculty Anti-Israel Lobby that rushes to defend any professor accused of violating faculty codes—as long as the professor shares their anti-Israel views. It certainly didn’t spring into action when Thomas E. Klocek, a DePaul University instructor, was fired in 2004 for his disagreement with anti-Israel students who were tabling on campus and compared Israel to Nazis. Today, a well organized Anti-Israel Faculty Lobby imposes political orthodoxy on campus, and intimidates and pressures faculty and administrators who dare to disagree or try to hold them to certain standards.

What are students to do in this environment? They cannot expect professors with extremist biases to be open to their arguments or information. They cannot expect other faculty or administrators to help them when professors act unprofessionally. They are too often intimidated into silence. But they can document cases of extremism. They can pass the word to other students. They can report cases of unprofessional conduct. They can notify outside groups that keep logs on such incidents. They can take their professors off the pedestal, and realize that they may be offering misinformation that should be questioned. They can also educate themselves so that when professors do dogmatically misinform, they can challenge them.

In the 1960’s, the rage was for “student power” against what was often perceived to be a stodgy, conservative academic establishment. Those former students are now professors, and they are demanding unfettered faculty power. Perhaps it is time for administrations to restore faculty professionalism, and for students to challenge these professors, and restore open intellectual inquiry on our campuses.