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UCSB terminates case against Professor

by CDAF Friday, Jun. 26, 2009 at 11:49 AM

After withholding recommendation of charges committee, UCSB drops case against Robinson

Date: June 24, 2009

Contact: Daniel Olmos, (818) 468-8894, olmos@umail.ucsb.edu.
Yousef Baker, (301) 703-3315, youseft@gmail.com

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Nearly five months after opening an investigation of University of California sociology professor William I. Robinson for alleged faculty misconduct, university officials abruptly announced today that it has dismissed all charges and terminated the case.

In fact, an Ad Hoc Committee set up by the Academic Senate to investigate the allegations had already reached the conclusion on May 15 that the charges against Robinson were without merit. The Committee is “unanimous in finding that his sending the email is in accord with the principles of academic freedom, especially when teaching a class whose content is the sociology of globalization,” stated the report.

Yet, remarkably, the top-level administration kept these results secret for six more weeks, dragging Robinson deeper into public scrutiny and further tarnishing the university’s own image.

It was only on June 24 that executive vice chancellor Gene Lucas informed Robinson, without any explanation for the delay, that he “accepted the findings of the Charges Committee” and terminated the matter.

“Why did the administration wait six more weeks before ending this case,” asked Yousef Baker, of the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom. “The professor faced six more weeks of harassment and disruption of his teaching, and research, while the sense of intimidation among faculty and students only deepened. They owe us an explanation.”

The case began when he introduced materials criticizing the Israeli invasion of Gaza into a course on global affairs last January. The materials included a photo essay that Robinson forwarded to students from the Internet juxtaposing images of Israeli abuse against Palestinians with Nazi abuses during the holocaust. Two students took offense at the images and withdrew from the course, prompting pro-Israel groups to pressure the university to pursue charges of “anti-Semitism” against Robinson.

According to Baker, “university officials might believe this case is closed, but we will pursue the matter until full justice is achieved. Unless those that violated university procedures and effectively politicized this case are held accountable and punished accordingly this episode will have set a precedent for impunity and will leave in place a chilling atmosphere of censorship on campus.”

The case against Robinson has attracted broad national and international attention and brought the University of California under increasing condemnation for violation of academic freedom and political retaliation against faculty members who introduce materials critical of Israel.

For his part, Robinson stated that he is awaiting “a public apology from the university as a first step in clearing my name after it has smeared my reputation and undermined my professional integrity.”

He added, “as my supporters and I have documented from the start, university officials have acted deceitfully and shamelessly. It is now time for amends.”

Robinson said that he is in the process of filing a grievance with the Academic Senate for the violation of his rights as a faculty member.

The decision to prosecute Robinson generated an angry backlash on campus. In April, students formed a Committee to Defend Academic Freedom (CDAF), and in may more than 100 professors and 20 department head signed a petition demanding that the Senate cease its investigation.

The petition charged that “procedural improprieties have already produced a substantive injustice with respect to Professor Robinson.” It called on the Senate to “conduct inquires into the reasons why these mistakes were made” and to “take disciplinary measures against those responsible for them.”

On June 8, a Senate meeting took up the petition, approving motions to investigate mismanagement of student complaints and recommended changes in Senate procedures to avoid improprieties in the future.

Among those irregularities, according to sociology professor Geoffrey Raymond, the Charges Officer “bypassed relevant options for seeking an informal resolution of the matter before seeking to form an ad hoc committee.”

In an April memorandum to the Senate, Raymond wrote, “his [the Charges Officer] departures from steps laid out in the Faculty Code of Conduct effectively prevented the accused from meaningfully participating in the process.”

Moreover one member of the Academic Senate Charges Committee, Aaron Ettenburg violated confidentiality by discussing the Robinson case with Rabbi Aruthur Gross-Schaefer the interim director of the Santa Barbara chapter of Hillel, an organization that works with Jewish communities on college campuses. Gross-Schaefer was a vocal public critic of Robinson in the local community and called for the university to punish the professor.

In a blatant conflict of interest, Ettenburg did not disclose that from 2006-2008 he served as president of the local congregation Bnai Brith, to which the Anti Defamation League belongs. The Anti Defamation League was the driving force behind a national campaign launched by the Israel lobby to have Robinson prosecuted.

According to Baker, anyone who knew of Ettenburg’s conflict of interest and violation of confidentiality and yet said nothing is just as complicit.”

Beyond campus, as the case dragged on it generated increasing repudiation from free speech and civil rights organizations.

On June 10 the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education (FIRE) sent a letter to UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang saying that the charges against Robinson “make a mockery” of the first amendment and academic freedom, while the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was preparing to release a docket this week calling for the dismissal of the case as baseless.

For detailed information about the Robinson case, visit the CDAF Web site at www.sb4af.wordpress.com.

For media inquiries, call Olmos at (818) 468-8894 or Baker at (301) 703-3315.
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