A Jewish sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) is being investigated for academic misconduct after he sent an e-mail message to 80 students comparing Israel's offensive in Gaza to the Holocaust.
Two students in tenured professor William Robinson's sociology of globalization class dropped out after receiving an e-mail on January 19 titled "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis," which featured graphic images of the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust, and Palestinians during Israel's recent Gaza operation.
The students, senior Rebecca Joseph and junior Tova Hausman, accused Robinson of violating faculty code of conduct by disseminating personal or political content unrelated to the course, according to FOX News.
Joseph told the Associated Press, that, while Robinson "has his own freedom of speech" he also "he doesn't have the freedom to send his students his own opinion that is so strong."
Needless to say, the e-mail has sparked nationwide controversy.
In early March, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), held a confidential meeting with UCSB officials for the sole purpose of demanding they investigate Robinson for "anti-Semitism."
The ADL is also challenging decisions by Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to allow Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a vocal critic of Israel, to speak at their commencement ceremonies this year.
However, Paul Desruisseaux, a spokesman for UCSB, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the school was not responding to pressure from the ADL, and that an investigation had already been initiated and was "working its way through standard procedures."
California Scholars for Academic Freedom, an organization that says it represents over 100 faculty members from 20 campuses around the state, issued a statement in support of Robinson, saying that the charges were "brought to silence criticism of Israeli policies and practices."
Some students at the University of California created the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB, a blog tracking the case and defending Robinson. The site claims to have been "flooded with letters of support from faculty, students, and community members … from across the globe."
Prominent supporters of Robinson include Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Sondra Hale, professor of anthropology and women's studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Robinson told the Associated Press that he regularly sends voluntary reading material about current events to his students via e-mail, "to introduce students to controversial material, to provoke students to think and make students uncomfortable."
He went on to say that criticism of Israeli policies is not anti-Semitism, "That's like saying if I condemn the U.S. government for the invasion of Iraq, I'm anti-American. It's the most absurd, baseless argument."
It is not yet clear what route the university will take in the matter. The investigation is under way, but a number of students and faculty have been vocal in their support for Robinson. It is important for professors to introduce students to controversial material to foster discussion. At the same time, as Alan Wolfe, a blogger for The New Republic, wrote about the case, "We should be wary of anyone who views the university not as a place for the exchange of ideas, but as an environment for therapeutic self-affirmation."