Since late April I have been following the case of Professor William I. Robinson at UCSB, who became the subject of an official university investigation after sending the students in his Sociology of Globalization class an e-mail comparing the Nazi treatment of Jews with Israel's actions towards Palestinians. The e-mail ignited a firestorm of controversy and led the university to launch the investigation.
Exactly two weeks ago, my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), sent a letter protesting the investigation of Professor Robinson for speech that, in our professional estimation, was protected by academic freedom. Today Professor Robinson received the verdict:
June 24, 2009
TO: Prof. William Robinson
Department of Sociology
FR: Gene Lucas
Executive Vice Chancellor
Re: Charges Committee Findings
I have received the report of the Charges Committee regarding charges brought against you. The Committee did not find probable cause to undertake disciplinary action in this matter.
I have accepted the findings of the Charges Committee. Accordingly, this matter is now terminated
Under the Campus Procedures for Enforcement of the Faculty Code of Conduct, "the complainant and/or faculty member complained against may request, in writing, from the Charges Officer, a summary of the Committee's findings." If you would like such a summary, please make such a request to Prof. Scharleman, the Charges Officer.
The case has launched intense debate as to the nature of professional standards, campus attitudes about Israel, indoctrination, and academic freedom. But as I concluded in my first blog entry about this case, I did not believe this case could rightly end any other way.
Stripped of the jargon of sociology and the politicization of the issue by both sides, the question becomes whether or not the professor in what essentially amounts to a global politics class can give his opinions about global politics. While many of his critics would prefer to see the Professor Robinsons of the world denied this right, in the end, we all benefit from classroom and academic discussions in which the exchange of ideas is as free as possible.