After a tumultuous affair that began when UCSB sociology professor William Robinson sent an email to students comparing the Israeli occupation of Gaza with the Nazi-controlled Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, the UCSB Academic Senate decided to end an investigation that had set out to determine whether or not Robinson had violated the faculty code of conduct. “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,” said Gene Lucas, executive vice chancellor, in a letter to Robinson.
The decision was handed down by the Academic Senate’s ad hoc charges committee on June 24, the day that the Foundation for Individual Freedom in Education (FIRE) said they had requested that UCSB end the investigation. The group – which had been contacted by Robinson – had threatened the university with a media campaign if their demands were not met, but Paul Desruisseaux, UCSB’s assistant vice chancellor of public affairs, said that the date of the action was purely coincidental. “The university is not badgered into action by outside interests,” he said. “Defending academic freedom was not inconsistent with conducting an inquiry to determine a possible violation of the faculty code of conduct.”
Throughout the proceedings of the initial complaint – made by two students in Robinson’s class who first contacted the professor before sending letters to the university’s administration as well as advocacy groups the Anti-Defamation League and Stand With Us – both Robinson’s supporters and detractors have accused one another of pressuring university officials. Desruisseaux said that once the complaint was made, it became a personnel matter.
In a press release issued on Thursday, Robinson called for an immediate apology from the university, which he said has tarnished his image and undermined his professional integrity. “As my supporters and I have documented from the start, university officials have acted deceitfully and shamelessly. It is now time for amends,” he said. Robinson and his supporting Committee to Defend Academic Freedom have accused Academic Senate charges committee officer Aaron Ettenberg with violating confidence in the matter by discussing it with Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaeffer, the interim rabbi for UCSB’s Hillel Jewish student organization. Ettenberg could not be reached for comment.
Groups deploring Robinson’s actions as irrelevant to the academic sphere have expressed disappointment about the university’s decision. “We are surprised and disappointed that UCSB chose not to uphold [its] standards for professional conduct, and that it has blurred the lines between responsible education and the peddling of propaganda. It is unfortunate that students will continue to be victims of partisan indoctrination and misinformation,” said Roz Rothstein, international director of Stand With Us in a press release. Cyndi Silverman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that academic freedom was not an issue, because the email was sent outside of class and gave no recourse for discussion between students and their instructor.