Friday, May 01, 2009

When A Professor Can Challenge His Students To Think Critically--And When He Can't (Updated))

I suppose that it all depends on a professor knowing which students he can confront which he cannot. William Robinson picked his target well:
Controversy has erupted at UC Santa Barbara over a professor's decision to send his students an e-mail in which he compared graphic images of Jews in the Holocaust to pictures of Palestinians caught up in Israel's recent Gaza offensive.

The e-mail by tenured sociology professor William I. Robinson has triggered a campus investigation and drawn accusations of anti-Semitism from two national Jewish groups, even as many students and faculty members have voiced support for him.

The uproar began in January when Robinson sent his message -- titled "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis" -- to the 80 students in his sociology of globalization class.

The e-mail contained more than two dozen photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis, including those of dead children, juxtaposed with nearly identical images from the Gaza Strip. It also included an article critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and a note from Robinson.

"Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians," the professor wrote. "We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide."

Two Jewish students dropped the class, saying they felt intimidated by the professor's message. They contacted the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which advised them to file formal complaints with the university.
...Robinson's supporters say the professor is being maligned for exercising his right to challenge his students to think critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the other hand, Prof. Thomas E. Klocek was not so lucky--the students he confronted were Muslim:
A judge dismissed a lawsuit against DePaul University brought by a professor who contends he was branded by school administrators as racist and bigoted for challenging a student's allegation that Israel treats Palestinians the way Hitler treated Jews.

And while school administrators at the Chicago-area university allege that Professor Thomas E. Klocek behaved violently in the argument, the professor disputes the charges.

His attorney, Andy Norman, told WND that he suspects Klocek was both suspended and publicly criticized by DePaul, not for any misbehavior in the context of the argument, but for the content of his views.

"I think it's certainly a large element of it," Norman said. "Klocek was singled out because he took a pro-Israel stance and argued it vigorously with students who were very anti-Israel. The students' viewpoint moved to DePaul's administration as well. I think the content was a factor in what DePaul did."

The defamation suit was launched in 2005 after DePaul suspended Klocek without a hearing for disagreeing with Muslim activist students over Arab-Israeli issues, Islamic terrorism and other issues in an out-of-classroom debate.

...As WND reported, Klocek's case began at a student activities fair, after he happened to visit the table of the Students for Justice in Palestine. When the professor took a handout that showed an Israeli bulldozer destroying a Palestinian house, he began discussing the Middle East with the students manning the table.

Klocek says one of the students likened the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Hitler's treatment of the Jewish people – a statement to which he took offense. The professor challenged the students by quoting an Arab source concluding that although most Muslims are not terrorists, most of today's terrorists are Muslims.

The student group subsequently filed a complaint against Klocek with Dr. Susanne Dumbleton, dean of the School for New Learning, resulting in his suspension. The dean took action without the normally required hearing.

These days, criticizing Israel is supposed to confer a badge of honor--if you are a professor in the classroom comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, you are teaching your students to think critically; if you are a writer or a politician claiming that the Israel Lobby controls America--you are exhibiting great bravery in voicing your opinion and any challenge to your opinion is an attack on free speech.

On the other hand, if you are a professor challenging Muslim statements about Israel, and note Islamist terrorism--you are a racist ; if you write about the connection between Islamists and terrorism--you are taking free speech too far and are an Islamaphobe against whom Islam must be protected.

Professors and writers need to know their targets--and they know that for all their patting themselves on the back for their bravery, Israel is an easy target.

But when you look at the details, it is much, much worse:
The contents of that e-mail, which Robinson reportedly sent to students on Martin Luther King Day and ran under the heading “Parallel images of Nazis and Israelis,“ included 42 side-by-side photos (like the one at left) that have made Robinson the focus of an academic investigation.

Here’s a portion of what he wrote:

I am forwarding some horrific, parallel images of Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. Perhaps the most frightening are not those providing a graphic depiction of the carnage but that which shows Israeli children writing “with love” on a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children.

Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw - a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide (Websters: “the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group”), a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.

Do professors normally send out 42 pictures of something to prove a point? Robinson didn't find these pictures himself; he was clearly copying things from anti-Israel websites on the Internet - probably from here.
Read the whole thing.

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