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Thursday, December 08, 2011

CSU math professor uses college resources to attack Israel

From the Amcha Initiative, a letter to California State University/Northridge's president:

Dear President Koester,
 We are faculty members at the University of California, who have been investigating and documenting anti-Jewish bigotry on California public university campuses for the last several years.
In case you have not seen them, we wanted to bring to your attention two webpages of CSU Northridge Professor of Mathematics David Klein, which are hosted on the CSUN server:
  • Professor Klein’s Boycott Israel page contains a litany of false and inflammatory statements and photographs intended to incite hatred and promote political activism against the Jewish state.  
There are several reasons why Professor Klein’s webpages should be immediately removed from the CSUN server:
1)  These webpages are in clear violation of the CSU policy prohibiting the misuse of the CSU name for inappropriate purposes, including for the promotion of  political organizations and activities such as “boycott.”  As you have seen on Professor Klein’s Home Page, he specifically links the University to several political action organizations and activities, including the boycott of Israel, in a section he telling calls “CSU and Political Issues.”  
2) Many of Professor Klein’s statements on his “Boycott Israel” webpage meet the U.S. Department of State’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, including the statement that “Israel is the most racist country in the world.”  In addition, the pictures of mutilated dead babies that appear on this page, with the clear implication that the babies have been brutally murdered by Israeli soldiers, are perfect examples of the classic anti-Semitic “blood libel“, the false accusation that Jews kill non-Jewish children for evil purposes, an accusation that has been used throughout Jewish history for the purpose of inciting hatred and violence against Jews. Campaigns to boycott the Jewish state are also anti-Semitic according to the U.S. State Department, and in some cases are a violation of U.S. law.
3) The promotion of virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements and imagery on the departmental website of a CSUN faculty member cannot help but contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students on your campus.
4) CSUN is a public university, whose facilities and resources, including the CSUN website, are supported by the tax dollars of California citizens, many of whom would find Professor Klein’s webpages an egregious violation of public trust.

We do not believe that this is an issue of Professor Klein’s freedom of speech.  Indeed, CSUN’s policy on internet use explicitly states that the University has the right to remove “any defamatory, offensive, infringing, or illegal materials” from its website.   If you choose not to remove Professor Klein’s anti-Semitic material from the CSUN website, we will presume that it is because the University finds nothing “defamatory, offensive, infringing, or illegal” about these webpages, and is unconcerned with the effects they may have on CSUN students, parents, community members, and taxpayers.
We know that you will soon be retiring as CSUN President, but we trust that you will have the opportunity to look into this matter and take appropriate action.  
We look forward to hearing from you soon.

The president responded:
...The University takes such concerns very seriously. Thus, as soon as we became aware of these concerns and the web pages, I requested a full administrative review. In particular, the review considered whether the web content is in violation of California State University (CSU) or Cal State Northridge web use policies. While the review raised many difficult issues, it found no such violations. This conclusion was affirmed by CSU legal counsel.

While we recognize this finding will not satisfy everyone, the conclusions are based on the important tenets of academic freedom and free speech, which are central to the values and traditions of academia and, indeed, a democratic society. We encourage our professors—as well as students and all members of the campus community—to express their points of view, even when many others may disagree with them or even find them offensive.

This determination does not mean that the University supports or endorses Professor Klein’s views. In fact, Professor Klein is clearly speaking for himself and does not represent Cal State Northridge as a whole. The University, as a forum for the free expression of ideas and points of view, takes no position on the individual expressions of ideas by faculty, staff, or students. But the University does uphold and preserve the principles of academic freedom—and Professor Klein’s right to express his views. Our review affirmed that this right extends to the use of an individual’s web pages, as part of the University website, as a vehicle for expression.
...
I share with those who have expressed concerns a personal discomfort with some of the material on Professor Klein’s web pages, especially because the University is celebrated for its diversity and its spirit of inclusion. As core values, the University also upholds academic freedom, eschews censorship, and defends rights to express points of view. For all these reasons we must tolerate the presence of these web pages.

I personally do not think that Amcha has a slam-dunk case against the virulently anti-Israel (and arguably anti-semitic) webpage of Professor Klein. The biggest point of dispute between CSU and Amcha is whether the "Boycott Israel" page appears to represent CSU (where it would violate CSU policies) or is clearly Klein's personal opinions. Since the page is so laughably amateur - it looks like a webpage from 1996 - CSU has a slight point there.

On the other hand, using resources paid for by California taxpayers to push a boycott if Israel is an extraordinary misuse of funds. CSU's academic website is not Facebook. And the fact is that Dr. Klein's page is linked from the Math Department webpage - where from what I can tell all the other faculty use the pages in a professional manner - and it makes CSU's math department look bad. (Interestingly, the Math Department has a policy that "laboratory facilities, equipment and supplies are only to be used by College faculty, staff and students in the pursuit of instructional and research endeavors." This does not apply to webpages but I have a feeling that the other math faculty are not happy with Klein's use of the math section of CSU's website for blatantly political ends.)

All else being equal, I'm biased towards free speech, and I think people should see the hateful webpage to understand exactly how college professors can be so absurdly stupid (and to laugh at Klein's 1970's-style photo.) But you may want to write to CSU's chancellor, especially if you are a California resident, if you don't want to have your tax dollars supporting what is effectively hate speech on campus websites.

(h/t Bill)