San Diego Jewish World
December 29, 2020
SAN DIEGO – Should faculty at the state-funded University of California at Merced be teaching the following?
“The Zionist Brain” is divided into such sections as “Frontal Money Lobe,” “World Domination Lobe,” “Control,” “Land Usurpation,” and “Elitism.”
Or how about this?
“The Zionists and IsraHell interest have embedded themselves in every component of the American system, media, banking, policy, commerce … just a veneer of serving US interest and population – everyone pretends that is the case.”
Both examples of classic anti-Semitic tropes above are Tweets that were sent out this year by Abbas Ghassemi, who identifies himself on those Tweets as a UC Merced professor.
StandWithUs, through its Chief Executive Officer Roz Rothstein, its Saidhoff Legal Department Director Yael Lerman, and its Center for Combating Antisemitism Director Carly F. Gammill, say the Tweets from Ghassemi, who is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, “display an alarming hatred for Jews, Israelis and Zionists.
“We are dismayed that a professor with an apparently aggressive and pervasive animus toward Jews and Israelis – a protected minority on your campus – is responsible for grading the very students he appears to loathe,” the nonprofit organization’s leaders wrote to UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz.
Previously James Chiavelli, UC Merced’s assistant vice chancellor of external relations had commented that Ghassemi’s Tweets were “the opinions of a private individual, not the positions of the institution.” Furthermore, Chiavelli said, as an individual Ghassemi has the right to freedom of expression.
To this, the StandWithUs leaders responded: “We believe that free speech and academic freedom are paramount constitutional values; so too is the responsibility of university leaders to use their own First Amendment rights to condemn hate and ensure a non-discriminatory academic environment for its students. The issue here is not whether Ghassemi has a constitutional right to make antisemitic comments, which of course he does. The issue is that Ghassemi has been making these comments publicly on Twitter where he identifies himself as a UC Merced professor, and he is responsible for educating the very people he appears to loathe and about whom he attributes racist conspiracy theories. Ghassemi’s discriminatory statements are egregious for a professor presumably responsible for teaching and grading a protected minority on campus—Jewish and Israeli students.”
The StandWithUs leaders then went on to urge Chancellor Sánchez Muñoz to take disciplinary action against Ghassemi.
There is ample precedent for disciplining both tenured and non-tenured professors for professional misconduct in similar situations. Recently, Babson College fired a professor for making a political comment on his personal Facebook page suggesting that Iran choose sites in the United States to bomb. Their investigation determined that the professor’s statements did not represent the values and culture of the college—and those statements did not even involve expressions of hate and prejudice toward a protected group as in the situation at UC Merced. At Rutgers University, tenured professor Michael Chikindas was disciplined by the administration after he posted antisemitic rants on his Facebook page. Among other disciplinary measures, Chikindas was barred from teaching required classes, was removed from his role as director of a university institute and was required to take remedial courses. At Oberlin College, the administration removed Professor Joy Karega from her professorship after she spread antisemitic conspiracy theories online. Like these professors, Ghassemi should face an investigation and repercussions for his antisemitic rhetoric, just as we presume you would investigate similar allegations of statements from faculty that targeted students based on race, gender, or sexual identity. Instead of the message already conveyed by your administration protecting an allegedly antisemitic professor and downplaying his expressions of hate, we urge you to send a clear message to your community that there is no place for discrimination or bigotry at UC Merced, and that all members of your community are protected equally.
Read the article here.