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UC Merced launches probe into professor’s anti-Semitic tweets

San Francisco Chronicle

Dec. 30, 2020

UC Merced is launching an investigation into whether a professor who maintained a Twitter account rife with anti-Semitic remarks and images broke any of the school rules, and what, if any consequences the university ought to impose.

Abbas Ghassemi, a teaching professor in the UC Merced School of Engineering, tweeted anti-Semitic posts and posted images found on anti-Semitic conspiracy websites from the now-deactivated account @ProfessorGhass1.

Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz confirmed the account was associated with a university faculty member in an email to the campus community on Tuesday. He said the Twitter account was brought to the university’s attention by the media.

Muñoz said the tweets “crossed the line” and went against the UC’s statement of principles against intolerance, which condemns anti-Semitism and “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.”

“The opinions presented in this Twitter account do not represent UC Merced or the University of California,” Muñoz said in a statement. “They were abhorrent and repugnant to us and to many of our colleagues and neighbors; they were harmful to our university, our students, and our years of work to build an inclusive and welcoming community.”

The School of Engineering dean emailed faculty and staff last week, calling the tweets “reprehensible” and affirming that the views expressed in the posts did not reflect those of the university, Muñoz said.

The dean and department chair will work with other university officials to further investigate potential violations of university standards and faculty code of conduct.

The account was created in July 2019 and deleted Dec. 18 after the Jewish News of Northern California reached out to Ghassemi for comment. The news outlet took screen shots of the tweets before the account was taken down.

Subsequent news reports sparked outrage in the Northern California Jewish community.

StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization with a chapter in Northern California, wrote a letter to university leadership, stating that they were “deeply concerned” about Ghassemi’s public anti-Semitic statements and the university’s initial characterization of his posts as the “opinions of a private individual.”

“The issue here is not whether Ghassemi has a constitutional right to make antisemitic comments, which of course he does,” StandWithUs wrote in a letter to Muñoz last week.

“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.”

Muñoz said he has also asked university officials to develop programming for the spring semester that addresses hate speech and anti-Semitism in academia.

UC Merced will also make policy updates that clearly state the responsibilities of community members’s conduct, especially on social media.

“We must not let anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry or hate toward any group take root in the UC Merced community,” Muñoz said.

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