Focus on Issues Stony Brook U. Administration Charged with Mishandling Issue of Professor Who Taught
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Focus on Issues Stony Brook U. Administration Charged with Mishandling Issue of Professor Who Taught

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The Israeli professor whose letter last summer to colleagues at the State University of New York at Stony Brook triggered the current controversy surrounding the teachings of a professor who linked Zionism to racism and Nazism, yesterday charged that the school’s administration mishandled the affair and wrongfully wrapped itself in a cloak of academic freedom.

“Academic freedom even by the definition of the State of New York carries with it the notion of academic responsibility,” Selwyn Troen said in a lengthy interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Stony Brook wrapped itself up in the banner of academic freedom arguing that anybody can say whatever they please because they have a right to do so.”

“They have not addressed the issue of academic responsibility,” which, Troen said, “deems that students be offered an alternative viewpoint and afforded a reasonable opportunity to develop their own thoughts on the subject.” There “is no way” the instructor of the course, Ernest Dube, “fulfilled these elementary precepts,” Troen pointed out.

Just prior to returning to Israel last summer, Troen charged in a letter to senior faculty members and administration officials at the university that Dube, a Black South African-born professor, had “employed his position for the propagation of personal ideology and racial biases” in teaching the course, “The Politics of Racism.” Troen asked for a formal accounting of the course’s teachings.

After the letter was sent, the university’s faculty senate concluded that the bounds of academic freedom had not been crossed by Dube and that there would be no investigation of his teachings. It took nearly three months for the university president, John Marburger, under pressure from New York State officials, Jewish community groups and the academic community, to issue a formal statement disassociating the university from the course’s teachings.


There has also been an angry exchange of internal memorandums between the Africana Studies Department and the university’s senior faculty members, including a particularly strong statement on academic freedom and Troen’s charges issued by Amiri Baraka, chairman of the Africana Department, replete with attacks on “Israeli imperialism” and “Zionist outrages against the Palestinian people.”

The Baraka memorandum, circulated to the faculty and news media, professed to provide evidence to support the view that Zionism is a form of racism by referring to the 1975 United Nations General Assembly resolution which equated Zionism with racism.

The memorandum, dated August 31, said that the Africana Studies Department views the Troen-Dube controversy as an issue of academic freedom “and given the internationally known opinions of the majority of nations in the United Nations on Zionism, we feel it would be merely an act of ideological conformity — with Zionism and the policies of the Israeli state — not to make such views and opinions known to students.”

The Baraka memorandum elicited an angry response from a group of 43 senior faculty members of the Stony Brook university. Their statement said: “Although we probably hold widely divergent views on Zionism and the state of Israel, we are unanimous in our condemnations of all philosophies of hatred including those that equate Zionism with racism and Nazism. We believe that the substantive view presented in the August 31st memo to be an isolated one, shared by few on this campus.”


The 43-year-old Troen, whose wife also taught at Stony Brook, was a visiting professor of Human Development and Educational Policy in the university for two years. Born in Boston, he emigrated to Israel in 1975 and currently is professor of modern history in the Ben Gurion University in the Negev. He has also taught in Princeton University and other universities.

Troen, who objects to many of the policies of the present Israeli government, has followed the Stony Brook controversy while in Israel from news articles and through contacts with his colleagues in Stony Brook. He charged, in his interview with the JTA, that the school’s administration has sought to “contain” the issue and had failed to take the necessary steps at the outset of the controversy which could have prevented a protracted debate.

The university’s faculty senate, Troen insisted, failed to investigate the charges against Dube and did not even interview the student who had come to him to present him with material that would later form some of the basis of his letter last summer. Troen said that before he sent his letter, he discussed the issue with colleagues at the university and investigated the background of the student to determine his credibility.

According to the information obtained by Troen through the student, the syllabus of Dube’s summer course said, “Fifth week: the three forms of racism and how they have manifested themselves. 1. Nazism in Germany. 2. Apartheid in South Africa. 3. Zionism in Israel.” Dube has promised to continue with this syllabus.


Troen predicted that the issue has not yet been settled, partially because Dube has received strong support from the Africana Studies Department and because the university has failed to take strong measures to see to it that such “sloganeering, ” as Troen termed it in his letter last summer, does not persist in the university’s lecture halls.

Troen expressed the hope that the controversy will not become a Black-Jewish issue, insisting that the debate focused on academic responsibility. He said Dube should have provided a broader range of reading materials on Zionism instead of the one essay he distributed to students which accused Israelis of being Nazis and concluded with a call to support the Palestine Congress, an umbrella group for more than 50 North American pro-PLO organizations.

According to a university official, Dube is listed in the university directory as an assistant professor of Africana studies. He received a scholarship to study psychology at Cornell University where he received his Ph.D. in cognative psychology in 1976. He became an associate professor in the Africana Studies Department at Stony Brook in 1977. He and his family have become U.S. citizens.

Meanwhile, the university official said that the course, “The Politics of Racism” continues to be an elective, offered jointly by the Africana Studies Department and the Political Science Department.

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