Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This is Anti-Semitism: True or False?

A Game Prof. Robinson Doesn't Want to Play Anymore
By Silvia Uribe

Professor Bill Robinson's name might have not been familiar to the general public just a few months ago. Now, his name has been making news both nationally and in other parts of the world. Why? Because of the way he taught his Global Affairs course last semester, because of a couple of students' negative reaction to his teaching method, and because of the way the University of California, Santa Barbara has been handling the situation, according to Robinson.

Robinson, who is Jewish, of Hungarian and Russian descent, first saw light in New York State. He graduated from Long Island University in New York, and his schooling included several years of study abroad in Africa. Shortly after graduating, Robinson took a teaching position for three years. He then felt a need to witness the way human beings lived in a different part of the world, so he went to South America and worked there as a reporter for 10 years. "This experience allowed me to see things from a different angle," Robinson said. He recalls that it shaped his mind and soul, making him observant of people's needs and the way they fill them. "That's why I decided to go back to school and get my master's degree in Latin American Studies and my PhD in Sociology at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque."

After that, Robinson's career took a sharp turn. He went from journalism to devoting his time to what he calls his passion: social issues, social rights, immigration, and democracy around the world. "I search for the truth in all these. I always want to find the meaningful side to the work I do. . . . As a teacher, I hope to challenge students and encourage them to question the establishment."

Whatever Robinsons does is based on three simple rules, he explained: "I hope to always live an ethical life with compassion for others, to always pursue social justice, and to develop my students' talent and potential through critical thinking." He added, "Living an ethical life to me is denouncing what's wrong without being selective, respecting and acknowledging the dignity of all human beings, and having an interest in the collective well-being."

That's why the whole issue of his alleged misconduct, based on an email he sent to his students marked "for your interest," which compared images of the Holocaust to images taken in Gaza, comes as a surprise not only to his students, but also to his colleagues. Robinson's reputation has always been impeccable, he said. "No student has ever filed a grievance against me in my 16 years as a teacher. On the contrary! My courses get filled very quickly and students seldom drop my class."

Before speaking to Robinson, I had attended a May 21, 2009 panel on academic Freedom at Embarcadero Hall in Isla Vista. It was organized by Robinson's students, and the four panelists were other UCSB professors: Geoffrey Raymond, Lisa Hajjar, Richard Falk, and Harold Marcuse. All of these colleagues, during their individual presentations, agreed not only that Robinson did nothing improper, but that he did exactly what he was expected to do as a university professor.

Students of Robinson who took the microphone during the public comment segment of the presentation spoke highly about Robinson's teaching abilities, style, and ethics. I was surprised to see that the complaining students were nowhere to be found. Even more interesting was the fact that none of those speaking against Robinson's actions attended UCSB at all, let alone Robinson's class.

By now, you've probably heard and read enough already about this debate-as have I--but I had some questions that I didn't see answered in other media coverage, so I asked Robinson directly.

The infamous email you sent was regarded as an inappropriate and offensive personal piece of communication by two Jewish students. What do you have to say about that?

Robinson: The email that the media said was sent as a personal piece of communication was not. It was course material sent through UCSB email and according to the American Association of University Professors Internet material is considered an extension of the classroom and is covered by Academic Freedom." He went on to clarify, "The media, incorrectly, printed that the course was on South America and that the email was, therefore, irrelevant to the class. Not so: The course was on Global Affairs. I have never sent an email that has not been related to the course to any student.

"Also mistakenly, the media reported that I created the photo essay included in the email," said Robinson. "Incorrect again, it was sent by a Jewish American journalist a while ago, and it was globally available on the internet ever since. I only forwarded it to my students."

When you marked the email "for your interest," what did you mean by that?

Robinson: "At times, I mark emails that way. My students know that when I send those emails it means it is strictly optional reading, that I'm not going to test anyone on it, and that in fact, the material will only be discussed in class if time permits or if a student wishes to bring it up."

The forum panelists insisted that the university didn't follow the regular process. After receiving the students' complaint, the university didn't direct the students through the proper channels, but created an ad-hoc committee to deal with the matter. Also, according Marcuse, some UCSB officials met with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which is an external entity, on an issue that was supposed to be dealt with internally. The presenting professors were completely outraged by this and by the fact that the university initially denied that such meeting ever happened. Particularly aerated was Prof. Marcuse, one of the few people who were invited to and attended that "secret" meeting.

Today, this matter involves not only Bill Robinson but more than 100 faculty members who have signed a petition asking the university to dismiss the charges against Robinson. Plus, 16 department chairs have written letters to UCSB authorities asking them to dismiss the case against Robinson. The alleged charges against Robinson are: a) Significant intrusion of material unrelated to the course, and b) Wrongful use of a position of power.

If a violation of the University Professor's Code of Conduct is found on Robinson's part, the sanction he may be facing is dismissal from the university. Robinson has retained the services of a private attorney.

What ending do you envision to this stressful chapter of your life?

Robinson: "I expect full vindication: the exoneration from the charges, the acknowledgement of irregularities in the process, and a public apology from the university administration, plus a statement on the university's commitment to academic freedom."

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Devil's Advocate

By Silvia Uribe

Is the conscience something inherent to human beings? We know that people of faith call it the "voice of God". Those less attached to traditions call it the "inner voice". Some think it is just a "hunch" that guides them. While others have given it not only a name, but also a number, and have called it sixth sense. A minority, however, debate that it just doesn't exist.

The other day I was talking to a man who belongs to this minority. He is sure that this voice is something made up to exert control over others. Not impossible to imagine, if we take into consideration the fact that we humans love to be in control. As another possible explanation, he theorizes not only that we don't have an inner voice, but also that we don't need it. That we could, and in fact are, guided only by our intellectual understanding of what's best for us, making the "mysterious voice", as he called it, a fake and rather egotistical and self-centered fabrication to promote our own well-being without the risk of being judged.

He told me he goes by his observations of the way people act, particularly in relation to other human beings. He says that when given the opportunity to do good, people usually ask, "what's in it for me?" and that's the one and only measure that really counts for them.

He went on to give me examples and explained to me that, in general, unless people are given a tax reduction, some sort of privilege, or political return for monetary contributions, they would not give money to any cause or person. "Think about it. When someone asks them for help in any way or form that's desperately needed, they stop to consider whether it is convenient for them to assist in relation to their own time and circumstances, as opposed to those of the person who needs the help. It is like that in every case, he assured me. People only want to quiet others' criticism or to buy others' admiration by pretending they follow their godly inner voice, but they do it for themselves. It is true that they still help, but their motivation is anything but "pure."

By this time the 60 plus year-old man had me more as an interviewer than as a contributor to our conversation:

"You might be right about material things, but what about qualities such as loyalty, and truthfulness?" I asked.

He looked at me somberly and said, "What about them? Do you really think that many people practice these today? People don't even know the meaning of those words anymore; much less they hear a voice inside them telling them to be loyal or truthful. They don't care about letting someone down or about lying if this will procure them a personal gain. There are more ruthless people in the world than we need, and you're talking about loyalty and truth? In which world do you live?"

Only questions came to mind and not many answers, "If this is a fabrication, who made it in the first place? And is your conclusion that humankind has no good seed, and by logic it is intrinsically bad?"

He answered: "Who said that? Why do you have to be so fatalistic?"

I was dumbfounded with his answer. Maybe I misunderstood everything he said, I thought to myself.

Looking at my surprised face, and smiling, he continued.

"People's nature is good, but unfortunately, most learn rather quickly in life the mistaken way of quieting their good instincts and replacing them with selfish ones. It takes great effort from someone to not let his or herself go that route, but it is not impossible. There are also many who do it, except they do it quietly, humbly, day in and day out and usually very few people know about it.

Usually, these are the ones who are busy doing what they need to do to help others, as opposed to watching what others do to criticize it, or even worse, to destroy it, as the selfish do. They are the most unlikely to be considered powerful, but their power comes from the positive energy they project. They are frequently the target of personal attacks due to the fact that their inner strength makes petty souls feel weak and fearful.

Unfortunately, these are not the majority. If there actually was an inner voice that would guide us, we could say that most have found a way to drown it out, to the detriment of humankind."

The man paused, looked at me in the eye and asked me, "If you think that there's an inner voice. Can you still hear yours?"

Cross-posted at

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Drive-Thru Haz Mat Dump

UCSB Center Makes It Easy to Clean House
By Silvia Uribe

As any writer would be able to tell you, less is more. That's why most of us keep editing our columns to death, and then some. But writing is not the only activity the aphorism applies to. Getting rid of the things that we don't really need at home is usually a headache, even for those who (unlike me) are very well organized. The Community Hazardous Waste Collection Center located at UCSB can take reduce some of the suffering.

We humans tend to discard everything from paint cans to electronics into the landfill, collectively creating piles and piles of dangerous wastes. Sometimes, even when we think we're disposing of hazardous materials adequately, we are actually contaminating our environment.

Prescribed medications are a good example of what I'm talking about. I clearly remember my grandma and my mom, during my childhood, dropping the old or unused pills down the toilet as they cleaned out the medicine cabinet. I also remember what they told me time and again: "These pills could be very dangerous to people's health. We need to do this so no one gets hurt." Good point! Their intention was great, and they were right in their assessment of the potential danger, but by flushing them, they did precisely the opposite.

Now we have data that proves that this practice harms our environment, but many still follow their very old-fashioned, unsafe practices to dispose of their medications. Why? Because they don't know of an easy way to get rid of them. The only other option they think they have is to accumulate these at home with the additional tremendous risk that someone in the family-possibly a teenager--will take them, possibly with lethal consequences. We should not risk it!

I'd say that pharmacies should be able to provide this service in an easily accessible and controlled way. Since this is not an option at the moment, there's another way. Among other things, the Community Hazardous Waste Collection Center receives old and unused medications--to be safely incinerated, thereby solving our household problem and taking good care of the environment.

This facility also receives other hazardous materials that are flammable, corrosive, or poisonous-a long list that includes adhesives, aerosols, anti-freeze, asbestos, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, mercury, motor oil, paint, drain openers, household cleaners, pesticides, pool chemicals, roof tar, solvents, stains, and used motor oil.

The Waste Collection Center is so well organized that it is basically like a drive-in. You fill out a little form. You hand the workers your medications. If you have items to dispose of in the trunk of your car, you just open it. They will help you get your materials out, and you'll be on your way. That's it! It is that fast and that efficient!

It is lucky for those of us living in Goleta to have this great service right in our backyard, but it is important to know that all Santa Barbara residents are welcome to take advantage of it.

The Community Hazardous Waste Collection Center is located at University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), Mesa Road, Building 565, Goleta, CA 93106, (805) 882-3602. It is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. 3 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. 3 p.m.

If you have additional questions regarding specific materials, don't hesitate to call the Center. The person who answers the phone has all the answers you might need, and provides outstanding customer service.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Watch that thong!

By Silvia Uribe

Being a woman who grew up surrounded by women, and who has two daughters and many girlfriends, I feel quite protective of women. For these same reasons, I'm generally not only respectful of different ways, styles, and behaviors, but also I embrace and enjoy our particularities, and the way those make us unique. There are times, however, when women make loud social statements that can really harm their image, every other woman's image, as well as how seriously others take us.

It is in those cases when an uncontrollable desire to let these women know that they're making a mistake invades me. I know the possible consequences. I start feeling uneasy and nervous. The same way I used to feel when my cousins planned to leave our grandma's home without permission to go see their boyfriends.

This happened to me recently. I was attending an event that was very crowded. The audience was comprised of more men than women, and the local press was present. Among the attendees was a woman taking notes. She was young and attractive. Since I was sitting in the last row, I had the perfect view. I saw some men glancing at her as she was concentrating on her task. Her attire was professional, discrete and elegant. I didn't notice her camera until she precipitously got a hold of it and hurried to the front of the room to take a picture of the panelists.

It was when she kneeled down to avoid blocking the crowd's view that the whole situation changed really quickly. Some men started elbowing their buds, and with a gesture of their eyes told them to look to this woman's turquoise thong that had made a bright appearance on her bare lower back. Some men mischievously smiled and others exchanged quick looks.

The woman took her pictures and got back to her seat. Some of the men were still smiling and even exchanging brief comments while looking at her. She seemed to be oblivious to all this.

On our way out, she was walking a few steps ahead of me. By now, it was clear to me that she was with the press; maybe a reporter covering an assignment, and for sure a professional who is trying to gain respect in quite a competitive career. Do you see where I'm going? This is not the only time that I've seen this happening. Sometimes, I've known the person, too! Really, do they not know that when they lean over, their thong shows? Do they simply not care? Do they do it on purpose? Some men I've asked seem to think that the later is true.

Most women work very hard in order to be taken seriously. They try very hard to not be considered a sexual object, and they prepare themselves intellectually to be able to reach high positions in the career they choose. A thong peeking out goes against the image that a professional woman is trying to convey. Can't they see that? Well, obviously they can't.

If we know the person, should we tell them something to this regard? I don't know and I have so far been unable to make a decision about it, so I asked some of my girlfriends for their opinion. Unfortunately, their responses didn't help me much. They were all over the place. I heard definite no's, accompanied by their advice not to be nosey. I also heard enthusiastic yeses, concluding that because I am older than these women, they could hear my advice and possibly benefit from it. And I also got the woman bagging on woman accusation, which bugged me.

It was not until recently that I have made a decision. Next time I see something like the event described earlier; I'll just take the risk. I prefer to be told off for trying to help, rather than feel that I could've done something for her and didn't.

So ladies, please watch that thong!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross posted at