Constantly Getting the Facts Wrong

In a story in the Daily Nexus, which is UC-Santa Barbara’s student paper, the myth that Robinson sent the email to private student accounts is repeated. A third-year history of public policy and sociology major is quoted as saying, “While professors do have much free range to discuss the topics they may discuss, they aren’t allowed to use private email list serves of students to propagate their own agenda, like [Robinson’s] e-mail which had nothing to do with the syllabus.”

First, most of the content of a course is not on the syllabus. This is obvious. Second, the e-mail was entirely and unambiguously relevant to the course. You have to be thick or willfully ignorant to not see this. Robinson was teaching a sociology class concerned with global issues and processes. The major global issue unfolding in January was Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Robinson introduced the Gaza invasion into a sociology class concerned with global issues. It would have been ideological for Robinson to have avoided in a class of this character introducing materials to prompt discussion about the major global issue of the day.

It is the nature of social science to engage in comparison (all science, in fact, proceeds by comparison). By identifying similarities across historical cases, comparison allows the social scientists to reveal common sociological processes at work. One can see how political economic projects of a similar character at a given point in historical development and shared cultural understandings use parallel tactics to achieve their goals. So the manner in which Robinson presented the material, in the form of a historical comparison, is entirely appropriate.

Robinson’s attached commentary is designed to provoke discussion. The comparative analysis leads to a discussion of motive, effect, and justice. There are legal questions of mens rea and actus reus that pertain. Is this genocide? Is the claim that the invasion was self-defense legitimate? What is the Israeli project in Palestine? What does international law say about this? As a sociologist of globalization, Robinson is well-versed in the character of international law.

Given that the United States is heavily involved in financially supporting the Israeli project, and the United States is the global hegemon, these questions are crucial to explore in a class with the title “Sociology of Globalization.”

Third, students are automatically enrolled in the course distribution list, which every course at the university has (mine has a similar system). Robinson is not reaching into private emails. His students are enrolled in a course distribution list through which they receive course materials. If they don’t want the materials, then they can not enroll in the course. If they want to cherry pick materials, then they can delete what they don’t want to see.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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