Academic Freedom? Kent State Professor Shouts ‘Death to Israel!’

Prof. Julio Pino. Credit: Kent State University.Events took a surprising turn during a lecture at Kent State University last week when Ishmael Khaldi, a guest lecturer and Israeli diplomat, was interrupted by chants of “Death to Israel!” by a faculty member—Professor Julio Pino.

Khaldi, the former deputy consul general at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco, was invited to discuss his book, A Shepherd’s Journey, which chronicles his life as a Bedouin in Israel and rise to the Foreign Ministry.

“The talk covered a broad range of topics, but focused especially on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims and the possibility for peaceful dialogue,” Kent State student Evan Gildenblatt said in an interview with JointMedia News Service.

Gildenblatt organized the event, which was co-sponsored by a number of campus departments and organizations.  

“Ironically, Ishmael harped on the need for respect and understanding to be present in order for such dialogue to occur,” he said.

After his talk, Khaldi opened the floor to questions, and Pino was the first to raise his hand.

“The whole thing was a minute long,” Jennifer Chestnut, executive director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life at Kent State, said in an interview with JointMedia News Service. Chestnut said Pino was standing towards the back of the room, handing out material that encouraged people to boycott Israel. When Khaldi called on Pino, he launched into a tirade asking how Israel could justify providing aid to Turkey with blood money that came from the deaths of Palestinian mothers and children.

“To be honest, I’m not quite sure what he was trying to say or what he was getting at, but it seemed to me that the way he said it indicated it was planned,” said Gildenblatt. 

According to Chestnut, Khaldi said Pino was lying, and refused to answer his question based on its lack of respect. Khaldi invited Pino to ask him a more respectful question, but Pino left the room chanting “Death to Israel!” three times.

Pino, a convert to Islam and tenured Associate Professor of History at Kent State, is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, he wrote a column eulogizing and praising a suicide bomber for the Daily Kent Stater, and in 2007, the Drudge Report accused him of contributing to the self described “jihadist news service” blog Global War.  The Secret Service served a search warrant on his home in an investigation in 2009.

David Lee, a spokesman for the Secret Service’s Akron Bureau, told JointMedia News Service that the investigation was instigated due to “a matter that involved one of our core violations.” Lee declined to specify which core violation, but did say that the investigation was completed, and “as far as we’re concerned, the case is closed.”

According to Chestnut, students in the room were surprised by Pino’s actions, but since she is aware of Pino “and his outbursts, which have happened before,” she was not surprised.

“Anti-Israel sentiment happens across campuses, and it’s an unfortunate reality,” she said. The main concern shared by students and parents alike, Chestnut continued, is what Pino is saying behind the closed doors of his classroom, considering that he was willing to make these statements in public.

Khaldi, she said, remained unshaken by the events. “Khaldi went on with the question and answer session, occasionally referring back to the incident when citing it as the exact thing that is preventing the peace process from going forward: a lack of constructive dialogue,” Gildenblatt confirmed.  

Gildenblatt said that while the professor’s actions were “an embarrassment” to the university, they should not serve to represent it. University President Lester A. Lefton made sure to distance himself from Pino’s words. In an official statement, Lefton wrote that while it was Pino’s right to voice his opinion, “it is my obligation, as the president of this university, to say that I find his words deplorable, and his behavior deeply troubling.”

According to Gildenblatt, the reaction has been particularly strong among parents and alumni, with many people having pledged not to send their children to Kent State or not to donate to the university until disciplinary action is taken against Pino. While Gildenblatt opines that the event should not serve as support for the abolition of the tenure system as a whole, he thinks “it goes beyond academic freedom when a supposed academic professional calls for the outright destruction of a people instead of constructively arguing his points.”

Tom Neumann, associate vice president of university communications and marketing, told JointMedia News Service that any disciplinary action against Pino would be kept confidential. However, Chestnut said that an incident report has been filed, and Hillel will be meeting with the university’s administration this week to request a further look into the matter in order to determine whether “this was hate speech, and what happens when a tenured professor makes hate speech.”

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), supported Pino, saying “Calling out a political slogan during a question period falls well within the speech rights of any member of a university community,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

Greg Scholtz, secretary and director of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance at the AAUP, told JointMedia News Service that tenured professors must generally have demonstrated gross misconduct, incompetence, or a severe neglect of duties to be dismissed.

Scholtz explained how “it is a myth” that it is virtually impossible to fire tenured professors, citing 50-60 such instances during his three years on the job. However, he said cases similar to this one—where a professor has actually been successfully dismissed due to hate speech—are “very few.”

Posted on November 1, 2011 and filed under U.S..