Washington, DC - Stanford University has distanced itself from controversial remarks made by a faculty member regarding the prospects for Iranians to be admitted to the school.
Dr. Jefferey Ullman, a professor emeritus in Stanford's Computer Science department, wrote in November 2010 to an Iranian student seeking admission, "even if I were in a position to help, I will not help Iranian students until Iran recognizes and respects Israel as the land of the Jewish people." The professor went on to write, "If Iranians want the benefits of Stanford and other institutions in the US, they have to respect the values we hold in the US..."
Prominent and members of the Iranian-American community, including top business leaders and academics, have sent letters calling for Stanford to denounce the professor's remarks. NIAC sent a letter to Stanford's president last week calling for the university to clarify its position regarding the remarks and to take disciplinary measures against the professor.
In a response to NIAC, the Stanford Computer Science Department Chair wrote, "Professor Ullman's political views represent his personal opinions and not those of Stanford University. Stanford does not discriminate on the basis of gender, nationality, race, or religion in its admissions process."
NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi said the organization is encouraged by Stanford's comments distancing the university from Ullman's views, but that further measures are needed to ensure the professor's remarks have not translated to discrimination in the admissions process or in the classroom.
"Stanford has been a friend of Iranian students and the Iranian-American community for many years," said Abdi. "Our interest is to work with university to help ensure this professor does not undermine the institution's values or in any way jeopardize Stanford's long history of positive and mutually beneficial relations with international students from Iran and the Iranian-American community."
Dr. Fredun Hojabbri, the former Professor and Academic-Vice Chancellor of Sharif University of Technology who first raised this issue, has urged that Stanford initiate an internal investigation of the admission procedures for Stanford's Computer Science Department.
Similarly, the Cornell Iranian Student Organization has written to Stanford calling for the university "to evaluate the professor's influence on admitting students to the CS department and to launch a formal investigation to find if any discriminatory actions have been taken along these views held by Dr. Ullman..."
Reports of the professor's remarks have generated concern within the Iranian-American community, the academic community, and in the Middle East. The Chronicle for Higher Education, the premiere journal for the university community, reported on NIAC's efforts to address the controversy, as has the Stanford Daily, the Dubai-based Gulf News, and other political blogs and university periodicals.
Dr. Ullman has acknowledged that he should have been clearer in his email. "I probably should have prefixed the comment with 'in my opinion'," he writes on his webpage, but asserts that he is not involved in Stanford's admissions process. He has also explained on his webpage that his views do not interfere with his work in the classroom because "when I grade my class, I do so from a spreadsheet that omits names."
But Ullman has also expressed surprise at Stanford's reaction to the controversy, telling the Stanford Daily, "I'd really appreciate more support from the University on this," and framing NIAC's efforts as "an attempt to censor a faculty member." He defended his correspondence with Iranian students saying, "I don't believe an Iranian student, however bright they may be, is going to get a true picture of the issue. I was just trying to show him the Israeli side of the story."
Those involved in the issue have emphasized that the professor's right to free speech is not in question. "NIAC's work to promote and expand free speech stands on its own, whether it has been to increase civic participation here among Iranian Americans or to support human rights in Iran so that the Iranian people can exercise their right to political dissent," said Abdi. "Our message on this situation has been clear: this professor has the right to hold his own views, but that doesn't include the right to discriminate against those who seek admission to his department."
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