OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Professor responds – Arkansas Online

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The Voices page carried two pieces on the same day this week that contended their authors did not believe it was antisemitism for the Bowen Law School dean at the University of Arkansas Little Rock to tell Jewish Professor Robert Steinbuch he could no longer use guest lecturers so he could attend the annual High Holy Jewish days.
The first was signed by a number of people identifying themselves as members of the Jewish legal community. The second was by Aaron Ahlquist of the Anti-Defamation League. Both contended that acts considered unfair or unjust do not amount to antisemitism as Steinbuch has maintained.
Using substitute instructors was a practice Steinbuch says he’d followed without question during 20 years on the faculty, and one the university’s own rules allow. Yet Bowen Dean Theresa Beiner told Steinbuch he could no longer use substitutes of his choosing in the future, he said.
Both pieces defended Beiner for informing Steinbuch he could not follow such a practice after this year, which a select committee at the law school determined would indeed constitute a form of religious discrimination.
As one whose carried Steinbuch’s messages of concerns over the school’s operation to the public in recent months, I did what any self-respecting opinion columnist would do and asked Steinbuch (an undisputed thorn in the side of the Bowen dean) if he cared to reply to the double-barreled barrage.
Steinbuch said the best response to this local group he could provide is to quote a colleague who wrote him previously: “I find it aggravating for anyone to tell you that you’re not experiencing discrimination, without an alternative explanation for the peculiar circumstances you are in. I also found it aggravating for someone to say, ‘Hey, I’m a member of the same tribe as the person who is claiming discrimination, and it’s not possible that the person being accused of discrimination could be capable of this because I know this person and this person likes me.’ Implicit bias is everywhere, and everyone is capable of it. I hope out of this debacle Bowen actually structures something in the long term where someone can say they believe they are being discriminated against without being treated dismissively.”
Steinbuch added, “I find my colleague’s comments far more insightful than the group’s, who clearly don’t understand the facts and the law of the current situation. Indeed, one of the members of this local ‘Jewish’ community group (who wrote to Voices) is not even Jewish.”
“The events themselves are telling. Shortly after being rebuked concerning controversy over the improper secret renaming of an endowed professorship at the law school after Bill Clinton, Dean Beiner told me that, for the first time in nearly 20 years, I could no longer use guest speakers to cover my classes when I was unable to teach because of the Jewish high holidays. Beiner’s actions were in obvious violation of school rules, and she didn’t seek to impose these restrictions on Gentiles missing class for non-religious grounds.”
“In the letter from the Anti-Defamation League, forthrightly determined I was subjected to ‘disparate treatment’ by the Dean. Disparate treatment equals discrimination, period.
“After all, in an article by the dean and former professor John DiPippa, they wrote: ‘Plaintiffs bring religious discrimination claims in the form of disparate treatment claims. In these cases, the employer has discriminated against an employee in some term, condition or privilege of employment based on his or her religion. … The disparate impact theory used in Title VII cases likewise applies to religion cases. Under this theory, a facially neutral employment practice can be challenged if it has an adverse impact on a particular group based on religion.'”
Seems pretty clear.
Steinbuch added, “In fact, the dean and many others on the faculty read Ibram X. Kendi’s book as one of their primary texts in their anti-racist reading group, which discusses implicit bias as a seminal form of discrimination, as my colleague (as cited above) aptly referenced.
“And, at that group, Beiner said she had always considered herself a racist by Kendi’s definition and couldn’t understand why anyone would find it offensive to be called a racist.” Steinbuch said. “It’s a glaring omission that the group entirely avoided implicit bias, yet imply that they somehow understand the current issues. They do not.
“This is not simply a disagreement about the interpretation of school rules. It’s about being treated equally. In addition to the ADL’s letter declaring the disparate treatment, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists wrote a letter to the law school calling Beiner’s actions ‘offensive.’
“Yet, this local group asserts I should be content with the mere scraps that were given me in accommodation of my religious observance. I wonder whether they would argue that (the alternative of) separate water fountains or sitting in the back of the bus were equally as sufficient when Blacks were horribly treated here in the South. Would they argue–as they did for me–that Blacks ‘were allowed several ways’ to be accommodated? For shame for suggesting that I am not entitled to equal–rather than disparate–treatment!
“The local group further claims the university committee found Beiner did not discriminate in selection of the accommodations. Oh really? Read the central finding of the committee report, as reported in the news, and decide yourself: ‘Based on Academic Rule IV.C.5 and current practice in the law school by Ms. Beiner, Mr. Steinbuch should be allowed to have a guest speaker as an option when he is off work in observation of his religion. Given that faculty may use all the options listed in Academic Rule IV.C.5 for other planned absences including the use of guest speakers, to not allow Mr. Steinbuch this opportunity constitutes religious discrimination if not allowed for the 2022 spring semester.’
“What does that mean to you? Should we trust anything this group has to say on this issue?
“In conclusion, another colleague … recently wrote the faculty , ‘[i]f anyone … is unable to understand how deeply offensive it’s likely to be to a religious Jew to tell him that it’s not impracticable to attend class on the few days of the year when his religion prohibits him from doing so, or, for that matter, how offensive it’s likely to be to a religious Jew to compare his religious observance to playing golf, that simply underscores the need for implicit bias training at Bowen.’
“Enough said? I suspect that there will be more.”
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master’s journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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