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Is a University Honoring a Holocaust Denier?

Jewish groups offer evidence about a late professor's actions and ask why university would accept funds to endow a scholarship in his name.

April 22, 2019
 

This article contains explicit and potentially offensive terms that are essential to reporting on this situation.

Arkansas Tech University in December announced that it had received a little more than $190,000 from the estate of a late professor to create a scholarship fund. The fund -- the Michael Arthur Link and May Reid Kewen History Scholarship -- would honor the professor and his late mother. Link had taught history for 51 years before he died in 2016.

The university issued a photo (above right) of a ceremonial presentation of the funds from those administering Link's estate. It all seemed like a nice story and a nice sum of money for a university that needs scholarship support.

But Jewish organizations are objecting to an honor for Link, who they say was a Holocaust denier and promoted anti-Semitic views. Higher education has periodically debated whether a professor being a Holocaust denier is grounds for dismissal. The most famous case involves Arthur Butz, an engineering professor at Northwestern University. The university has repeatedly condemned Butz's views but has not fired him, citing principles of academic freedom and the fact that Butz's Holocaust denial activities are unrelated to his work at the university. In the Arkansas Tech case, the question is an honor for a late professor, and for one who taught history and is alleged to have promoted his views in class and publishing.

The university says that it does not believe the allegations about Link, and that there is no conclusive evidence to back up the claims. The university has also said that it has spoken to those who knew Link, and they say he was not bigoted against Jews.

One person who studied under Link has come forward to support the university for honoring the professor. He is Billy Roper, who runs the Shield Wall Network, which is described by the Anti-Defamation League as "a small white supremacist group based in Mountain View, Arkansas, that promotes racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric."

Roper, on his website, wrote, "The Jewish ADL, long under investigation for committing acts of espionage against the United States on behalf of Israel, along with typically shrill Jewess professor Sarah Stein, have failed in their Jewy attempts to intimidate Shield Wall Network Coordinator Billy Roper’s alma mater into removing a beloved history professor’s name from a scholarship he endowed. The greasy hook-nosed kikes even demanded that the university remove a non-offensive comment Mr. Roper placed on a page in memory of his former professor and confidant. To their credit, the university where Roper earned his master’s degree after taking multiple classes under Link has stood firm and so far refused the Jews’ demands. The full name of the ADL indicates that they are the 'brotherhood of the circumcised.'"

The ADL together with leaders of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas and more than 30 scholars of history from around the United States wrote to the university to protest the decision to honor Link.

"The evidence against Dr. Link includes anti-Semitic passages in his written work, testimony from former students and colleagues, and a well-documented 2005 incident in which Dr. Link presented anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi published texts in a graduate seminar as though they were legitimate historical works. This evidence has been reviewed by the Anti-Defamation League, leaders of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas and international and national scholars in the field of Holocaust studies. All have found it credible and convincing, and all agree that Dr. Link presented hate-filled, nonfactual, anti-Semitic misinformation to his students as though it offered a historically valid point of view," the letter says.

"Over the course of Dr. Link’s tenure, the university allowed him to expose thousands of students to these odious, dangerous mistruths under the guise of three deeply disturbing and absolutely intolerable tactics. First, Dr. Link presented misinformation as history. Second, he presented the anti-Semitic nature of this misinformation as though it were truthful, correct and acceptable. Third, he presented the question of whether the Holocaust occurred -- an irrefutable historical fact -- as though it were an appropriate, valid point of debate. The administration of Arkansas Tech has had months to remedy its honoring of Dr. Link at the request of ADL and concerned faculty members, but it has done nothing. The position of the administration clearly breaches the university mission and belies the standing of the university as a public institution devoted to higher education."

ADL closed its letter by saying, "By simultaneously honoring and seeking to conceal the anti-Semitism of Dr. Link, the university has become complicit in his hate."

Arkansas Tech says that it has no definitive evidence of any of this.

But Inside Higher Ed has reviewed a letter sent to the then president of Arkansas Tech in 2005 in which a historian describes complaints he received from his former students while enrolled in a graduate course taught by Link in which he encouraged students to read a range of books on the Holocaust. Some of the books were scholarly texts, but the books also included Debunking the Genocide Myth, published by an organization that denies that the Holocaust was real. The students in the course complained to the professor that they felt something was wrong and that they wanted to drop the course but had missed the deadline to do so. The students told the professor that Link presented the various books as necessary to evaluate the Holocaust.

The professor compared Link to a "geologist who asserts that the Earth is flat" or even that the shape of the Earth is a subject of debate. "Holocaust deniers play off our innate sense of fairness," the professor wrote. "Why shouldn't 'both sides' be argued? They play off a basic flaw in reasoning, i.e., that the assertions of the Holocaust as an event in world history have equal weight to assertions that the event never occurred. But given the patina of academia by professors with agendas, this false equivalency of validity will find acceptance among students who will see it in terms of just another debate among historians when in fact there is no debate."

Shortly after this letter was sent, Link was removed from teaching duties. The university would not say why but said he was subsequently cleared to return to teaching.

Inside Higher Ed has also reviewed a self-published book by Link on the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. In the beginning of the book, referencing the situation in Germany during Hitler's rise to power, Link offered reasons other than anti-Semitism to explain Hitler's hatred for Jewish people -- and Link's explanations aren't that different from those offered at the time by Nazis. "Jews were prominent in banking, the press, the Socialist party and the Communist party," Link wrote. He later references the "many Jewish bankers" in Germany at the time.

Niebuhr was strongly anti-Nazi and never showed sympathy for Hitler's views. But the book says (in ways other Niebuhr scholars would likely contest) that Niebuhr viewed the "real reason" for Nazi violence against Jews was "the strong influence of the Jews in the liberal and radical parties of Germany."

‘We Don’t Know’

Arkansas Tech has said that the fellowship will help students and promote diversity by allowing more people to enroll.

Robin E. Bowen, president of Arkansas Tech, said via email that the university took the allegations against Link seriously and in no way would endorse Holocaust denial. "The question at hand relates to intent," she said.

Defenders of Link have said that he was trying to show his students the range of ideas about the Holocaust that are "out there" and that he was not trying to endorse the books that argued that the Holocaust did not take place.

"Therein lies the problem," Bowen wrote. "We don’t know. We don’t know if he intended to use the books as part of a conversation regarding how to evaluate the legitimacy of materials or whether his intent was not as noble. We simply don’t know."

Bowen added, "One of our many challenges as educators is balancing what we believe to be true with the rights of others to express their truth. As academics, we should strive to provide students with opportunities to consider varied perspectives as they learn to grow as critical thinkers."

As to the biography Link wrote of Niebuhr, Bowen said that the university has asked the ADL for evidence that the passages in question are anti-Semitic, and has not received an explanation. Those in Jewish organizations who have reached out to Arkansas Tech say that they have explained the tropes in the language used by Link in the book.

Bowen said, "Arkansas Tech University categorically denies the unfounded accusation by ADL South Central that ATU is 'complicit in hate' against people of the Jewish faith. Teaching Holocaust denial and promoting anti-Semitism are not behaviors condoned by Arkansas Tech University."

‘Aiding and Abetting Holocaust Denial’

One of the people consulted by Arkansas Tech faculty members about the situation was Deborah E. Lipstadt, one of the world's leading experts on Holocaust deniers. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University. She is the author of a book -- History on Trial -- about how she stood up to a lawsuit by a Holocaust denier who challenged her work.

Asked by Inside Higher Ed about her take on the evidence, Lipstadt said via email that she reviewed the various materials that had been presented to Arkansas Tech.

"If the descriptions of his courses are correct and if he indeed did assign the materials he is said to have assigned, then there is no question that he is aiding [and] abetting Holocaust denial," Lipstadt wrote. "In fact, I would call him a Holocaust denier if he said he wanted students to study both sides of the issue. There are many 'sides' to debate on Holocaust-related matters … But to debate whether this genocide happened or not is more than ludicrous. It is a form of denial. If the materials with which you have been provided are accurate -- and there are too many different reports together with Link’s own writings to simply discount them -- then to name a fellowship after this man is highly inappropriate."

Lipstadt also said that it was stunning that one could review Link's writings, such as his Niebuhr work, and not see the bigotry in some of the language. Those who would read such work and say that they needed more information should "take some courses in history of the Holocaust and of anti-Semitism." Added Lipstadt, "Those who are defending the fellowship have cited the fact that it will enhance diversity. This seems to me to be a pretty poor excuse for honoring a man who facilitated historical lies and the prejudice that flows from them."

Stein, the professor noted in the post by the white nationalist at the beginning of the article, is an assistant professor of English at Arkansas Tech.

Of the honor for Link, she said, "I feel that it is a total disservice to our students and it's an embarrassment to the university."

"As a Jewish professor it hurts to go to work at a university that would honor a Holocaust denier."

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