It's not the kind of honor universities want for their instructors. Robert Huber, a Ph.D. student in physics at the University of Delaware, who taught physics last semester, is a member of the Skinhead Hall of Fame.
Huber's out-of-the-classroom activities were recently revealed in an article by The News Journal, which documented his role in skinhead groups and in racist music produced by bands of which he is or was a member. On Friday, David P. Roselle, president of the university, met with minority students who have been demanding that Huber be kicked out of the university. Roselle disappointed the students by telling them that there was no action the university could take against Huber, whom Delaware officials say has never discussed his views in classes or violated any university rules.
While Huber could not be reached for comment, he sent some former students an e-mail message -- quoted in The Review, the student paper at Delaware -- denying that he is a skinhead. "Age and wisdom brings refined philosophies on life," he said in the e-mail message. "What I am concerned about today is not necessarily what I was concerned about when I was young."
The News Journal articles state that Huber is known to law enforcement and civil rights groups as someone who has been active in white-power politics. The newspaper also reported the Huber has racist tattoos on his arms, but wears long-sleeved shirts on campus to avoid detection. In addition, the newspaper reported that Huber last month helped organize a gathering of "hatecore" musical groups, which sell their work to skinheads and neo-Nazis, in Pennsylvania.
A statement by the university said that officials there did not know of Huber's activities until contacted by reporters. After being contacted, the university conducted a review to be sure that there had been no complaints about any activities by Huber on campus. Then, after consulting university lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union, officials said that they determined that there was no action to take.
"It is a personal affront when persons with hateful beliefs espouse those beliefs, insist upon their right to make public displays of their beliefs or otherwise attempt to spread their venom," said Roselle in the statement. "But, a fundamental tenet of our nation is that my objection or, as in this case, the university's objection, is not sufficient reason to deny the right of free speech."
At the beginning of the academic year, Delaware experienced a series of incidents in which racist or anti-Semitic graffiti appeared on campus, prompting Roselle to announce a "zero tolerance" policy about hate crimes and the university recently unveiled a new Web site to combat bigotry.
At Friday's meeting, several minority students challenged the president about whether allowing Huber to remain as a graduate student constituted true "zero tolerance," but he said that there was a difference between on-campus crimes (which Huber has not committed) and off-campus political activities (which are protected by the First Amendment).
The controversy at Delaware follows discussion at Northwestern University this month of a tenured engineering professor who is a prominent Holocaust denier. That professor has taught at Northwestern for years, but was in the news again for backing statements by Iran's president that the Holocaust was a myth.