A tenured professor who has taught education classes at the University of Vermont for nearly 40 years has written extensively and sympathetically about white nationalism, drawing fire from civil rights groups but support from his institution in the name of academic freedom.
The Times Argus reported Sunday that Robert S. Griffin has authored several books and articles that are widely read by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other extremists. In 2001, Griffin self-published The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds: An Up-Close Portrait of White Nationalist William Pierce, a biography of the late National Alliance leader who hoped to establish an all-white "living space" in the United States and Europe. William Pierce's novel The Turner Diaries in part inspired Timothy McVeigh to carry out the Oklahoma City bombing.
On his Web site, Griffin describes Pierce as "a person of remarkable capability, decency, integrity, courage, and dedication," adding, "This book changed my life forever. I came away from my encounter with Pierce far more conscious of race from a white perspective and of myself as a white man and of my European cultural and historical roots."
In addition to his other books -- among them One Sheaf, One Vine: Racially Conscious White People Talk About Race and Living White: Writings on Race, 2000-2005 -- the professor has penned dozens of articles on the subject of white nationalism. They include "When They Attack," written last year, which offers "advice to those who care about white people and their future in a culture that is committed to shutting them down hard and hurting them." Such advice includes "Get in the best shape you can: Figure you are in a war. Get battleready," and "Don’t buy what they tell you about yourself: The people doing the talking in this country tell you that being for minorities is good but being for whites is bad, that you are bad, that they are the action and you should kowtow to them and keep quiet over in the corner."
Griffin -- who stated emphatically in an e-mail that he is not a racist and that he deplores violence -- makes no attempt to hide his views on bolstering white society. On the University of Vermont's Web site, Griffin's areas of expertise are listed as: "Traditionalist, or non-Progressive, approaches to teaching; the media, including computer technology; the personal wellbeing of educators and other helping professionals; the status of European heritage, or white Americans, including the way they are educated." According to the site, he earned his master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota in 1967 and 1973, respectively. He joined the University of Vermont faculty in 1974.
On his personal Web site, he writes, "I do not consider myself to be a racial writer, as it were. I write whatever is there to be written, and if it is about race, so be it, but I don't consider myself linked to that subject." However, he links to several extremist Web sites, including the National Alliance and White Revolution, whose home page says, "We must secure the existence of our people, and a future for White children." Another link goes to the Vanguard News Network, whose slogan is "No Jews. Just Right."
As director of research for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, Heidi Beirich says there is "no mystery" in her mind that Griffin is a neo-Nazi. "It's an amazing thing to see a tenured professor at a serious university writing a fawning biography of a neo-Nazi nut -- just shocking," she said. She urged the institution to investigate the professor's classroom activities and condemn his work.
But Griffin said via e-mail that Beirich's declaration that "Dr. Griffin is a neo-Nazi," as reported in the Times Argus, is "absolutely untrue." Griffin also vehemently denied Beirich's suggestion that he "certainly ran in the same circles as" James von Brunn, the man charged with a shooting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum last week. The professor noted that "even the most cursory review of my writings would show that I deplore violence."
As for Daniel Barlow, the journalist who initially reported on the professor, Griffin wrote in an e-mail, "I don't know Barlow at all, but I think he is a relatively recent graduate of Keene State University, and if he is like most university students he has been immersed in the teachings of professors like James Loewen. That is to say, he has been conditioned to assume that any expression of white racial identity, concern, commitment, solidarity, organization, advocacy, or activism must be racist, anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, violent, evil."
The University of Vermont is obligated to protect its faculty's views in the interest of preserving academic freedom, said Enrique Corredera, a spokesman. No formal complaints have been filed against Griffin to date, he said.
For any form of speech to violate the campus's rules of conduct, Corredera said it would have to "incite violence," "be inflammatory against individuals" or "have the potential to pose a threat to specific individuals or members of our community at large." He would not comment on Griffin's work specifically.
Other campuses have faced disputes over controversial statements made by faculty members. In 2006, Arthur Butz, a tenured associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern University, drew heat when his status as a prominent Holocaust denier resurfaced. The university president denounced Butz but affirmed his right to free expression.
David Shiman, a professor at the University of Vermont, differs from Beirich in his view of Griffin. Shiman, who is Jewish, said that in the 35 years he has known his colleague he has "never seen from him an anti-Semitic remark, never heard him make a racist remark."
Several years ago, Shiman assigned Griffin's 2001 article "Rearing Honorable White Children" in some of his multicultural education classes and brought in the author to field students' questions. Griffin's work may be provocative and unorthodox, he said, but such views are the stuff of learning and debate.
"It certainly brings a perspective to multicultural issues that is different from what dominates the field," Shiman said, adding that he does not agree with Griffin's views. "I think the students need to hear diverse perspectives, need to challenge themselves and be exposed to views that cause them to reflect on the views they think they hold -- and maybe get stronger holding them, but at least challenge themselves."
Of the more than 10,000 students who make up the University of Vermont, 92 percent are white. Rising junior Melena Saddler, president of the Black Student Union, said she would "probably feel awkward" in one of Griffin's classes after reading his essays. She added, "I kind of understand that it is a predominantly white school and a predominantly white state and a lot of things aren't going to be easy."
"Everyone has an opinion, but as a teacher you kind of are representing the student body. You should always be objective and open to different ideas," she said. "I do think it is a problem he is on campus, but in a way I'm pretty much not surprised -- most people don't let go of past feelings when it comes to slavery and stuff like that."
Read more by
You may also be interested in...
Today’s News from Inside Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed’s Quick Takes
What Others Are Reading