Students, faculty oppose Butz with petitions

Elizabeth Campbell

Northwestern faculty and students continue to publicly voice their opposition to Holocaust revisionist and McCormick Prof. Arthur Butz.

“Butz’s Holocaust denial is an affront to our humanity and our standards as scholars, and hence mandates our censure,” reads a letter signed by 60 members of the newly merged Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The old computer science department’s Web site lists 25 faculty members and the former electrical and computer engineering department’s Web site lists 66 faculty members. Uri Wilensky, one of the letter’s authors, said he had received only one refusal to sign the letter and several faculty members had yet to respond.

The letter condemned Butz’s stance and called his actions an “extreme embarrassment.”

“We felt a certain special duty, being members of the department that he’s in, to assert that we in no way supported this man,” Wilensky said, “that we felt, in fact, quite embarrassed that he’s tarnishing the reputation of our department.”

The letter was published in the Forum page of The Daily on Wednesday. A copy also was sent to the NU administrators and the Chicago Tribune, said Wilensky, an associate professor of computer science and learning sciences.

“We urge him to leave our Department and our University and stop trading on our reputation for academic excellence,” the letter reads.

In December, Butz told Iranian media he supported the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after the world leader called the Holocaust a myth. The Chicago Tribune reported Butz’s comments in February.

Butz’s remarks provoked student anger and calls for university action against the professor. University President Henry Bienen issued a statement that called his position “a contemptible insult to all decent and feeling people” but acknowledged the tenured professor’s right to express his personal views outside of the classroom. The Fiedler Hillel Center held a forum condemning Butz’s ideas.

Community opposition to Butz is not new. Every few years, something triggers attention to his Holocaust revisionist ideas, said Abe Haddad, professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Many faculty members are hesitant to voice their opposition because they don’t want to honor Butz’s “ridiculous views” with attention, said Benjamin Sommer, associate professor of religion and director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies.

But the “tenor” of the situation has changed, Sommer said. Butz is endorsing the views of the president of Iran, an avowed anti-Semitic world leader who has called for the destruction of the state of Israel.

“There’s a need this time to say something to the students and the larger community,” Sommer said, “to make clear what the faculty tend to regard as self-evident, that of course, we think this person’s an outrageous fool.”

Action taken by the rest of the NU community against Butz influenced the decision of the engineering department to come forward, Wilensky said.

The Department of Religion collectively drafted a letter that opposed Butz’s professorship at NU and denounced his abuse of the tenure system.

The entire 14-member department signed the letter.

A key motivation for drafting the letter was to show faculty support for Bienen’s stance on Butz, said Religion and Bioethics Prof. Laurie Zoloth.

Zoloth has been informally circulating the letter among other university faculty members. Between 40 and 50 professors have signed on their support, including Weinberg Dean Daniel Linzer and Feinberg Dean Lewis Landsberg, Zoloth said.

“Because of our commitment to free speech and tenure, there’s very little that can be done in a formal way,” Zoloth said. “There’s much that can be done in terms of taking moral and ethical stands against this lie.”

In reaction to Butz’s recent statements, a group of students have started the Never Again Campaign, an evolving organization determined to raise awareness about the Holocaust and genocide in general, said Zach Galin, president of Hillel’s Student Executive Board.

“If Mr. Butz is still going to be here, we need to prove him wrong through long-lasting education and awareness,” the SESP junior said . “We don’t want this to go away and come back again in five years when we’re not here.”

The group’s Web site,, has an online petition against Butz. Between 85 and 95 NU-affiliated people and about 30 global supporters have signed the petition, Galin said.

The group has passed out fliers at the Rock and posted fliers around campus.

Reach Elizabeth Campbell at [email protected]