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Professor comes under fire for alleged anti-Iranian e-mail

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has called for a Stanford professor to be disciplined for making what the organization calls “racially discriminatory and inflammatory” remarks about Iranians.

The council targeted computer science professor emeritus Jeffery D. Ullman in a recent letter to University President John Hennessy.

(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

The Jan. 4 letter refers to an incident when, according to the organization, a graduate student from Sharif University in Iran e-mailed Ullman asking about admission into the graduate computer science program at Stanford. In an e-mail, Ullman responded by directing the student to a page on his University-hosted website, which explained that the selection process for graduate school was in the hands of a committee of graduate students and faculty members, and that he could not and would not influence them.

Ullman went on to say that even if he were in a position to help, he would not do so until Iran recognizes Israel’s right to exist, adding that “if Iranians want the benefits of Stanford and other institutions in the U.S., they have to respect the values we hold in the U.S., including freedom of religion and respect for human rights.”

The NIAC letter claims these remarks unfairly discriminate against Iranian students and says that Ullman is “holding the aspirations of young Iranians hostage to the policies of their government.” The organization urged Hennessy to condemn the remarks, take disciplinary action against Ullman, and clarify Stanford’s position on the issue of Iranian-American students.

But Stanford affirms that Ullman is not involved in admission and is free to express controversial opinions.

“This faculty member was expressing his own personal views and not the views of the University,” said University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. “He has no involvement in admission, and Stanford doesn’t discriminate in their admission process.” She said there is no plan to discipline Ullman for his statements, adding that Stanford has many professors who hold controversial opinions.

Ullman expressed surprise at the University’s reaction to the event. Four days after receiving the letter, no person from the president’s office had contacted Ullman regarding the incident, he said.

“I’d really appreciate more support from the University on this,” he said. “Not that they’ve said anything negative, but I’m surprised they haven’t lined up and recognized this as an attempt to censor a faculty member.”

Ullman defended the wording of his e-mail, saying, “If someone contacts me personally with a request, I don’t mind giving them some of my opinion. When I say, ‘I will not help you,’ I don’t mean if you are admitted to Stanford I won’t advise you. It simply means I would not give them special attention in preference to someone else.”

Asked why he chose to elaborate on the student’s country of origin in his e-mail, Ullman said he was trying to teach this student a version of history he may not have heard.

“There’s a war going on in this world between Iran and Israel and other countries,” he said. “I don’t believe an Iranian student, however bright they may be, is going to get a true picture of the issue. I was just trying to show him the Israeli side of the story.”

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