The leader of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (AAJLJ) recently sent a letter to Theresa Beiner, dean of the Bowen School of Law at UALR, addressing what his organization interprets as unfair treatment of Jewish professor Robert Steinbuch.
Beiner has dismissed the criticism, saying Steinbuch hasn't been treated differently than any faculty member over his faith.
Robert Garson, president of the organization, said Beiner had been brought to AAJLJ's attention by a member of the Bar saying she'd singled out Steinbuch in a discriminatory fashion because of his out-of-class observance of Jewish holy days, despite his having previously been able to do so for nearly 20 years.
"This is not only surprising in this day and age, but for it to occur in the context of a law school, where students are cultivated to safeguard rights, is deeply disturbing," Garson wrote.
"Moreover," he wrote, "Professor Steinbuch has been singled out for retaliatory conduct, having been removed from teaching one of the courses that he has taught for years, Law and Economics, and instead has been assigned to teach Criminal Law, an area with which he has no prior background. Seemingly, the accounts recently reported ... [are] just the tip of the iceberg.
"When Professor Steinbuch, together with another Jewish colleague [professor Josh Silverstein], offered to teach a Constitutional Law course, which takes place day and night, this was rebuffed. Instead, a more junior lecturer with little or no experience is being assigned to this task," Garson wrote.
"Unfortunately, we at the AAJLJ, and particularly myself, are acutely attuned to such acts of micro-aggression which are grounded in what is obvious to all but usually not to the aggressor: Antisemitism. For a Gentile to tell a Jew that he cannot have guest lectures [so he might practice] Jewish holidays, as he has done so for nearly 20 years without complaint, while others routinely do for other various reasons, is offensive. It is certainly not a student-driven problem." Garson also noted that it was "surprising that, in a state like Arkansas which has had relationships with its Jewish community from 1839, this letter has to be written."
"Action is required," Garson wrote. "It is imperative that the [law school] broaden its diversity training and provide heightened and urgent courses to recognize and combat antisemitism. For if the senior faculty is not safe, a fortiori will a student be discriminated against. This country was established on the very basis that an American is free to exercise religion freely, in private or in public, and the AAJLJ will not stand idly by. ...
"We would be more than happy to assist ... in ensuring that such a sorry sequence of events becomes a turning point. Accordingly, the AAJLJ would gladly provide lawyers, including myself, well-versed on Jewish culture and history and well-qualified in anti-discrimination training so that all students and faculty can be as informed on anti-Semitism as they are of other forms of discrimination."
Garson's letter was also addressed to UALR Chancellor Christy Drale and Lisa Ballard of the Arkansas Bar Committee on Professional Conduct.
Steinbuch's current problems appear to have started after he challenged the renaming of an endowed professorship after Bill Clinton without faculty or university input. Steinbuch said Garson's letter has been covered nationally. "But Beiner's response has been to hold firm, just as she did with her secret renaming of the endowed position for Clinton."
Steinbuch said he intends to pursue the matter until it's fully adjudicated. "I remain baffled how Bowen Law School can claim fidelity to diversity and inclusion in the face of this behavior. Just today, the school tweeted about cultural proficiency. And religion is amongst the very top cultural issues. Yet I'm treated this way.
"The school allows guest lecturers in other contexts but not for my religious observance? And the dean admits she intends to hire a less experienced new faculty member to teach Constitutional Law, rather than allowing either of two available qualified Jewish faculty professors? That doesn't make sense."
Beiner responded: "We disagree with the accuracy of the information that is being reported in the media regarding the university's position on requests for religious accommodations. While we cannot speak to any individual personnel matter, the university is committed to complying with all state and federal laws on this subject.
"The attached policy, last revised in December 2020, sets out the process that is available for all employees. We are unaware of any instance where we have been unable to find a way to accommodate an employee who requests to be away from work for religious holiday observance. In addition, UA Little Rock and the law school comply with all applicable non-discrimination laws, including Title VII, in decision-making with respect to faculty and staff."
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]