Arkansas Tech refuses ADL request to rename scholarship honoring alleged Holocaust denier

At the December 2018 scholarship presentation: The Jones family, Sam, Mark and Beth, administrators of the Link estate; Arkansas Tech President Robin E. Bowen; Jeff Woods, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities; David Blanks, head of the Department of History and Political Science. Photo from Arkansas Tech

Despite complaints that Arkansas Tech University recently announced a scholarship named after a Holocaust denier, the university is stating that it does not plan to do anything about it, and is denying claims that the professor in question was a Holocaust denier.

On Dec. 10, the university announced the establishment of the Michael Arthur Link and May Reid Kewen History Scholarship, in memory of Link, who died in 2016 after teaching at Arkansas Tech for 51 years. In his will, he left $190,901 to the university to establish the scholarship in his name and in the name of his mother.

On April 18, the Anti-Defamation League released an open letter to the president of the university, Robin Bowen, citing evidence that Link had “anti-Semitic passages in his written work,” and “repeatedly espoused Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism to his students and in his writing.”

The letter followed several months of behind-the-scenes discussions. According to the letter, signed by ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt, “The administration of Arkansas Tech has had months to remedy its honoring of Dr. Link at the request of ADL and concerned faculty members, but it has done nothing.”

The letter was co-signed by more than 40 national and international scholars in the field of Jewish studies, including Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University, the world’s foremost expert on Holocaust denial.

In a statement, the university administration said they took the ADL’s concerns “seriously” and spoke to former students and faculty colleagues of Link. “Through our process, we did not find evidence supporting the ADL claims.”

The statement said that the only evidence the ADL submitted was Link’s graduate dissertation from Mississippi State University and a 1975 book “that examined the theories of another scholar.”

After looking at those works, “we responded to ADL South Central with a request for specific evidence supporting their claims from within those documents and did not receive a response.”

On March 28, the university told the ADL that their internal investigation had concluded and no further action would be taken.

Aaron Ahlquist, ADL South Central regional director, replied that “the University has had sufficient evidence in its possession to understand and corroborate our concerns regarding Professor Link.”

The ADL had “leaders of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas, and international and national scholars in the field of Holocaust Studies” look at the evidence. “All have found it credible and convincing, and all agree that Dr. Link presented hate-filled, non-factual, anti-Semitic misinformation to his students as though it offered a historically-valid point of view.” The conclusions were reiterated in a letter to Bowen earlier this month.

The recommendations to the university were to change the name of the scholarship, perhaps to just Link’s mother’s name, have the recipients agree to take a Judaic or Holocaust class at some point before graduating, and delete a comment from the web page of university’s press release about Link’s death.

The comment came from a former student, Billy Roper, who leads the neo-Nazi National Alliance White Revolution. Roper praised Link for giving him an A on a controversial paper “about the origins of Marxism” but “as an aside counseled me to be cautious because no other faculty member would have accepted it due its political perspective and conclusions.”

On April 18, that page had been taken down.

Sarah Stein, an assistant professor of English at Arkansas Tech, raised concerns to the dean last December after becoming aware of Link’s history through a colleague’s off-handed comment about a scholarship being named for a Holocaust denier.

She spoke to many former students and “found a pattern that he would question the numbers around the Holocaust, or deny the Holocaust happened” in class presentations.

The ADL letter cited a controversy over a graduate class Link taught in 2005, on Modern European Intellectual History, where there was an emphasis on the Holocaust. Link distributed a list of eight or nine Holocaust-related books for students to select as a way to explore different approaches to Holocaust history. Several books were non-scholarly conspiracy theory works that Link presented “as though they were legitimate historical works.”

One, “Debunking the Genocide Myth,” was published by Noontide Press, founded by Willis Carto, who founded the Holocaust-denial thinktank Institute for Historical Review. That book claims the Holocaust is a Zionist Jewish Communist invention, and that there were no death camps.

Another book on the list, “Made in Russia,” was published by the IHR’s press arm, and emphasized a Jewish conspiracy to cheat Germans out of reparations through fabricated atrocities.

Link also listed Norman Finkelstein’s “The Holocaust Industry,” which argues that the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Holocaust for political and financial gain.

Some students, horrified by the reading list, dropped the class, while others remained. After complaints, Link was suspended from teaching for a semester and barred from teaching graduate courses for 10 years.

Link’s book, “The Social Philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr: An Historical Introduction,” detailed Niebuhr’s changing philosophy in the face of Nazism. While he explores topics like fascism, Link completely ignores what was arguably the biggest factor in Niebuhr’s philosophical development — reaction to the Holocaust and the imperative to protect the Jewish people.

In the book, he also uses Jewish stereotypes to imply that the Germans were justified in dealing with a subversive group in their midst.

His 1966 doctorate dissertation at Mississippi State, “American Periodicals and the Palestine Triangle, April 1936 to February 1947” purports to trace the development of American news coverage of pre-state Israel.

He referred to a 1929 conflict at the “Wailing Wall” which he described as a “Jewish shrine” but also as “Muslim property and part of the wall of the chief Moslem sanctuary in Jerusalem and the third most holy spot to the Sunni sect.”

He also referred to large waves of immigration to Palestine by Jews of Germany, Poland and Rumania in the 1930s, who were looking to escape “restrictions” and “sporadic attacks upon individual Jews.”

He also stated that “it might be foolish to believe that the (Nazi) party’s ‘elite’ believed much of the anti-Semitic material they propagated, they acted as if they did.”

Stein emphasized that Link’s record of Holocaust denial “wasn’t one incident in 2005.”

After speaking to the dean, she spoke to University President Robin Bowen in January and February. She was told the university would not be taking any further action.

The university recently hosted a Holocaust program, but for a different reason. On April 16, there was a talk by Dorian Stuber and a group of his students, “Bearing Witness: Holocaust Literature as Education” at Arkansas Tech. Stuber is the Isabelle Peregrin Odyssey Associate Professor of English at Hendrix College.

That talk was scheduled as a response to the February arrest of 54 members of the New Aryan Empire in the Russellville area, where Arkansas Tech is located. The Empire is a white supremacist organization that started as a prison gang and has been accused of meth distribution and numerous violent acts, including attempted murder and kidnapping.

Early next year, the university will also host the exhibit “Gay Block — Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust.”

Stein said she approached the university to help them remedy this situation out of the public eye, so if it ever did become public that the university had a scholarship named for a Holocaust denier, the university could point to having done the right thing. Instead, she has been shunned on campus.

Marianne Tettlebaum, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas, said she is “as horrified by the evidence as I am saddened by how Dr. Stein has been treated for speaking up.”

Tettlebaum said as the last Holocaust survivors age and pass away, remembering the “human capacity for hatred and cruelty” becomes more important. “In light of this urgency, the persistence of Holocaust denial is as dangerous as it is tragic, especially at an institution like Arkansas Tech that educated so many of the people who now teach in the area schools.”

The ADL letter also spoke of Link’s legacy, saying Arkansas Tech “allowed him to expose thousands of students to these odious, dangerous mistruths under the guise of three deeply disturbing and absolutely intolerable tactics. First, Dr. Link presented misinformation as history. Second, he presented the anti-Semitic nature of this misinformation as though it were truthful, correct, and acceptable. Third, he presented the question of whether the Holocaust occurred — an irrefutable historical fact — as though it were an appropriate, valid point of debate.”

In dealing with this issue, “it has always been the goal of ADL to work with the University to find a positive resolution that shows that the University values an inclusive environment where it stands against hate and anti-Semitism,” Ahlquist said. “We are deeply disappointed that the University has refused to change its position after being shown they had honored a Holocaust denier.”

The ADL statement called on Arkansas Tech to immediately remedy the situation. “By simultaneously honoring and seeking to conceal the anti-Semitism of Dr. Link, the university has become complicit in his hate.”