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The Daily Northwestern

29 OCT 96

Prof says Holocaust views cost him his job
By Crissa Shoemaker

MATTER OF OPINION: Engineering Prof. Sheldon Epstein says he discussed the Holocaust with his students to counter the revisonist opinions of his colleague, Arthur Butz.

Adjunct Instructor Sheldon Epstein, who taught about the Holocaust in his electrical engineering course, will no longer be teaching at Northwestern [after the] Winter Quarter.

Epstein said he believes his contract was not renewed because he disregarded the advice of Jerome B. Cohen, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering, and incorporated the Holocaust in his "Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship" classes. He said his decision was in response to the work of his colleague, electrical engineering Prof. Arthur Butz who authored "The Hoax of the 20th Century" a revisionist history of the Holocaust.

"I stood up and said the king is riding with no clothes," Epstein said.

When Epstein learned that Butz was also publishing his Holocaust revisonism on the university Web server, he said he complained to the administration, but they defended Butz's right to freedom of speech.

"My position is that it should not appear under the (name) of Northwestern University," Epstein said. "But (that argument) had nothing to do with what goes on in a private institution."

Epstein said Cohen advised him not to discuss his views on the Holocaust and his disassociation from the views of Butz. But Epstein discussed his views anyway in class the next day.

"Am I supposed to stand in front of bright young students and not tell them about their history?" he said. "Is that what the university wants?"

Cohen is away from NU and could not be reached for comment.

Abraham Haddad, McCormick chairman, declined to comment on why Epstein was fired and the instructor's approach to incorporating the Holocaust into his teaching.

"Every year (we hire) lots of adjunct instructors who have a one year contract," Haddad said. "We always choose our adjunct faculty with care."

Butz said he never brought up the holocaust in his own course and never really spoke to Epstein on the subject. He also said that he was not aware that Epstein's contract was not been renewed.

Epstein's contract expires in December. A new professor will most likely take over the course, Haddad said.

Epstein said he discussed the Holocaust within the guidelines set forth for the class, which allowed for a discussion of diffferent ramifications of technology. He said too many of his students didn't understand the impact of engineering on politics and economics.

"We engineers have a responsibility to think about what we do, because it is we engineers who provide politicians with the killing machines," Epstein said.

Epstein developed a program in his class called "Candor: The Language of Engineering" to educate his student on the effects of technology, focusing on the Holocaust.

Epstein was informed by Jerome B. Cohen, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, that his contract will not be renewed for the next quarter.

Epstein has taught at NU for two years. He designed the senior-level course to prepare engineering students for the outside world., he said.

Epstein said when he first started teaching at NU he was shocked at what little knowledge his students had about the basic elements of engineering.

"I found myself in a classroom with really good students who had a low level of training to be in the professsional world," he said.

Epstein, who is Jewish, said he stands by his decision to discuss the Holocaust with his students and insists that he will not stop teaching.

"I am proud of who I am," he said. "I'm not ashamed of my heritage."

Copyright (c) 1996 The Daily Northwestern

The Daily Northwestern
November 12, 1996


Professor requests feedback on teaching ethics

An article in the Oct. 25-31 issue of the Chicago Jewish News caught me by surprise. It concerned an adjunct professor of engineering at NU whose contract was not renewed, reportedly because he had used the Holocaust as an example for engineering students to ponder with regard to the ethical ramifications of engineering technology.

According to the newspaper article, Dean Jerome Cohen had "thought it would be inappropriate to teach the Holocaust in an engineering class." I make no judgements regarding these circumstances -- I have no first-hand knowledge of them, and am aware that many factors go into a contract renewal. Dean Cohen has made it clear to faculty that "ethics" must become a full part of the education of our engineering students. Although I have not formed an opinion regarding the newspaper article, it has spurred me to write this letter -- I have long been interested in the topic of exactly where, in a university, is the "proper place" for discussion of ethical issues. (Personally I believe that questions of ethics should permeate everything we do.)

I teach classes in environmental engineering, a course of study whose boundaries between "objective" science and social issues are blurry. In fact, I believe that all human endeavor has blurred boundaries, and one can no more separate ethical issues from science and engineering, than from law or medicine. But I also believe that discussion of ethical issues in classes must be done carefully by the professor, lest advocacy masquerade as objective discussion. It may be difficult for some students to distinguish for themselves between a professor's opinion or bias, and fact.

I also believe that our students crave more than objective learning from their professors. Many young people are searching for guidance and role models in a world where some adults in positions of authority and responsibility are found to engage in unethical practices. During classroom lectures, I have sometimes been asked by students for my opinion on an environmental issue. I have not been afraid to give it, because I believe that these students are bright, skeptical and can become independent thinkers. They are not easily "brainwashed" _if_ professors opinions are clearly delineated from the lecture topic.

But my classes sample only a small fraction of our student body. I am curious about our students as a whole -- do they want professors' opinions? Do they want an occasional connection made to societal or ethical issues from the subject matter under discussion? Or would they rather hear about ethical issues only in an ethics class? After all, the quarter system leaves precious little time for straying from the strict topic at hand.

Students from all majors, I want your answers to these questions. Please respond to me by e-mail (, or by dropping me a note at the Department of Civil Engineering. Your opinions would be much appreciated. Responses from other member of the university community would also be welcomed. If there is sufficient interest, I will make known a summary of the responses.

Barbara-Ann G. Lewis
Associate Profrofessor
Department of Civil Engineering

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