RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Dozens of Arkansas Tech students staged a protest on campus over the endowment of a scholarship in the name of a former professor who allegedly taught Holocaust denial and harbored antisemitic beliefs.
In December, Arkansas Tech announced a $190,900 scholarship funded by the estate of professor Dr. Michael Link, who died in 2016.
Concerned faculty say they uncovered at least two signs over his 51 years of teaching history about Dr. Link’s possible beliefs.
“We have direct quotes from his books,” said Kalina Smith, a senior English major who helped organize the walkout. “From his thesis and from the books that he taught, they prove that he was antisemitic.”
Researchers with the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish advocacy groups sent a letter to ATU’s president Dr. Robin Bowen pointing to a class reading list from 2005, as well as a review of a criticism of the 20th century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr.
Dr. Link included books by deniers and allegedly relied on anti-Jewish tropes in his writing.
“Assessing the entirety of someone's life once it's complete is a difficult, if not impossible task,” said Sam Strasner, director of university relations on the school’s efforts to sort out the controversy.
“Through that process, Arkansas Tech University has yet to find any evidence that suggests that he taught antisemitism or that he taught holocaust denial in his classes.”
That position prompted voices from both sides to debate the evidence in the public square.
“We should not honor this individual given the evidence that we have,” said Adam Broyles, an adjunct professor of sociology. “I think the administration has really let down its community and the students here.”
“I’m not okay with anti-Holocaust talk,” said Savannah Harris, a freshman who debated organizers and questioned their evidence. “I am okay with the idea of students receiving money that they need to go to school.”
Throughout the day there was tension after a locally based white nationalist group urged followers to counter protest. It led one professor to avoid the event and led to a large presence from both campus and Russellville police.
After about an hour, one man did show up, wearing fascist earrings and a hateful t-shirt. He told reporters he was there to represent antisemitism and traded insults with dozens of people who surrounded him.
He calmly debated others for at least 45 minutes from the center of a large crowd, flanked by six officers.
“Our ultimate goal is that everybody is safe,” said chief Joshua McMillian of the ATU public safety force, who reported no arrests.
“You've got your first amendment right to freedom of speech. So we want to make sure we honor and protect that privilege and our right under the Constitution.”