EUGENE, Ore. - Barry Sommer lives with his cats in a quiet Glenwood trailer park, a picture of domestic tranquility in stark contrast to the academic firestorm raging over a class he planned to teach winter term.
"I was going to discuss basically all aspects of the history of Islam, from the good, from the bad," Sommer said.
Lane Community College has canceled a class called "What is Islam?" that was going to be offered as a non-credit class next month and be taught by Sommer.
"Barry, I am writing to inform you that your class, What is Islam?", scheduled for winter term has been canceled," Sommer read from the e-mail notice he received on Friday.
Why? Sommer said he wasn't given a reason, but he speculated.
"I believe it was because of pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations," he said.
In fact, in a letter to LCC President Mary Spilde, CAIR's Washington state executive director Arsalan Buhkari wrote "unless the goal of this course is to promote anti-Muslim bigotry, Lane Community College should replace Mr. Sommer with someone who will offer students a balanced and objective analysis of the subject matter.
Buhkari told KVAL News on Monday that Sommer is not qualified to teach the course and has connections to a group called "Act for America." CAIR calls "Act for America" an anti-Muslim hate group.
"This person has no known, you know, education in Islam or about Muslims," said Arsalan Buhkari, who is based in Seattle for CAIR, "and he has a very clearly demonstrated biased view of Muslims."
KVAL News asked Sommer if he is anti-Islamic, as the CAIR group alleges?
"That's kind of a loaded question," he said. "Let me say this: I have absolutely nothing against Muslims, but I have a problem on how Islam is defined today by its leaders."
LCC administrators declined requests from KVAL News to go on camera, but issued a statement saying "due to the subject matter and in the context of recent events in Oregon, administrators conducted a review and determined it was in the best interest of students and the community to step back." | Read the entire statement from LCC
Personal entries on Sommer's blog have also raised eyebrows.
"Our enemies want us destroyed, not because of our riches or our liberties, although they say that is so," he wrote. "They want us gone because Allah told them so."
Sommers said he understands how those words could be controversial.
"However," Sommer said, "sometimes the truth is extremely disturbing."
Sommer said he is talking to the American Center for Law and Justice about possible legal action.
Sommer wants LCC to reinstate the class. "They talk about tolerance and diversity and other opinions in their mission statement. So I would just ask them to reinstate the class, and come and join it."
Bukhari agrees LCC should reinstate the class - under the instruction of a different teacher.
"So that was what our request was," Bukhari said. "It was not to cancel the class but rather to have someone who is more perhaps qualified to teach the course."
Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
Lane Community College administrators and faculty are considering the most effective way to provide learning experiences on religious topics to students and the community at a time when sensitivity is high because of recent, close-to-home events in Portland and Corvallis.
A new noncredit class titled "What is Islam" previously scheduled for winter term reached the attention of administration after a phone call from a local television station on Thursday. The station had been contacted directly by the person who proposed the course.
Due to the subject matter and in the context of recent events in Oregon, administrators conducted an immediate review and determined that it was in the best interest of students and the community to step back, pause for careful consideration, and engage our faculty in how to best provide a rich learning experience.
Lane values its role in higher education in addressing questions of religious studies and is reflecting on how best to do that.
It was the desire to have a more intentional conversation about how to move forward that led to the decision to not proceed with the new noncredit class.
The college takes very seriously its responsibility to make instructional decisions based on student and community needs and not in response to pressure from outside groups.
Administrators and faculty will continue to discuss the most effective way to engage its students and the community.
The college thanks all members of the community who have shared their concerns and thoughts.