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Professor Julio Pino’s outburst at a speech by former Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi Tuesday has sparked emotional reactions across campus.
Evan Gildenblatt, director of government affairs for undergraduate student government, spearheaded bringing Khaldi to Kent State. He recalled Pino’s words.
“A Kent State professor identified himself as a professor and proceeded to accost Mr. Khaldi with what I can only describe as an inappropriate line of questioning,” said Gildenblatt, a junior applied conflict management major. “[Khaldi’s] message of ‘we can coexist, and we can live side by side only if we can have peaceful dialogue’ was completely disregarded in an attempt to disrupt a university-sanctioned event.”
Jen Chestnut, director of Kent State’s Hillel Jewish student center, said Pino’s behavior could be a sign of worse problems.
“Time and time again, a Ph. D.-trained adult does not know how to communicate effectively in a respectful manner,” she said. “What worries me most, is that if this is what he’s willing to say in public, what is he willing to say in the classroom?”
Chaya Kessler, director of the Jewish Studies Program, said this was her first run-in with Pino, but she was aware of his past controversies.
“I turned around at some point and saw him standing by the door and thought ‘uh oh,’” she said. “I thought it was embarrassing as a professor here, and I thought it was embarrassing for the students to see an adult not being able to have a normal conversation.”
Kessler said she filed an incident report with Timothy Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Kenneth Bindas, chair of the history department.
“I know he doesn’t represent the history department, but I felt since Jewish Studies was supporting the event and my position as a professor, I felt I needed to.”
Emily Vincent, director of university media relations, issued the following statement about the incident on behalf of the university:
“The format of the event included a Q-and-A session that allowed for exchange and interaction. The university does not speak for Dr. Pino nor defend any views he might have, and he does not speak for Kent State, our departments or faculty. As a university, we are obligated by the First Amendment to the Constitution to recognize that political speech is strongly protected.”
A few students said they think the matter should be inspected further, questioning if Pino could be charged with using hate speech.
“I’m curious to know if what he said last night was considered hate speech,” Chestnut said. “When you say ‘death to something,’ that’s inciting violence. I think someone should investigate if that was actually hate speech and what happens when a professor, tenured or otherwise, uses hate speech on campus.”
Attempts by the Daily Kent Stater to reach Pino on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Gildenblatt said that regardless of whether Pino’s words are considered hate speech, it’s unbefitting for an academic professional to behave in such a way.
“It reflects badly on the university,” he said.
Despite the interruption, students and faculty said they enjoyed Khaldi’s lecture, but are disappointed Pino was able to dominate the headlines.
“I was afraid his 10 seconds were going to overshadow a really rich and interesting presentation with an important message,” Chestnut said. “[Khaldi] came from living in a tent and is now working in the Israeli Foreign Ministry; that’s an amazing story. But instead, here we are talking about 20 seconds of an irrational person inappropriately voicing their opinion, and that’s unfortunate.”
Altercation or not, Gildenblatt and Chestnut said instances like this will not prevent them or their respective groups from bringing potentially controversial speakers to campus.
“I would not hesitate to bring in another speaker,” Gildenblatt said. “Something like this would only empower me.”
Contact John Milligan at [email protected]