Victor Skormin has long been a polarizing figure at Binghamton University, but his recent social media post has reignited concerns about his offensive behavior. On Sept. 30, Skormin posted a photo of a man toting a gun, wearing a shirt that read “REDNECK JEW” and a hat with the Confederate flag on his public Facebook page, inciting backlash from the University’s students and faculty alike.
A distinguished service professor of electrical and computer engineering, Skormin has earned a reputation as a tough but respectable educator in his field. In the same breath, however, students have noted that Skormin is an “ultra-conservative” who often brings his politics into the classroom. His conservative beliefs are not the reason for the backlash he’s continually faced — rather, it’s Skormin’s consistent pattern of racist behavior that illustrates his unwillingness to listen to his students and colleagues.
In March 2018, Skormin replied to an email sent to the electrical and computer engineering graduate Listserv about a dinner fundraiser hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers, stating “Please let me know about a dinner of the National Society of White Engineers. Thank you.” Amid backlash from students and faculty, he later issued an apology for his response.
This time around, Skormin has yet to issue an apology. Instead, when asked why he posted the photo, Skormin noted that he is not the person depicted in the image. He also wrote in an email to Pipe Dream that the post was meant to be a joke, as “Jews are not known of being rednecks, and the antisemitism is very common among rednecks,” and that he puts on his Facebook page “everything that I believe is humorous and useful to my students and friends.”
He later wrote that, “The Confederate flag is a part of American history that we outlived. Do not forget that all Fathers of America had black slaves. Should most Americans believe that Confederate flag is an important part of our history, we would see it on every corner.”
Skormin’s response to questions about his post is problematic for a number of reasons. The fact the person in the image is not him does not excuse the fact that he chose to post it and views it as something humorous. We have not outlived the history of the Confederate flag, as evidenced by its frequent and continued usage by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The comment about the Founding Fathers only worsens Skormin’s argument, adding no clarification to his reasoning beyond normalizing the practice of slavery. While the Confederate flag is, in fact, a part of history, it represents the worst of what America has stood for. Additionally, the presence of a firearm in the image is deeply troubling, and could be interpreted as threatening. For all these reasons, no amount of time can render Skormin’s post acceptable.
Skormin’s understanding of race is especially troubling because of his position as a figure of authority in an educational space. For students of color, especially those who must take his classes as part of their engineering degree, it might be difficult to trust a professor who refuses to recognize that the Confederate flag is undeniably a symbol of hatred — particularly given that Skormin is not quiet about his political views in class.
Although the University has not commented on what kind of discipline Skormin may face for his post, Donald Nieman, provost and vice president for academic affairs, condemned Skormin’s post and declared in an email statement to Pipe Dream that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred, racism and bigotry that stands against the BU’s values of inclusiveness. Douglas Summerville, chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering, wrote in an email to the department’s Listserv on Wednesday that Skormin’s post stands “in stark contrast” to an inclusive educational environment, and Nasiah Brown, president of the National Society of Black Engineers, wrote in an email that Skormin should be fired and noting his “‘jokes’ or comments he makes are sensitive topics.” A number of students, both past and present, have discussed his tendency to share problematic comments in class on RateMyProfessor, and one source said they filed a formal complaint against him because of inappropriate conduct, confirming that Skormin has been a troublesome professor for decades. The overwhelming majority of students have decried his decision to post the Confederate flag, and the Editorial Board feels no differently.
In the course of questioning Skormin via email, he threatened to “contact my lawyer” if a news article was published about his Facebook post. Such threats will not stop Pipe Dream from reporting on issues important to the study body. Students deserve to know the truth about the faculty that presides over them, and Skormin’s threat reveals that he may be aware of how poor his judgement has been.
Knowing the consistency of Skormin’s history, it’s easy to question why he hasn’t faced harsher punishments from the University. We understand, however, that the University has limited power in issuing punitive measures to its professors, and for this specific instance, BU cannot speak freely on its handling of Skormin’s reprehensible actions because of legal constraints. That said, the Editorial Board asks that the University exercise its greatest possible disciplinary action against Skormin — ideally, a permanent solution to Skormin’s inexcusable behavior.
For Skormin himself, our advice is simply to listen. It’s far more valuable to consider the needs and concerns of your students than to constantly rail against them.