Colleagues of Rick Halperin, SMU Human Rights Professor, Don't Buy Nazi Accusations
A former student of Rick Halperin says she isn't buying accusations outlined in a federal lawsuit that he slept with students or secretly loved Hitler. SMU student Moumita Rahman, who graduated in 2004 and now runs her own law practice in New York focusing on immigration and political asylum, had Halperin as her academic adviser and served as president of the university's chapter of Amnesty International for two years. "I never felt any sort of impropriety from him," she said.
"I think that had I ever gotten that sort of vibe or any inkling that there was anything improper in his demeanor, I would never have been in any close positions with him," she said.
Halperin -- the SMU professor and director of the university's Embrey Human Rights Program, who according to his university biography has twice served on the board of directors of Amnesty International USA and twice served as the board's chair -- is accused of sleeping with students, running around his neighborhood naked and fetishizing Nazis.
Former SMU theology professor Patricia Davis last week sued SMU, claiming she was fired for bringing attention to Halperin's antics. The lawsuit claims that Halperin is "obsessed with Nazis," and this is evidenced by his possession of Nazi posters and interest in footage from concentration camps.
SMU doesn't comment on pending litigation, and Halperin hasn't responded to request for comment, but professors and students who have worked with Halperin say they can't believe there's any merit to the claims. A colleague in the human rights program at SMU who shares many students with Halperin says the lawsuit contains many allegations that are "non-starters," and that a professor teaching courses on the Holocaust would of course be interested in material relating to it.
"You cannot teach the Holocaust without a little bit of propaganda," she says.
Halperin has been leading groups of SMU students and interested parties on tours of former concentration camps in Poland since 1996. Idean Salehyan, professor of political science at the University of North Texas, has known Halperin for seven years and considers the charges ridiculous.
"He's devoted his life to educating people about the Holocaust and human rights issues," Salehyan says, "and the extent that he has paraphernalia in his office or watches documentaries is for work."
Salehyan accompanied Halperin on last year's trip, where he learned that Halperin plans, on dying, to leave what money he has left to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.