Middle East studies in the News
Barnard College and the Case on Racism [incl. Joseph Massad]
by Carly Silver
Last fall, a Barnard College professor was accused of discrimination when she allegedly steered an Orthodox Jewish student away from taking a class taught by controversial professor Joseph Massad. The U.S. Department of Education jumped right in to the mix, sending its Office for Civil Rights to check out the student's claims. Massad,who has been called anti-Semitic in the past, has been a topic of interest for years. He even went under investigation in past years by an ad hoc committee – he was later found not guilty – but remains one of Columbia's most notorious professors.
Rachel McDermott, a Barnard faculty member, allegedly counseled the student that she might be uncomfortable in Massad's course and advised her to take another class. McDermott and the student – who has remained unnamed – give conflicting reports on the issue: the student states that McDermott claimed Massad was anti-Israel, while McDermott alleged the student was the one to express concerns about taking his class.
Regardless of who said what, McDermott could have been both right and wrong in her actions. Barnard is an extremely closely-knit school in which the faculty looks out for students. Therefore, if a professor – probably thinking about the well-being of a student – advised against taking a class that might make her uncomfortable, she likely did so to ensure the student got the most enjoyment and value possible out of that class. Even if Professor McDermott was the one to first claim Massad was anti-Israel, she merely expressed Massad's own point of view.
For example, Massad's op-ed"The Legacy of Jean-Paul Sartre," declares: "no matter how much Zionism continues to resurrect it and claim it as the excuse for its racist violence against the Palestinians, the Holocaust does not justify Israel's racist nature." This clearly delineates a staunch opposition against Israel for its supposedly racist policies. And if this is the case, Professor McDermott merely pointed out what Massad himself has already shown. Her claim that Massad is anti-Israel is hardly news, but seemingly a fact. For McDermott to advise the student might be uncomfortable in his class may have been an act of consideration.
I would have a problem, though, is if McDermott gave more than her two cents. A professor is entitled to offer his or her opinion. If that's all McDermott did, then that's fine. If she told the student she would be better off not taking the class, that, in itself, is still an opinion. If, as Tablet alleges, McDermott kept insisting the student shouldn't take a class, that would cross a line.
At the end of the day, it is that student's decision whether or not she should open her mind to different opinions. Though Massad has demonstrated anti-Israel opinions, in today's day and age, shouldn't everyone have a voice?Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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