Middle East studies in the News
Committee Investigating Bias May Have Known About Intolerance
by Jacob Gershman
When a university committee reported in May that it found no evidence of "systematic bias" in Columbia's classrooms, members of the panel were apparently aware of many of the complaints against anti-Israel professors that were made public last month.
Last week, Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, asked a university official to investigate some of the claims made by students in the 25-minute film, "Columbia Unbecoming," after a series of news reports on the film sparked a public outcry. In the film, students said some faculty members in the Middle East studies department intimidated them and squelched the expression of pro-Israel views in their classrooms.
In May, Mr. Bollinger announced by e-mail that the committee, which he appointed to look into Columbia's policies on academic freedom, "told me that, in the course of their discussions of these issues on campus, they did not find any evidence of systematic bias in our classrooms." He told the Daily News that month that the committee, which has since been dissolved, "said to me they have not found claims of bias or intimidation."
According to students featured in the film and to the David Project, the Boston-based group that produced it, however, a Columbia student, Rebecca Israel, read aloud, at a meeting with members of the committee, portions of the student interviews in the documentary.
"We know that she read it," said Rachel Fish, 25, director of the David Project's New York office.
In February, the committee was invited to view a version of the film, which was shot last December, but did not respond to the offer, according to a Barnard student involved with the film, Daniella Kahane.
Members of the committee included two Columbia law professors, Vincent Blasi and Michael Dorf; the dean of the business school, R. Glenn Hubbard; an engineering professor who is chairman of the faculty senate, Paul Duby; an English professor, Kathy Eden, and the university chaplain, Jewelnel Davis.
Mr. Blasi, chairman of the committee, declined to comment.
Mr. Dorf, in a telephone interview with The New York Sun, said he wasn't aware of the film at the time the committee issued its report to Mr. Bollinger, but he said he did not attend all of its meetings.
He said, however, that the committee was indeed aware of students' reports of bias in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, the primary focus of the documentary.
In the film, a student, Noah Liben, recalls a class he took in which the professor, Joseph Massad, scolded another student who defended Israel's actions.
"Before she could get her point across, he quickly demanded and shouted at her, 'I will not have anyone sit through this class and deny Israeli atrocities,'" Mr. Liben, 22, said in the film.
In another interview in the film, an Israeli student accuses Mr. Massad of refusing to answer his question at an on-campus lecture until he told the teacher how many Palestinians he killed as a soldier in the Israel Defense Force.
Mr. Massad, an assistant professor of modern Arab politics, is up for tenure next year. One of Columbia's harshest critics of Israel, he has written that he does not believe Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.
Mr. Dorf said that as a member of the committee, he made a distinction between professors' having biased opinions and their preventing students from expressing contrary views.
He said members heard no reports of professors' intimidating or silencing students who expressed political views different from their own.
The Sun reported last week that a prominent Columbia scholar of Hebrew literature, Dan Miron, said that for years students have complained to him about anti-Israel bias in the classroom.
Mr. Miron, a tenured professor in the Middle East and Asian studies department, said students go to his office at least once a week to complain of being "humiliated" in the classroom.
"They were not allowed to ask questions," he said. "It's high time for this to be investigated."
Since news of the film was first re ported by the Sun, a New York City congressman, Anthony Weiner, has called on Columbia to "fire" Mr. Massad.
Last week, Mr. Bollinger issued a statement saying he found the student accounts featured in the film "disturbing" and has tapped the school's provost, Alan Brinkley, to "look into them and to ensure that the University is upholding its commitment to foster a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect within the community."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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