Middle East studies in the News
Unnecessary verbal force: Columbia professor's anti-Israeli remarks cross line
Indiana Daily Student
The university is often perceived as an environment of free thought, action and speech; in this sense, students are expected to reflect upon ideas and should not be assaulted by them.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Congressman Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.) is seeking the immediate termination of nontenured Columbia University assistant professor Joseph A. Massad, for preaching anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiments to students. Massad, who teaches Arab politics for the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department, is accused of verbally assaulting a Jewish student -- a former Israeli Defense Forces soldier -- with the question: "How many Palestinians have you killed?"
Congressman Weiner, said Massad hurdled the classroom ethical line between discussion and hate. He has requested the university to terminate Massad as a symbol of academic intolerance for hateful teaching practices.
With word of a so-called "Salem Witch Hunt"-like atmosphere abundant within many university Middle East studies programs across the county, Massad's current ordeal represents an ideal case study about the debate of how thick or thin the academic ethical line should be in the university classroom when analyzing Middle East policy.
The university should investigate the situation, empathize with both sides and make a university-sponsored decision about how best to proceed. If Massad is guilty of aiming hateful remarks at the students in his classroom, the university administration should punish him up to, and including, immediate termination.
If the professor's thoughts, actions and speeches are declared acceptable by the university and the academic community, America must ask herself why the university atmosphere has become insensitive to anything other than the status-quo? Since the threat of terrorism affects everybody around the world, the intellectual potential inherent in studying the social, political, religious and family practices of the billions of people living throughout the Middle East is important to national security. As a result, universities must support and protect the Middle Eastern studies professors teaching within their boundaries.
To do so, universities should train professors in sensitivity and adopt "no-tolerance" policies aimed at curbing the human tendency to hate unlike or perceptually different others.
On the other hand, Massad's situation brings to light student tolerance of receiving unfamiliar, unlikable or disagreeable information. University students, and all people everywhere, should take hateful information with a "grain of salt." As reasonable consumers of diverse information, everyone is responsible for how he or she responds to difficult life interpretations. Whether in the university classroom or on Capitol Hill, ethical standards are often difficult to define.
All professors should be beware; The university environment does not support the use of verbal force to change a student's mind. Great teachers teach change instead of preach change, and they do so without projecting their hate upon the students in their classroom.
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