Middle East studies in the News
Columbia Probe Eyed By Council
by Jacob Gershman
The City Council plans to call for an outside investigation into allegations that professors intimidate Jewish students at Columbia University if the school's internal investigation fails to produce evidence of misconduct.
Michael Nelson, a Democrat of Brooklyn who is chairman of the council's Jewish Caucus, told The New York Sun, "Columbia has reached the point that there really has to be some serious housecleaning."
If Columbia's investigation into the student complaints "comes up dry," he said, "I would say we would really have to have an independent group doing its own investigation."
Mr. Nelson said he and other council members decided Wednesday they wanted to "put a spotlight" on Columbia after viewing the short documentary film "Columbia Unbecoming," which features interviews with students alleging that professors intimidated them because they expressed sympathetic views toward Israel.
He said council members would meet next week to decide whether to put forward a resolution denouncing the alleged actions of the faculty members or send a letter to Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger.
The David Project, the Boston-based Israel advocacy group that produced the film, screened it for about a dozen council members at City Hall.
Earlier in the week, three council members, including Mr. Nelson, met with Jewish students at Columbia's Hillel to find out about anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
Mr. Nelson said possible groups that could lead an outside investigation of Columbia include the New York City Commission on Human Rights, led by Patricia Gatling, and the Anti-Defamation League. After a meeting with Mr. Bollinger about two weeks ago, the national director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, said he was satisfied with Columbia's handling of the student complaints.
Following a series of news reports about the film, Mr. Bollinger said in a statement late last month that he found the student interviews "troubling," and that he would ask 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."
After delivering a lecture at the University Club on Fifth Avenue on Tuesday, Mr. Bollinger was asked about the student accusations against Columbia faculty members, according to an audience member who did not wish to disclose his identity.
The audience member reported that Mr. Bollinger, a First Amendment scholar, said he was committed to academic freedom but wouldn't condone "stupid" behavior by faculty members.
Mr. Bollinger also indicated that Columbia was not going to return $200,000 it received from the United Arab Emirates last year to support a professorship in Arab studies, the source said.
The United Arab Emirates was one of about 20 donors that gave a total of $2 million to finance a professorship named after Edward Said.
Mr. Bollinger did not respond for comment yesterday.
Columbia officials have given little indication that the university plans to discipline any of the accused faculty members, including assistant professor Joseph Massad, a scholar of modern Arab politics, who is the chief target of student complaints in the film.
In one interview, an Israeli student said Mr. Massad refused to answer his question at a lecture on campus in 2001 until the student told the scholar how many Palestinians he killed as a soldier in the Israel Defense Force. Mr. Massad does not deny the incident took place.
In another, Mr. Massad is accused of having chastised a student in his class when she defended Israel's military strike against terrorists in Jenin in the West Bank in 2002.
Columbia is likely to change the way it handles student complaints against faculty members accused of intimidation, making it easier for students to come forward.
The allegations against Columbia professors have reverberated far beyond the Morningside Heights campus, reinforcing a belief held by Jewish leaders that campuses across America have become increasingly hostile to Israel.
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and now Israeli minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, told the Sun he recently saw the film.
"To the undergraduates of Columbia, the message is that you have nothing to be ashamed of," he said in an interview. "To the contrary, you are representing the people and the state who are the champions of human rights."
Mr. Sharansky, who has led Israel's effort to combat anti-Israel sentiment on American college campuses, said Jewish students "prefer to distance themselves from ... Israel" to protect their grades and career.
Meanwhile, the New York City Police Department is trying to determine who etched a series of swastikas on the stalls of a third-floor men's bathroom at Columbia's Butler Library.
Samuel Schatz, a third-year Columbia student, said he found six or seven swastikas - some four feet wide - scraped onto the stalls when he entered the bathroom on October 24. He suspects a key was used to mark the black-painted stalls.
Mr. Schatz said that when he filed a police report he was told by a Columbia security official that someone had reported the swastikas the day before. He said the security official told him that the bathroom wasn't closed because "they didn't want people to complain about the inconvenience."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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