Middle East studies in the News
Committee To Address MEALAC Controversy
by Liz Fink
President Lee Bollinger announced the formation of an ad hoc faculty committee yesterday to address allegations of anti-Israel harassment on campus and larger questions about academic freedom.
The announcement was made in an e-mail sent to the entire Columbia community. The committee's creation follows Provost Alan Brinkley's efforts to investigate the controversy that emerged after the film Columbia Unbecoming, produced by the Boston-based Zionist group The David Project. The film featured students charging that they were intimidated and harassed by professors because they held pro-Israel views.
The backlash against the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department has generated widespread attention, including editorials in the Daily News and the New York Sun and a proposal by City Councilman Michael Nelson to investigate the MEALAC department.
In his e-mail, Bollinger said that the committee would ensure that "we, as a university, teach and discuss the most controversial topics of our time without chilling the discourse in the classroom while preserving an atmosphere of civility, trust, and mutual respect."
The committee will hear complaints about the freedom of academic discourse at Columbia. The committee faces students and faculty who feel harassed for being pro-Israel and others who feel that Columbia Unbecoming attempts to stifle criticism of Israel.
The committee will be led by Floyd Abrams, a visiting professor at the School of Journalism, and will include Lisa Anderson, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs; Jean Howard, vice provost for diversity initiatives; Ira Katznelson, professor of political science and history; and Mark Mazower, professor of history.
"I think it's a first step," said Noah Liben, GS '05, who was featured in Columbia Unbecoming.
Eric Posner, GS '05 and a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, has been critical of The David Project. Posner said that he was pleased with the letter and the administration's efforts. Throughout his efforts to combat what he sees as a campus atmosphere hostile to criticism of Israel, Posner says that he has "been more than satisfied with [his] interactions with the administration."
Leeam Azulay-Yagev, GS '05 and a member of the Ad Hoc Committee for Academic Freedom, cautiously supported Bollinger's announcement. "I trust the intellectual sophistication of the committee member to distinguish between what is real intimidation and what is called that for political purposes," she said.
Liben said that he "would have been happier" with an "independent committee" whose members were not affiliated with Columbia.
But the University created the committee to address the controversy internally, according to Susan Brown, a spokeswoman in the Office of Public Affairs. Brown said that universities dealing with issues through faculty committees is "standard."
Ariel Beery, GS '05 and another student interviewed in the film, said that the University should have appointed people "such as non-faculty members of the Columbia administration or people not from the humanities departments." Beery said that the colleagues of accused professors would be predisposed to siding against the students who come forward.
"Another committee ... conscious of people who are not in any way familiar with the abusing professor in question ... should hear the students' complaints and investigate the charges," Beery said.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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