Middle East studies in the News
Columbia Taps Lawyer to Probe Anti-Semitism
by Douglas Feiden
Famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams will help Columbia University probe mounting charges that top professors have intimidated or bullied Jewish students in their classrooms.
Abrams will advise a six-member faculty committee investigating if the learning climate on campus has become hostile to the free expression of ideas.
"Professors have broad rights about how they teach classes, while students have the right not to be harassed or intimidated and to express their views without being insulted," Abrams said. "I will help in balancing the competing claims of academic freedom."
The Abrams assignment comes two weeks after a Daily News story documented how anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bias have entered the academic mainstream on W. 116th St. - and left pro-Israel students feeling silenced and marginalized.
"Floyd has enormous credibility in the legal community, the academic community and the Jewish community," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
But the faculty makeup of the panel drew fire. Students complained that professors on the panel would be probing the behavior of other professors whom they knew either academically or socially or both.
"It's the fox guarding the chicken coop," said Ariel Beery, a senior who is student president in the School of General Studies and appeared in the film "Columbia Unbecoming," which outlined abuses in the Mideast studies department.
Countered Columbia spokeswoman Katherine Moore: "Self-evaluation is central to academia. This is a common practice."
But critics of Columbia's handling of the crisis cited the presence on the committee of Lisa Anderson, the dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. She was involved in a campaign that raised $4million to endow the Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies and defended the university's initial refusal to make the names of the 20 contributors public.
Columbia eventually released the names under pressure - and one $200,000 donor was the United Arab Emirates, which denies the Holocaust on its state TV channels. Anderson couldn't be reached yesterday.
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