Middle East studies in the News
Students Say Columbia U. Panel Biased
by Jacob Gershman
A group of Columbia University students claiming anti-Israel faculty members intimidated them in the classroom said members of the committee investigating the complaints are too "close" to the accused scholars.
The students are demanding that Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, select a new committee to hear complaints against faculty members, who are accused of silencing and mistreating students who express sympathetic views toward Israel.
"The committee is composed of faculty members who are either personally or professionally close to the professors accused of abuse," stated a December 13 letter signed by 11 students and sent to Mr. Bollinger, Provost Alan Brinkley, and Columbia's board of trustees.
Many of the students who signed the letter spoke out against the scholars in a 25-minute documentary video that sparked the investigation and has caused concern among the Jewish community nationwide.
Acknowledging problems with Columbia's grievance procedures, Mr. Bollinger last week announced the five members of the committee that he said would listen to student complaints and decide whether they warrant disciplinary action against the scholars. A veteran First Amendment lawyer, Floyd Abrams, is advising the committee, which is not expected to complete its investigation until the beginning of next year.
One of the committee members the students are concerned about is the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, Lisa Anderson.
She served as a dissertation advisor to one of the accused scholars, an assistant professor of modern Arab politics, Joseph Massad. Mr. Massad acknowledges her contribution in his book "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan," which grew out of his dissertation.
"I would like to begin by thanking Lisa Anderson, my professor and advisor, for believing in this project and for supporting it despite her initial misgivings about its unorthodox methodology," he writes. "Her trust in me strengthened my resolve to proceed and finally to complete this project."
The students also criticize the university for selecting faculty members in fields that are related to Middle East studies, such as history.
All of the faculty members accused by students belong to the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures.
The letter says "students fear that speaking to the committee will have real repercussions on their academic and professional advancement, and no assurances of professionalism can convince them that this is a safe environment to come out to."
Two of the committee members, Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives Jean Howard and comparative literature professor Farah Jasmine Griffin, signed a petition last year calling on Columbia to divest its holdings from companies selling arms and military hardware to Israel. None of the members signed a petition calling on Columbia not to divest.
A Columbia spokeswoman, Susan Brown, said the university understands the students' concerns but said the Columbia administration has confidence that the committee would "act impartially."
"Each person on it was chosen based on his or her relevant administrative responsibilities, their academic stature, their professional respect within both inside and outside Columbia and the wide community, their sensitivity to issues of classroom diversity, and their longstanding knowledge of the university and its grievance procedures," she said.
The film that sparked the probe, "Columbia Unbecoming," was produced by the David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group in Boston, with the cooperation of several of the students.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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