Middle East studies in the News
Anti-Defamation League Director: University Fails To Protect Jewish Students
by Jacob Gershman
Columbia University is failing to protect its Jewish students from harassment by anti-Israel professors, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, told The New York Sun.
Mr. Foxman said yesterday he has lost confidence in the administration's pledges to take seriously student allegations that faculty members bullied Jewish students and suppressed their opinions in the classroom.
After meeting with Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, more than two months ago, Mr. Foxman said he was satisfied with university's handling of complaints. Now, Mr. Foxman said he has changed his mind. "We haven't seen anything except talk. It's a process without an end," he said.
"I don't think Jewish students feel any more safe, comfortable, protected, defended" since the university became aware of the students' allegations against professors in the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department, he said.
Mr. Foxman said the longer Columbia waits to change the "atmosphere and environment" at the school - which he feels is hostile to Jewish students - "the more it legitimizes this type of behavior."
He criticized the university for tolerating a Middle East studies department whose faculty, he says, prevents students from expressing views that are sympathetic to Israel.
Mr. Bollinger and other top Columbia officials have been aware of the student complaints for months.
On October 27, a week after the Sun first reported that several Jewish students at the school had recorded complaints against faculty members in a 25-minute video, Mr. Bollinger said in a statement that he was "troubled" by the allegations and that he would have Columbia's provost, Alan Brinkley, investigate them.
The video was produced by a pro-Israel group based in Boston, the David Project, which works to counter anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.
In early December, Mr. Bollinger, following the recommendations of Mr. Brinkley, announced the creation of a committee composed of five faculty members that would listen to student complaints and determine if they warrant disciplinary action. Mr. Bollinger said the committee, which is advised by a First Amendment lawyer, Floyd Abrams, would complete its work in the first two months of the year. The spring semester begins on January 18.
A spokeswoman for Columbia, Susan Brown, said, "We respect and understand the desire to immediately resolve the difficult issues confronting the university. However, were we to act in haste and without a full airing of the grievances involved by a duly appointed committee, we would not do justice to the seriousness of the concerns being raised."
According to Mr. Brinkley, the university had been aware of the students' allegations before press reports about the video first appeared and had al ready been handling them internally.
University officials were apparently aware of the video in the spring of 2004. A Columbia undergraduate, Rebecca Israel, read aloud portions of the student interviews during the spring semester before members of a different faculty committee, one that Mr. Bollinger had appointed to examine the university's policies on academic freedom.
In May, Mr. Bollinger announced by e-mail that the academic freedom committee "told me that, in the course of their discussions of these issues on campus, they did not find any evidence of systematic bias in our classrooms."
Mr. Foxman also said he does not have confidence that the committee Mr. Bollinger established to hear complaints against the Middle East scholars would treat the students fairly, saying the president was essentially asking the faculty "to correct itself."
"You don't ask lawyers to police lawyers or doctors to police doctors," he said.
In deciding how to handle the student complaints, Mr. Bollinger faced intense pressure from faculty members who were concerned that an investigation would hinder their academic freedom and restrict their ability to address controversial issues in the classroom.
The members of the committee are the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, Lisa Anderson; a professor of English and comparative literature, Farah Jasmine Griffin; a professor of English and the vice provost for diversity initiatives, Jean Howard; a professor of political science and Eng lish, Ira Katznelson; and a professor of history, Mark Mazower.
Ms. Griffin and Ms. Howard have signed a petition that circulated around campus in 2002 and 2003 calling on Columbia to divest its holdings from companies that sell or manufacture arms or military hardware to Israel.
Ms. Anderson also served as dissertation adviser to Joseph Massad, an assistant professor in the Middle East studies department who has been accused of mistreating Jewish students in his classes.
About 10 Columbia students have publicly come forward with complaints against five faculty members in the department.
Among the accusations that have generated the most concern among Jewish alumni and Jewish leaders include:
* Deena Shanker, a student who was in Mr. Massad's spring 2002 "Palestinian and Israeli politics and cultures" course, said Mr. Massad screamed at her and ordered her to leave his classroom if she continued to defend Israeli military action.
* A recent graduate who majored in political science and Arabic, Aharon Horwitz, said when he asked a professor of Arabic how to use an Arabic word meaning "prevents," the professor offered the example, "Israel prevents ambulances from going into refugee camps."
The accused professors deny mistreating students and say their critics are trying to stifle any criticism of Israel.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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