Middle East studies in the News
The First Amendment Talks, In which it is disclosed how things might go when Columbia's faculty committee sits
New York Sun
The First Amendment is dragged in by the scruff of its neck by Floyd Abrams and shoved into a chair. "Sit up straight," Mr. Abrams barks. "I'm the most loyal lawyer you've ever had, and you're going to testify before this committee whether you like it or not."
"Aaaah, go suck an egg."
"Don't you get wise with me," Mr. Abrams says. "I've been named by Columbia University to advise its faculty committee looking into charges that anti-Israel professors have been harassing students, and I'm going to cite you whether you want to be cited or not. So the smart thing would be to cooperate."
"Flaaaake ooofff," the First Amendment retorts. But the great lawyer hauls back and, using a rolled-up copy of the New York Times, delivers the First Amendment a sharp slap across the side of its head. With a howl of pain the First Amendment reaches up to protect the left side of its face only to get clobbered with the rolled-up newspaper as the lawyer's backswing catches it on the right side.
"Now sit up straight and fix your tie," Mr. Abrams growls, handing the Amendment a glass of water. "And remember, you're under oath."
"That's a violation right there," the First Amendment says.
"Awright, awright," the lawyer says. "Then just tell this committee - isn't it true that you guarantee these professors the right to teach and say whatever they want?"
"No," the First Amendment says. "If they don't like it at Columbia, they can go teach somewhere else. "The First Amendment stands up as if to leave. The lawyer shoves the First Amendment back into its chair.
"Sit down, " Mr. Abrams says. "I'll tell you when you can leave. Isn't it true that you guarantee these students their own First Amendment rights to question these professors or criticize them in class?"
"What're you, crazy?" the First Amendment asks. "If they don't like the teachers at Columbia, they should ask for a refund and go somewhere else. It's a free country."
"Well, is it now?" the lawyer says, standing back in mock surprise. "Who says so?"
"I say so," the First Amendment replies. "What Columbia does is none of my business."
"What is your business?" the lawyer demands.
"Congress," the First Amendment retorts. "My business is Congress. Congress shall make no law..."
"And what about the Fourteenth?"
"What about it? The Fourteenth says that my prohibitions against the United States Congress from making a law abridging freedom of speech and like that, these prohibitions also apply to the state legislatures."
"And these prohibitions don't apply to the trustees of Columbia University. They can hire whomever they want. And fire them."
"What about tenure?"
"Why don't you bring in Contract Law and slap him up the side of the head with your New York Times. I've got nothing to do with tenure."
Here the great lawyer, Mr. Abrams, looks over at the members of the committee and asks for a moment's recess. Then he leans over so that he speaks directly into the First Amendment's ear and says, sotto voce, "Confound it, Freddy, listen to me. The president of Columbia University - this Mr. Bollinger - is a decent fellow, the son of a country newspaper editor of the greatest sort. His father loved you more than he loved his own son. So Mr. Bollinger became a First Amendment scholar just to get his father's approval. Will you look at this in human terms?"
"Human terms?" the First Amendment ejaculates.
"Shhhh, keep your voice down, Freddy." Mr. Abrams is still whispering in the First Amendment's ear. "Can't you cut this guy some slack? At least say something about academic freedom."
The First Amendment shifts slightly in its chair. Mr. Abrams stands up and addresses the members of the committee.
"We're ready to proceed," he says, "and I have asked our witness to speak on academic freedom."
"It belongs to the trustees," the First Amendment says. "I'm not an expert on it, of course. My job has to do with what Congress can and cannot do. It certainly can't abridge the freedom of speech or assembly. The trustees of a university can use this freedom to hire employees to teach whatever the trustees want them to teach. If they want to hire professors to teach these pupils that Israel is a racist state, that's their business."
"Right," Mr. Abrams says. "It's not just their business, it's their right."
"But I don't insist the university has the obligation to employ such professors. Or that the professors have the right to be employed by Columbia if what they want to teach is not what Columbia wants them to teach. I mean, Jayson Blair didn't have a First Amendment right to be employed by the New York Times."
"No further questions," Mr. Abrams says, and, as the First Amendment gathers its hat and coat and makes for the door, the great lawyer turns to the committee and smiles.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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