Middle East studies in the News
Freedom Is Not Academic
by David Harris
The handling of the current controversy surrounding the MEALAC department has been abysmal. The various players have labeled the brouhaha an issue of differing opinions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as Right vs. Left, a question of fact vs. opinion, and as a case for academic freedom vs. students' rights. This embarrassing controversy has been billed as everything but what it actually is, and has been dealt with under the guise of everything but what it actually amounts to: a question of educational standards.
I have never been enrolled in a MEALAC course, though I did attend one of Professor Massad's lectures. I do not share what I perceive as Professor Massad's viewpoint regarding the history and analysis of current events pertaining to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. So be it. However, what I did witness in his class was what I would describe as ‘poor education.' If students leave a class feeling that they have been insulted or intimidated, then the educators in question are not meeting the responsibilities imparted to them with their positions as course instructors, regardless of a professor's personal viewpoint or even their ‘fact-based' analysis. If they continue to provoke the kind of responses that have arisen from their students—responses like those presented in the film "Columbia Unbecoming"—then something surely is wrong.
None of this is a question of academic freedom, as the administration and the faculty have chosen to treat it. The administration is caught between supporting its faculty and their right to teach material without fear of being censored and the unrelenting pressures of public relations, with the corresponding implications for prestige, enrollment, and private funding. Left out of the equation entirely are the people for whom the university is supposed to exist: students who wish to be educated.
Over-zealous students, from across the political spectrum, have unfortunately fostered this contextualization of the controversy, fanning the flames of a burning political debate taking place on campuses around the country. They are their own worst enemies. Forced to choose between remaining loyal to faculty and staying objective on a controversial political issue, the administration is unable to serve students and retain its integrity.
The students who have embroiled themselves in this controversy failed to present their grievances as matters of education; instead, they criticized what was said, not how it was said. The MEALAC department screamed foul while raising the banner of academic freedom and the administration took the bait. Nonetheless, we should be able to expect more from the administration. Where is their commitment to quality education? Or is that no longer the University's primary mission?
The administration has an absolute responsibility to see that whatever material is being presented is being presented in an environment that allows for true education to take place. This can only occur between students of a high caliber who are open to listening to views different from their own, and educators who strive to meet and exceed the standards that the University establishes for its professors.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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