Middle East studies in the News
How unbecoming of you, dear Columbia
by "Our Man at Columbia"
February 2, 2005
Our Man at Columbia, a furtive Ph D candidate who studies in Columbia's School of the Humanities, has emailed us his take on last night's special screening to students of "Columbia Unbecoming"--a documentary film detailing much of what I wrote about here (and the cause of grief for tenure-track ideologues everywhere). Our Man writes in:
Yesterday, "Columbia Unbecoming" was screened to a full house, mostly undergraduates, at Columbia University's Lerner Hall. It was sponsored by Columbians for Academic Freedom, in addition to other student groups. Given the controversy surrounding the film, I decided to attend.
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.
The film documents student claims of intimidation by professors in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) department, both in and out of the classroom. The testimonials are damning.
As the film makes frighteningly apparent, anti-Semitic ideologues mantled in professorial authority harass pro-Israel students in their charge. What struck me even more is the extent to which Columbia ignores the seriousness of student claims. This was demonstrated to me by the administration's formation of an ad hoc committee to investigate grievances, a committee whose members are either directly or indirectly associated with the accused professors, as the film makes abundantly clear.
However, the film fails to address an important question: the convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on campus. To what extent does an anti-Israel position mask anti-Semitic beliefs? I have a suspicion that anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism at Columbia have become the same thing. The audience's reaction to the screening was generally supportive. In the following question and answer session, over which Columbia's chaplain presided, I found it odd that one student should still insist that the "other" view – that is, the view of the accused – was left out. After all, the film was intended "to document bias and intimidation directed at Israel and its supporters on campus, and as an aid to help students, faculty, alumni and administrators to change the hostile environment." Another student expressed what I've been thinking for a long time: that this scandal is "just the tip of the iceberg." Indeed, the scandal is not particular to the MEALAC department. I, myself had a class, in which a professor in literature referred to Bush's re-election as "nativist lunacy." This same professor said in another class that 9/11 is important because it is German Marxist philosopher Theodor Adorno's birthday.
I came away from the film thinking that, in such a volatile and politicized environment, disinterested inquiry is impossible. Consequently, students are not being taught. As word of the scandal spreads and more reports emerge, we can expect that Columbia's reputation will continue to fall.
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