Middle East studies in the News
Brinkley Addresses Academic Freedom at Meal
by Lisa Hirshmann
As a part of its efforts to facilitate a campus dialogue about the ongoing academic freedom controversy, the office of the University Chaplain sponsored a two-hour Common Meal forum last night in Earl Hall. The official guest, University Provost Alan Brinkley, addressed around 100 students and answered questions regarding academic freedom at Columbia and elsewhere.
Brinkley, who is also a U.S. history professor, spoke briefly on the history of academic freedom in the United States, establishing it as a special branch of freedom of speech, created for educational settings.
"What makes [academic freedom] important is not that it's protected by law, because it's not, but that it is protected by us," he said.
"No one at this University should be punished for a belief, a speech, or anything someone says in a classroom, and this includes offensive ideas," Brinkley maintained.
Brinkley addressed the ongoing MEALAC debate, spending most of the forum responding to students' questions and concerns about it. Brinkley advocated dialogue as the University community's best means of reconciling its divisions over the controversy.
One student, Kate Meng-Brassel, CC '06 and president of the Columbia ACLU, asked Brinkley if academic freedom is meant to apply only to faculty.
Brinkley explained that historically academic freedom emerged as a professional privilege. Today, "that doesn't mean academic freedom has no meaning for students, but a different meaning."
Brinkley also defended the ad hoc committee created to investigate students' bias allegations against professors, emphasizing that its purpose is not to look into specific departments, scholarship, or personal ideas, but to hear testimony regarding individual incidents.
"The committee currently meeting is not investigating MEALAC or a department," he said.
Brinkley said he would make no assumptions or judgment as to whether the alleged incidents in the film Columbia Unbecoming took place.
Because of the high turnout at the event, and the high rate of participation, the University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis was forced to end the forum without allowing all students to ask their questions.
The student group Stop McCarthyism at Columbia distributed flyers urging students to ask questions printed on one side of the sheet.
According to the flyers, the group was organized to "defend professors at MEALAC and others from attacks by well-funded right-wing organization, media outlets, and pro-Israel activists, who are intent on silencing criticism of Israel and U.S. foreign policy in academia."
Davis spoke positively about the atmosphere of the discussion.
"There were a range of views expressed. It didn't feel for me like a one-sided debate," she said. "I think it was the beginning of a conversation."
The Common Meal Program is nine years old and, according to Davis, was initiated to provide students with "the opportunity to have more informal conversations with administrators."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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