Middle East studies in the News
Response to the Report of the Faculty Ad Hoc Committee
by Lee C. Bollinger, Alan Brinkley, Nicholas B. Dirks
To the Columbia Community:
As you know, a faculty Ad Hoc Committee has been looking into various claims by students of intimidation or discrimination in the classroom on the basis of the viewpoints they expressed. Silencing students for expressing reasonable and relevant viewpoints is certainly unacceptable classroom behavior, not only to those immediately affected but also to all other students who, at that moment or over time, may have felt inhibited to speak or been deprived of a fuller discussion of the subject. Hence, the Committee was asked to identify the facts underlying these students' concerns, so that the University could then address them judiciously and in accord with our scholarly and educational norms. The Committee has completed its charge and submitted its report -- a single report -- which is now being made public.
This is a very thoughtful and comprehensive review that deserves our full attention. First, of course, I want to express our gratitude to the Committee -- Professors Ira Katznelson, Jean E. Howard, Mark Mazower, Lisa Anderson, and Farah Griffin -- and to Floyd Abrams, who served as a special advisor to the Committee. The Committee's work and report help sustain our trust in the absolutely critical norm of peer review, which calls upon those of us in the community of scholars to put aside personal and political views and conduct objective evaluations of scholarship and teaching under accepted academic standards. I want to thank all those who participated in the process. It is important to recognize the willingness of students to come before this committee. I appreciate, as well, the many members of the Columbia community -- the students and faculty -- who have tried throughout these many months to find effective ways to discuss the issues arising out of this controversy, free of the stridency and hyperbole that have marred some debates. I have met with many of them, and I have been both grateful and impressed.
This was not by any measure an ordinary assignment for the institution. The neglect over time of our grievance procedures has had many unfortunate consequences, and one is the resulting burden on students of complaints unheard. An institutional failure to provide means of addressing such concerns, as well as those of members of the faculty, has had a cascading effect. I deeply regret these problems persisted and were not remedied earlier.
Today, we should let the report speak for itself. There are, however, many things to do, and it is important that we move promptly. In fact, while the Committee has been deliberating, the University has already begun to formulate responses to issues that were manifest. Within the next two weeks, we will announce specific actions that address recommendations in the report. Some solutions are clear: We are developing new grievance procedures for students and faculty to help ensure that concerns are addressed in a clear, fair, and expeditious manner. We will also devise means to facilitate community-wide discussions of difficult and controversial issues of the day -- the kinds of problems universities are meant to explore. Other plans will be laid out in time.
I would like to say once again how grateful we are to the Committee and to those who participated in the process. Our hopes for Columbia -- and our bedrock commitment to academic freedom -- depend upon all of us assuming the responsibilities of the community, as they have done for us here.
Lee C. Bollinger
March 31, 2005
Dear President Bollinger,
I have read the report of the faculty Ad Hoc Committee and the response to it by Vice President Nicholas Dirks. I want to express my deep gratitude to the members of the committee and their adviser for taking on this very difficult task and for creating a report that provides us with a clear and fair-minded account of the events that have created the controversy over the teaching of the Middle East at Columbia. I accept the findings and recommendations of the committee. I also concur with the Vice President's assessment of the report and of the challenges it raises.
In my first communication to you about this controversy almost five months ago, I wrote of the simultaneous importance of protecting academic freedom and preserving an atmosphere of tolerance and civility. Since then, you and I have spoken often of how we must sustain an environment in which controversial issues and sharply contrasting views can be expressed without rupturing the bonds of community that are essential to university life. This report makes clear that we have not always successfully sustained such an atmosphere, that tolerance and civility have at times become casualties of impassioned views expressed in ways that violate our standards.
The traditions and principles of this great university require us now to reassert -- as the committee so eloquently states -- norms of behavior capable of ensuring that even the most passionate and controversial views can be expressed freely and in ways that are compatible with the values of academic life. We are indeed fortunate that in taking on this important task, we can rely on a dedicated and talented faculty of highly diverse views who have shown -- as members of the ad hoc committee have shown -- that they have a deep commitment to Columbia and to its basic principles; and who believe, as I believe, that we can effectively and responsibly deal with our problems through our own efforts. I look forward to working with the faculty, and with you, to address these challenges.
March 31, 2005
Dear President Bollinger and Provost Brinkley,
I have just received the report of the Ad Hoc Committee. As you know, I established this ad hoc committee last fall to respond to the expression of concern by a number of students that they were being intimidated by faculty members and being excluded from participating fully in classroom discussions at Columbia because of their views. When it became clear to me that existing procedures were not adequate to resolve these questions, I formed this committee in consultation with both of you.
First, I would like to record my thanks to our colleagues who served on this committee (Ira Katznelson, Lisa Anderson, Jean Howard, Mark Mazower, and Farah Griffin), to Floyd Abrams, who served as an advisor to the committee, and to the students and faculty who participated in the process. The committee met for many hours to deliberate upon their charge, listen to the concerns and accounts of students and faculty, and compose its report. The conscientious participation of students and faculty reflects the care and diligence with which members of the committee carried out their charge. The report is an extraordinarily helpful document. It clarifies the facts behind various allegations and concerns, contextualizes these facts, identifies issues of relevance to the general climate of teaching around matters concerning the Middle East over the last three years, and recommends a set of concrete measures we should take to avoid these problems in the future. Despite the unusual nature of the committee, it has served the principle of faculty self governance with distinction.
At Columbia we value the introduction of new and challenging ideas in the classroom and the right to explore unpopular ideas, express different opinions, foster intellectual debate, and demand intellectual honesty. Rigorous debate cannot reduce itself to individual threats or stigmatizing language to advance a position. Breaches of teaching standards, such as found in one of the incidents in the Ad Hoc Committee report, are inconsistent with the values of the faculty and the university.
I take the review, evaluation, and mentoring of our faculty with the utmost seriousness. Our normal institutional protocols -- based in peer review and governance -- demand our adherence to the highest standards for teaching, and in this respect the specific findings of the committee report will be addressed through the customary bodies for dealing with these issues. Our protocols for academic mentoring and faculty review within the university take systematic account of all evaluations of teaching and scholarship. The substance of any review or evaluation is not, however, a matter for discussion here. Procedures for academic and personnel review in the Arts and Sciences are matters of the strictest confidence, consistent with university policy regarding such evaluations.
The report also paints a picture of a classroom environment in which "free and civil inquiry" could on occasion be significantly constrained by the presence of auditors and outside visitors who disrupted lectures by their incessant questions and comments. This is unacceptable. The report raises similar concerns about the effects of the increasing role of various outside organizations in the surveillance of professors teaching about the Middle East, and I take these concerns very seriously as well.
The report concludes with the need to reassert certain norms and reaffirm our sense of collective responsibility, to work together to "nurture the mutual respect required to sustain us in our common quest for the promotion of learning and the advancement of knowledge." I add my heartfelt endorsement to this conclusion.
Nicholas B. Dirks
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