Middle East studies in the News
Students Respond To Ad Hoc Report
by Lisa Hirshmann
Following the release of the ad hoc faculty committee's report on student allegations of academic intimidation by professors in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department, students on both sides of the controversy spend yesterday discussing, analyzing, and in many cases, finding fault with the dense, 24-page document.
Columbians for Academic Freedom, the student group that has defended students' claims of intimidation and abuse, held a press conference at Columbia's main gates yesterday afternoon. Daniella Kahane, BC '05, Ariel Beery, GS '05, Bari Weiss, CC '07, and Aharon Horwitz, CC '04, said they were pleased that Columbia had acknowledged that current grievance procedures and advising systems are unsatisfactory but denounced the report overall as "sorely lacking." The students met with University President Lee Bollinger yesterday afternoon to discuss their concerns.
Meanwhile, Issa Mikel, a third-year law student and member of the student group Stop McCarthyism at Columbia, criticized the report for being "deceptively disastrous." Mikel, who is also a member of the law school's Muslim Students Association, Qanun, said the report "only claims to be balanced."
At CAF's press conference, Horwitz, who testified in front of the committee but whose complaints were not included in the report, spoke out about the report's failure to address more than three specific incidents of alleged intimidation.
"The very least I'd expect of the committee is some sort of accountability," Horwitz said in an interview last night. "Why did they choose to ignore so many incidents and only focus on the three most public incidences?"
The chairman of the five-member committee, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History Ira Katznelson, said the three specific episodes that appeared in the report—two involving Assistant Professor Joseph Massad and one involving Professor George Saliba—"were the incidents that we heard that challenged most directly the expectations of the university community concerning a civil and tolerant learning environment."
"We took seriously and listened to everything we heard including issues that fell outside our remit," Katznelson continued.
According to Katznelson, most of the complaints brought before the committee concerned aspects of the MEALAC curriculum, such as allegations of bias, that fell outside the committee's narrow charge to investigate only complaints of misconduct.
But Deena Shanker, BC '05, who testified in front of the ad hoc committee and whose allegations against Massad were among the three specifically mentioned in the report, wrote yesterday in an e-mail to Spectator that the fact-finding of the committee was "neither surprising nor satisfactory."
Shanker said that although the report acknowledged that Massad had crossed a line when he shouted at her and allegedly threatened to expel her from his class, and that the MEALAC department has suffered from a climate of incivility, it failed to link these two conclusions.
"Whether the first is a cause of the second, or the other way around, the MEALAC department is in need of serious change in order to be a more hospitable environment to everyone," Shanker wrote.
In addition to the Shanker incident, the report detailed an incident involving former General Studies student Tomy Schoenfeld, an Israeli who claimed that Massad insisted during a public lecture that he state how many Palestinians he had killed while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. The third incident involved Lindsay Shrier, who said that Saliba told her outside of class that she could not legitimately be a Semite because she had green eyes.
Students who have defended Columbia's professors against the complaints offered plenty of their own criticism of the report.
"It denies that there is widespread anti-Semitism at Columbia, which is very obvious and I think anybody who is honest admits that," Mikel said. "But at the same time, it finds credence in some of the statements, in some of the allegations that have been made even though there are a whole host of problems with actually legitimizing those statements."
"The report does just enough to endanger Joseph Massad's career," Mikel added.
Brenda Coughlin, a graduate student in sociology and a member of Stop McCarthyism at Columbia, said she was mainly concerned by the fact that the report did not address how the University should handle the attempts of outside organizations to affect its own internal affairs.
"My feeling is that the committee in their report did not give any recommendation about procedures in the University for dealing with outside agitation," she said. "To my mind, the key issue is how to deal with The David Project coming onto campus and attacking our 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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