Middle East studies in the News
Massad Blasts Committee's Conclusions
by James Romoser
Professors Joseph Massad and George Saliba, the only two professors named in the ad hoc faculty committee's report on students' claims of classroom intimidation, criticized yesterday the committee's findings on two specific complaints lodged against them.
Massad was much more forceful in his critique than Saliba was, saying in an e-mail message that he finds the report's findings "inaccurate and unfair." Massad also accused the committee of having "bowed to the very outside pressure which it criticizes as well as the pressure coming its way from the Columbia administration."
In contrast, Saliba, who also responded to an interview request only by e-mail, expressed "admiration and sincere appreciation for the efforts put by the members of the ad hoc committee" but criticized what he sees as the committee's imprecise characterization of an incident involving a conversation he had with a student four years ago.
Although the five-member committee interviewed 62 people and reviewed more than 60 written submissions, the report, which was made public yesterday morning, addressed just three particular instances of alleged professorial abuse, each of them highly controversial and well-publicized since they were introduced in the Columbia Unbecoming documentary last year. The first two episodes concerned Massad, an assistant professor of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures; the third concerned Saliba, a full professor in the MEALAC department.
The student complaint that the committee found to be the most grave was a claim made by Deena Shanker, BC '05, that Massad shouted at her during a class in 2002, "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!" According to the committee, two students—one who was registered in the class and another who was a visitor for the day—confirmed the bulk of Shanker's account. But two graduate student teaching assistants and an undergraduate told the committee they did not recall the incident, and Massad has denied that it occurred.
Nonetheless, the committee found the nature of the complaint to be "credible," saying Massad "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" and violated his professorial duty to exercise mutual respect and self-discipline.
In an e-mail to Spectator, Massad denounced the committee as "illegitimate" and wrote, "The report gives no reason why Shanker's account and her witnesses are more credible than mine and my witnesses. The report never explains the rationale on which they based their judgment that a he-said-she-said situation can be resolved in this manner."
Indeed, the report does not explain precisely what criteria the committee used to decide whether an incident was "credible." Ira Katznelson, the Ruggles professor of political science and history and the chair of the ad hoc committee, said in an interview that he would not comment on the content of the report because he wanted the document to speak for itself. Other members of the committee declined interviews yesterday, saying the report, at least for the time being, must stand on its own.
Katznelson did, however, speak about the process by which the committee considered student grievances. Asked why only three particular incidents were addressed in the report, he said, "The committee heard and assessed all complaints and concerns brought to it. It's in the nature of the report not to literally repeat comprehensively everything heard, but to make judgments. And that we tried to do judiciously."
The second episode addressed in the report concerned a remark Massad is said to have made to former School of General Studies student Tomy Schoenfeld, who was not one of Massad's students, at an event sponsored by a student group in late 2001 or early 2002. The committee did not issue a conclusive evaluation of the event partly because no one it interviewed could recall important details about the nature of the event. The committee said only that the episode "falls into a challenging grey zone." Massad did not address this incident in his e-mail to Spectator.
The third instance involved a remark that Saliba made to Lindsay Shrier, one of his students, in 2001. According to Shrier, Saliba told her she was "not a Semite" and had "no claim to the land of Israel" because she has green eyes. Saliba has maintained that he does not remember the particular conversation but believes Shrier misunderstood an argument he sometimes makes to illustrate the problems of making historical claims for land ownership on the basis of religion.
The committee said it found the conversation and the reference to eye color credible. "But as it is impossible to judge the imputation," the committee said, "and since more than one reading of the statement is viable, we conclude that however regrettable a personal reference might have been, it is a good deal more likely to have been a statement that was integral to an argument about the uses of history and lineage than an act approaching intimidation."
Saliba wrote in an e-mail to Spectator that he never made a "personal reference" and questioned why the committee would assert that he did make such a reference based solely on a student's faulty memory of a conversation that took place four years ago. He also said the committee's attempt to summarize his argument about land-based claims was "garbled" and "missed the point." He previously explained the argument fully in an opinion submission to Spectator published on Nov. 3, he said.
Hamid Dabashi, the Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian studies, did not respond to e-mail and phone messages seeking comment yesterday. Like Massad and Saliba, Dabashi was singled out in Columbia Unbecoming, but the committee's report did not address any of the complaints made against him. Professor Marc Van De Mieroop, the chair of the MEALAC department, also did not return a phone call to his office yesterday.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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