Middle East studies in the News
Anti-Semitism? Who Said Anti-Semitism?
by Abby Deift
Yesterday, The New York Times published an article titled: "Columbia Panel Reports No Proof of Antisemitism." This misrepresentative statement is factually accurate; the mandate of the ad-hoc committee was never to investigate proof of antisemitism. Rather, the purpose of the committee was to investigate "the very specific charges a number of students expressed concerning pedagogical intimidation or the failure to create a civil learning environment."
The report thoughtfully outlines many of the key issues that have arisen over the past couple of months. The Times'article therefore sets a dangerous precedent for how the report will be perceived by both the campus community and also the general public. The report, which was released simultaneously with the Times article, acknowledges several instances of intimidation according to clearly defined criteria. In doing so, the report also provides explicit standards for appropriate classroom conduct, stating that, "instances in which a student is ridiculed, threatened or silenced for holding certain views contrary or inimical to those of the instructor constitute serious breaches of academic norms." The report also speaks to the issues of bias, and states that review of courses and instructors by appropriate university departments was necessary and was not sufficiently present before these students came forward. Most importantly, the report emphasizes the absolute necessity for an overhaul of the general grievance procedures, especially those for the School of Arts and Sciences.
The Times article largely de-emphasized and ignored the very clear statements of the report, such as the call for grievance procedures to be "accessible, transparent, [and] geared toward the speedy resolution of complaints," and for the community to be educated "as to their existence and proper use." By describing the investigation in terms of antisemitism, the Times is distracting its readers from the real issues of the report – which are far more nuanced and complex, involving many different parties.
Though the Times has implicitly accused students of bringing forward the "non-issue" of antisemitism at Columbia, it was the Times itself that chose to highlight antisemitism over the actual substance of students' complaints and the report's findings. This gross misrepresentation of The New York Times has set the tone for how this issue is presented in media across the country: by Thursday night, articles in other media outlets ranged from "Columbia University Cleared of Antisemitism" (ABC News) to "Columbia Finds No Anti-Semitic Remarks" (Wired News) to "No Evidence of Antisemitism at Columbia" (WNYC).
In reality, the issues concern intimidation and bias in the classroom, many instances of which related specifically to students who are Jewish or students who expressed pro-Israel sentiments (by the way, these two affiliations are not necessarily the same!) Many students here take great pride in attending Columbia, and Columbia is home to one of the most active and diverse Jewish student organizations (Hillel) in the country.
The clear disconnect between the facts as corroborated by the report and the misrepresentative media coverage—which has been polarizing this issue from the outset—is extremely detrimental to any real dialogue and positive change. It is likely that most students will feel even more pride in attending Columbia once appropriate grievance procedures have been implemented and when questions about teaching controversial issues such as the Middle East are transparently addressed. At this point, it behooves us to engage with the substance of the ad-hoc committee report (and therefore, the students' claims) by recognizing the need, articulated by the committee, "to re-affirm that sense of collective responsibility and to nurture the mutual respect required to sustain us in our common quest for the promotion of learning and the advancement of knowledge."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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