Campus Watch in the Media
Panel's Report on Faculty at Columbia Spurs Debate
by Karen W. Arenson
The release of a faculty report on complaints that pro-Palestinian professors at Columbia University had intimidated Zionist students triggered new campus debates yesterday on issues of intimidation and academic freedom.
While the faculty committee reported no proof of anti-Semitism, it said it had found one instance of unacceptable behavior by a professor, Joseph Massad, in the Middle Eastern studies department. It also condemned a lack of civility on campus, including the behavior of some pro-Israel students who heckled professors during classes and lectures on Middle East studies. At the same time, the committee said that Columbia did not have adequate procedures to deal with student and faculty grievances, which left the university vulnerable to outside pressure groups trying to tell it what to do.
Students who had complained to the committee said the report, in finding only one instance of inappropriate behavior, had again minimized their problems. Other students expressed concerns that the report would have a chilling effect on academic freedom, and some on campus said they hoped the report would allow the campus to move on.
"The report is insulting, a disgrace to those of us who put our hearts and souls into making Columbia a better place," said Aharon Horwitz, a 2004 Columbia graduate, who said that he had presented three instances of intimidation to the committee but that they had not recognized any of them.
He and most of the other speakers at a rally yesterday that drew about 100 people had been involved in putting together a video, financed by the David Project in Boston, that helped draw attention to their complaints at Columbia and elsewhere.
Daniella Kahane, a Barnard College senior majoring in English and film, said that by finding only one "credible" incident of intimidation after taking testimony from more than 100 people, the report gave "a false illusion" that the problems were very limited. "We were very disheartened by this report," she said. "This is not the end."
But later in the day, after she and four other students met for more than an hour with Columbia's president, Lee C. Bollinger, Ms. Kahane said they were feeling more encouraged that some progress had been made, and that the report had been useful in some ways.
"We have brought the university to the point where our problems are being reckoned with, and there will be new grievance procedures in place in a couple of months," she said. "And the report did recognize that there are common acceptable boundaries for behavior inside the classroom and that the burden of responsibility is heavier on a professor, particularly when engaging in sensitive matters. And it does acknowledge that students are less responsible."
Bari Weiss, a pro-Israel Columbia sophomore who is a co-founder of Columbians for Academic Freedom, a student group aimed at improving student rights and education, said that she, too, was encouraged by the meeting with the president.
"We really share similar values of the ideal of the university as a place of rigorous intellectual debate," she said, "and we need to make sure Columbia maintains high standards. The students are very much looking forward to working with him."
But other students criticized the report on different grounds.
Brenda Coughlin, a doctoral student in sociology, said that she questioned the committee's judgment in finding that one professor had overstepped the line of acceptable behavior in the classroom, when students differed in their accounts of what had really happened. She also said that the report overemphasized the problem of not having adequate grievance procedures and underemphasized the problem of coordinated, focused attacks from outside interest groups at the university.
"Why are there no recommendations on that point?" said Ms. Coughlin, who was one of a handful of students calling for Mr. Bollinger's resignation last week because they felt he was not defending academic freedom forcefully enough. "Clearly, the administration has jumped when the David Project and Campus Watch criticized them," she said. "What are we to expect from them the next time a shoddy video gets a secret release? And how does the university intend to hold Columbia members and institutions accountable?"
And a North African graduate student at the School of International Affairs, who declined to give her name for publication, said she was concerned that some of her professors "will not feel free to express themselves."
She said she felt that small issues had been blown out of proportion, and that as a result, some professors might look for other jobs. "I hope we don't lose good professors," she said.
Still others, however, said they were satisfied with the committee report, which is posted on Columbia's Web site at columbia.edu/cu/news/05/03/ad_hoc_grievance_committee_report.html.
"For all the talk of intimidation at Columbia, I think it confirms the fact that there has not been systematic intimidation here," said Walter M. Frisch, a music professor who is chairman of the executive committee of the faculty of arts and sciences. "It is a vindication of our faculty."
The report probably will not end the pressure on Columbia to respond further to Zionist students' complaints of intimidation in the classroom. The video with the student complaints was scheduled to be shown last night at the Utopia Jewish Center in Flushing. Two of the Columbia students in the video were scheduled to be there.
Ms. Weiss said she did not think there would be many other screenings because "we are in a new stage now." But Charles Jacobs, president of the David Project, said that there would be a screening on Sunday at M.I.T. in Cambridge, Mass., and that he had received dozens of requests.Note: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
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