Middle East studies in the News
What Columbia must do now
The report of Columbia University's inquiry into complaints of classroom intimidation has laid bare the school's fecklessness in building a Middle Eastern studies department that harbors a deep, and often passionate, bias against Israel. From that poisoned well flowed numerous charges that professors stifled the opposing views of students, most of whom were Jewish.
The faculty committee tasked with investigating the student complaints left the far-too-monolithic quality of instruction for someone else to deal with, presumably President Lee Bollinger, but the destructive consequences screamed from between every line of the report. It is imperative that Columbia broaden and improve the quality of scholarship available to students regarding this critical region of the globe.
Pending such sweeping reform, it is doubly imperative that Bollinger act aggressively on the committee's findings of fact and recommendations, starting with the case of Assistant Prof. Joseph Massad. The panel concluded Massad had laced into a student for asking whether Israel ever warned Palestinians about bombings. "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!" the student recalled Massad yelling. The committee also found that at a forum near campus, Massad challenged a student who was a former Israeli soldier to "tell us how many Palestinians you have killed." Finally, it gave credence to complaints that, in the tense days after 9/11, Massad engaged in "repeated, even unremitting, use of stigmatizing characterizations."
By rejecting Massad's protestations of innocence, the committee came as close as it could to calling him a liar and eased concerns that personal and professional ties would shield him. In fact, given both a finding that Massad violated university standards and a pointed condemnation of "stigmatizing language" by Dean Nicholas Dirks, he might well begin packing his bags. We hope.
Massad, though, is only a symptom of the disease that has festered for years at Columbia. The committee flays the university administration, including Bollinger, for failing to provide students with a mechanism for resolving grievances as intimidation complaints mounted. Lacking such an outlet (which Bollinger now promises to provide), a determined, brave band brought the issue to public attention, for which they deserve congratulations. While the students are convinced the committee should have substantiated more cases of intimidation, the young scholars should nonetheless take pride in having moved a foolishly resistant university into action.
That action must now include introducing new thinking at Columbia's department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, where the prevailing view is that Israel is the source of all evil in the Mideast and where Massad felt comfortable espousing the view that, at their essence, Israeli Jews are programmed to victimize Palestinians. The university placed the department into a kind of receivership several months ago. Bollinger has not signaled his intentions for this receivership. Nothing short of an overhaul will suffice.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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