Middle East studies in the News
Massad Says Peers Aided 'Witch-Hunters'
by Jacob Gershman
The Columbia University scholar Joseph Massad told a committee of professors investigating his classroom conduct that the university's top administrators treated him "with such contempt" and collaborated with "witch-hunters."
In a lengthy and bitter statement he delivered to an investigative committee last month, about two weeks before it issued its report, Mr. Massad accused the Columbia president, Lee Bollinger, and the rest of the administration of abandoning him in the face of accusations that he intimidated Jewish students.
"I am utterly disillusioned with a university administration that treats its faculty with such contempt and am hoping against hope that the faculty will rise to the task before them and force President Bollinger to reverse this perilous course on which he has taken Columbia's faculty and students," he stated.
Mr. Massad's statement appears on censoringthought.org, a Web site whose authors are strongly supportive of the assistant professor in Columbia's Department of Middle East and Asian Language and Culture. The statement is dated March 14, which was 16 days before the committee released its report.
In his testimony, Mr. Massad described himself as a victim of intimidation and portrayed the administration as having a callous attitude toward his plight.
Mr. Massad, whose expertise is in modern Arab politics and intellectual history, first taught at Columbia in the fall of 1999 and, following a year's sabbatical, is undergoing his fifth-year review. His relentless criticisms of Israel have made him one of the most polarizing figures on campus.
He accused Mr. Bollinger of prejudging him and other accused faculty and for giving "legitimacy" to the documentary video "Columbia Unbecoming," which featured accounts of Jewish students describing a climate of fear in Columbia classrooms. Mr. Bollinger appointed the committee after press reports came out about the film, which was financed by the David Project, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Boston.
"That the Columbia University administration acted as a collaborator with the witch-hunters instead of defending me and offering itself as a refuge from rightwing McCarthyism has been a cause of grave personal and professional disappointment to me," Mr. Massad stated.
He criticized the administration for not contacting him after he announced he would no longer teach one of his courses, "Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies." Mr. Bollinger and other top administrators never "expressed any discomfort that I, a Columbia faculty member, was canceling one of my courses because of intimidation," he said.
Citing statements Mr. Bollinger made to press outlets, Mr. Massad accused him of political bias and of "making an academic judgment about me that is based not on my scholarship or pedagogy but on my politics and even my nationality."
Columbia's president betrayed his political bias, Mr. Massad alleged, when he came out against an anti-Israel petition that circulated around campus in 2002. Mr. Bollinger described the petition, which called on Columbia to divest its holdings from companies that sell military hardware to Israel, "grotesque and offensive."
Mr. Bollinger, in a speech he delivered March 23 before the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, said Columbia would not "punish professors or students for the speech or ideas they express as part of public debate about public issues." He also said the university "should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty above all other values" or accept "transgressions" among faculty members "without consequences."
Mr. Massad, in the statement on the Web site, also said he was "very concerned" about the role of a prominent First Amendment lawyer, Floyd Abrams, as an adviser to the committee. Mr. Abrams, Mr. Massad said, is "publicly identified with pro-Israeli politics and activism."
The faculty committee in its report found that Mr. Massad "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" of teaching when in the spring of 2002 he purportedly threatened to expel one of his students, Deena Shanker, from his classroom after she defended Israeli military action. The incident was the one action alleged by students that the committee found to constitute intimidation. In his statement, Mr. Massad vehemently denied that the incident took place.
"Deena Shanker is lying in all three versions of her story," he wrote. "I have never asked her or any student to leave my class no matter what question they asked. In fact, I never asked any of my students to leave class for any reason. I have no visual memory of Deena Shanker who never came to office hours or spoke with me after class. The incident she describes has never taken place."
Ms. Shanker, 21, said Mr. Massad told her: "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!" She says he yelled at her after she raised her hand and asked whether Israel gives warning before bombing certain areas in the West Bank.
The committee said in its report that two other people in the class corroborated the main elements of the incident. Three other people in the class - two graduate student teaching assistants and an undergraduate - said they have no recollection of Mr. Massad's threatening to expel a student.
The committee concluded it was "credible" that Mr. Massad responded heatedly to Ms. Shanker's question, but said it had no reason to believe that he actually intended to expel her from the classroom.
Speaking to The New York Sun yesterday, Ms. Shanker said it was "ridiculous" that Mr. Massad called her a liar.
"I would never go and make up a story about a professor," she said.
"I don't think he expected me to get up and leave," she said. "What bothered me is that he humiliated me in front of the whole classroom."
Ms. Shanker said that she often would count the times Mr. Massad described Israel as a "Jewish supremacist, racist state" during his lectures. In one class, she said, Mr. Massad did so five times.
The committee, which Mr. Bollinger appointed late last year, said in its report that it had heard complaints about biases on the part of some faculty members but did not deem the complaints within the purview of its investigation.
The committee was composed of five faculty members: Ira Katznelson, Farah Griffin, Jean Howard, Mark Mazower, and Lisa Anderson, who is dean of the School of International and Public Affairs. Mr. Bollinger described its report as "a very thoughtful and comprehensive review that deserves our full attention."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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