Campus Watch in the Media
by Joshua Dugan
On Wednesday March 31, the Columbia Ad-Hoc Grievance Committee released its long awaited report on the allegations made by some Jewish Columbia students that they were intimidated by professors in the university's department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture.
Its findings confirm the fears of some that the committee members, many of whom have been accused of making anti-Israel statements in the past, would serve merely as apologists for a growing intolerance on the Columbia campus.
The report addressed three specific instances of student complaints of intimidation, two involving Prof. Joseph Massad. In each case, the committee either dismissed the claims on what would constitute a legal technicality, or defended the professor's actions on the grounds of academic freedom.
In one case, an Israeli student alleged that Massad acted inappropriately when the student attempted to ask him a question following a talk Massad gave on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the student felt to be biased. According to the allegation in the committee's report, when the student identified himself as a former Israeli soldier, Massad repeatedly asked him "How many Palestinians have you killed?"
Another student corroborated this account of the events, while Massad issued the classic "I didn't do it, but if I did it wasn't wrong" defense: On the one hand, he denied that the incident occurred, but maintained that if it did, the committee had no jurisdiction because it must have been off-campus.
The committee sided with Massad on the second point, insisting that because it was unclear of the exact location of the event, no assessment of the professor's conduct could be made. In the second incident involving Massad that the committee addressed, in which he told a student in his class "If you're going to deny the atrocities committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom," the report cited Massad for failing to "demonstrate appropriate restraint."
But rather than recommend some form of sanction for Massad, the report goes on to praise "Massad's dedication to, and respectful attitudes towards his students."
Huh? A man who the committee acknowledges likely berated two students in and out of the classroom for disagreeing with his anti-Israel positions is undoubtedly "respectful" to his students. Something is dreadfully wrong with this picture.
The troubling part of the report is not so much that it defends Massad's sentiments, but that it finds they did not rise to the level of flagrant disrespect and intimidation that should never be tolerated in an open academic environment.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a deeply contentious issue with many facets on which reasonable people of good will should be free to disagree. Massad's actions, as listed in the report, reflect a pattern of behavior that stifles, rather than encourages academic freedom, and reflects his unwillingness to allow for dissent in his classrooms.
The committee found that Massad's actions and opinions did not affect the grades received by students with different views in his course. Such a finding is not enough to preclude inappropriate intimidation or excuse his actions.
For a professor in a clear position of authority and power over his students, to single out individuals as objects of ridicule is disgusting; to make students feel as though their opinions are not worthwhile because they differ from his or her own goes against every tenet of tolerance and academic freedom.
If the committee found it probable that Massad committed both of the offenses of which he was charged, regardless of the precise location, he should be fired immediately. There is no place for his scare tactics in any academic environment west of Riyadh or Tehran.
Lest anyone think that the committee failed to dole out any responsibility for the disgrace that Massad brought on Columbia, the report was highly critical of a group of pro-Israel students, who "harassed" Massad in his classroom.
So when a professor picks on a student it is "academic freedom," but when the students respond, they are in the wrong?
Furthermore, the committee suggested that faculty and media "spies" in his classrooms were trampling Massad's rights, and stated that Jewish advocacy groups like "The David Project" and "Campus Watch," which assisted the students who charged Massad with bias and intimidation, exacerbated that problem and had no business getting involved in a private, university matter.
When the individuals on the committee go to such extraordinary lengths to blame everyone except the one individual culpable for the problem, it is impossible not to question whether their own prejudices and biases have tainted their assessments.
In a Feb. 9 letter to The Sun at outset of the committee's investigation, a number of Cornell professors criticized the notion that because some committee members agreed with Massad's opinions on the State of Israel that they would be predisposed in favor of him in their report.
How now do the same professors explain the logical gymnastics, which led the committee to blame and criticize the age-old scapegoat, the Jews, but praise and defend Massad? Despite Columbia's desire to continue to handle the issue of intimidation and intolerance on its campus internally, the committee's report makes it clear that more outside influences and pressures are necessary to correct what should have been an obvious and intolerable wrong.
Joshua Dugan is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room appears periodically.Note: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
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