Middle East studies in the News
Columbia U. Issues New Grievance Procedures Amid Criticism of How It Handled Student Complaints
by Jennifer Jacobson
Columbia University has strengthened its grievance procedures for resolving student complaints, in response to a recent report about alleged faculty intimidation of Jewish students, the university's president announced on Monday.
Under the new system, the standards for filing grievances are now more uniform, and a new committee of faculty members from the arts and sciences will review student complaints, including those that cannot be resolved through grievance procedures at the main undergraduate college or other subdivisions, like the School of General Studies.
The president, Lee C. Bollinger, also announced the creation of a President's Council on Student Affairs, which will be composed of student representatives from each school and administrators who deal with student issues. The council will meet with Mr. Bollinger and Alan Brinkley, Columbia's provost, three times a year.
"While we interact with students in many ways, the absence of a formal way of connecting with students has become apparent, and I believe it is beneficial to establish a regular way of meeting," Mr. Bollinger said in a written statement. The council, he added, "will have a forum for bringing important matters directly to my attention."
The new grievance procedures did little, at first, to satisfy Ariel K. Beery, president of the student body in the School of General Studies, who has criticized the administration's handling of the controversy. "A grievance procedure without a set definition of what a grievance is won't do anything," he said. "The terms need to be defined."
Later, after having reviewed the new procedures, Mr. Beery softened his stance on them. "It's a good step," he said. But he still would like students to play an actual role in judging grievance cases, he said.
The changes came more than a week after an ad hoc faculty committee, charged with investigating complaints that professors in the university's Middle Eastern studies department had intimidated pro-Israel students, found no evidence that faculty members had made anti-Semitic statements.
But the panel did find that Joseph A. Massad, an assistant professor in the department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures, had overstepped the bounds of commonly accepted classroom behavior when he publicly and harshly criticized a student who, he believed, was defending Israel's treatment of Palestinians (The Chronicle, April 1).
Mr. Massad has denied that the incident took place. In an e-mail message on Monday, he declined to comment on the new grievance procedures.
Mr. Bollinger appointed the ad hoc committee, which has disbanded since issuing its report, after the release of Columbia Unbecoming, a short film in which students at Columbia and Barnard College accused professors of intimidation and harassment.
The David Project, a pro-Israel group based in Boston, produced the film. In an e-mail message to The Chronicle on Monday, Charles Jacobs, the group's president, applauded the new grievance procedures. "Students had complained for years that professors with a narrow, anti-Israel viewpoint were harassing and intimidating them in and out of classes, and there was no one they could turn to," he said. "Today's announcement is a vindication of the students' concerns."
If students do have concerns, Columbia still suggests that they first complain at the school level. Undergraduates at Columbia College, for example, would initially speak with the class dean, who might then refer them to the dean of academic affairs, who might then refer the matter to the vice president for arts and sciences.
If the issue remained unresolved at that level, undergraduates or other students taught by the faculty of arts and sciences could then register their complaints with the standing faculty committee, made up of five professors. Students could appeal the panel's decisions to the provost, whose decision would be final.
The 15-member President's Council on Student Affairs will consist of students from each school, as well as administrators. The students will be nominated by student-council officers, but Mr. Bollinger and Mr. Brinkley will make the final selections.
Mr. Beery said the problem remained that a "grievance, in and of itself," has not been defined.
Mr. Brinkley said that such a definition is difficult to provide. "These are procedures that are trying to prepare us to deal with controversies that we might have and never imagined, just as we didn't imagine this one," he said.
Still, "it's an interesting comment," he said. "We'll have to think about it."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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