Middle East studies in the News
Columbians Should Reject CAF
by Michael Schtender-Auerbach
Columbians for Academic Freedom do not understand the purpose of a university. They hope for a day when political groups of all forms can meet and discuss together in a mature and sophisticated manner the most controversial topics of the day. This is not a template for a university. I certainly wouldn't want to attend a university where students controlled the debate and not the professors. If professors don't want to enter into a debate with their students they shouldn't be obligated; CAF disagrees. Professors obviously cannot threaten students, but intellectual intimidation should be expected. Students are here to learn; professors debate with other professors, non-academics, policy makers, politicians, writers and pundits.
The ad-hoc report was meant to make recommendations and report on the breakdown of the University grievance procedures. They did that, so why does CAF continue to call the report a whitewash? What did they expect? Did they want faculty to be fired? The reason the committee did not refer to the 60-some odd complainants and only referred to the most public incidents makes perfect sense. Grievances shouldn't be public. They respected the students, unlike CAF, and kept their testimonies confidential while realizing a breakdown in the grievance procedures at Columbia. The only reason the committee spoke of the three incidents it did was because it needed to respond to ones that were made public through "Columbia Unbecoming".
The University has an obligation to defend itself—for all of us. Our reputation is on the line and it has been defamed by CAF, a small group of students who sought outside funds and resources to make claims of rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on campus. The report rightfully expresses the absurdity of such claims. Columbia continues to be on the cutting edge of Jewish studies. With a new chair in Zionist studies being created, Columbia will be an institution like no other in the world when it comes to the study of Judaism, Zionism, and the Hebrew Language.
CAF's analogy that the committee was tantamount to cops judging cops during the civil rights era is insulting. The committee acted in good faith and followed through on the charge they were given without bias.
What the report lacked was any recommendations on dealing with the issues surrounding academic freedom. Many professors have circulated an open letter, www.columbiaopenletter.com, whose signatories include Eric Foner, Robert Jervis, Mahmood Mamdani, and over 300 others. These faculty members are the embodiment of Columbia, which continues to be a leading progressive institution. Those who want a balanced approach to the issues should consider another school.
The University should immediately set up an investigatory committee to look into the charges that students are spying on professors and intentionally placing people in classes to heckle and hijack classroom Q&A's. These offenses are serious and should carry with them the University's harshest punishment—expulsion.
The time has come for the Columbia Community to reject CAF as a legitimate voice for students' grievances. They have hijacked the debate on campus and in the media for far too long. They have never made this a fight about grievances or intimidation, but merely used it as a smoke-screen for their disdain for any professor who teaches anything remotely critical of Zionism. This is shameful. The fact the administration embargoed the report, only showing it to The New York Times to protect the faculty and their image was a coup worthy of praise. Ariel Beery, leader of CAF, is not Columbia; our faculty are what make up Columbia and they are the ones deserving of University protection and defense. The comments of CAF should be relegated to the blogs of Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer, and the debate should begin in earnest over academic freedom at Columbia with the professors framing that debate rather than the students.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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