Middle East studies in the News
Columbia learns a thing or two
We don't envy Columbia University as it struggles to maintain a climate of academic freedom and simultaneously protect the rights of students to engage in honest classroom discussions without fear of professorial retribution. Those values may sound like ridiculously simple goals. But as the university has recently learned, they are anything but that.
If they are to mesh harmoniously, Columbia must insist on an exacting classroom balance - a blend of intellectual honesty, mutual respect for divergent views and plain old common sense. Sad to say, these are not qualities found in abundance on every American campus these days.
The Columbia saga has taken countless twists and turns over the past few months. But embedded at the heart of the dispute is the charge that pro-Palestinian professors at the university have sought to intimidate Zionist students.
Is it true? While a faculty committee failed to document the claim conclusively in a report released late last month, it did find that one Mideast studies professor, Joseph Massad, "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" as he answered a student's question. It seems that Massad was talking about Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza. The student asked if Israel sometimes gives warnings before it bombs certain areas. She quotes Massad as saying: "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!"
In the end, naturally, the faculty report riled up everyone. Pro-Israel students say it wimped out. Massad says it favors a "witch-hunt that has targeted me for over three years." Other Columbia teachers worry about outside "monitors" who show up in their classrooms and threaten to repress free-wheeling discussions on high-octane topics.
Meanwhile, Columbia is examining its grievance process so that students can get redress before their anger morphs into psychodrama. Still, procedural tinkering is no substitute for common sense. What about fairness? What about balance in the instruction? Those subjective qualities are notoriously hard to judge - but Columbia needs to try.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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