Middle East studies in the News
Bollinger: some of my best friends are Jewish
by James Panero
We've taken some time off from reporting here on Columbia's MEALAC department, but out of sight for us does not mean out of mind.
Perhaps we've been content to watch Columbia's PR department, in cahoots with The New York Times, try to spin the release of the Ad Hoc Committee's decision on MEALAC to the university's advantage by offering a scoop to The New York Times, only to be chastised for doing so by the Times's ombudsman a few days later. Or maybe it was the Times's oleaginous profile of Professor Joseph Massad ("on his best behavior as he sits on his spotless microsuede sofa") only to be followed by an editorial on April 7 ("Intimidation at Columbia") that rightly indicted Massad and blamed the mandate of the ad hoc committee for not going far enough:
But in the end, the report is deeply unsatisfactory because the panel's mandate was so limited. Most student complaints were not really about intimidation, but about allegations of stridently pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias on the part of several professors. The panel had no mandate to examine the quality and fairness of teaching. That leaves the university to follow up on complaints about politicized courses and a lack of scholarly rigor as part of its effort to upgrade the department. One can only hope that Columbia will proceed with more determination and care than it has heretofore.
Our conclusion is that MEALAC has been a single battle in the long fight to take back the universities, that this particular battle is over, and the problems of radical teaching--right in our back yard, in the heart of New York City, even at Columbia--are now known to a much wider audience. Look for Roger Kimball on the next salvo in the May number of The New Criterion.
I say "even at Columbia" because of the blind eye so many people turned to the accusations of anti-Semitism, ethnic intimidation, and politics trumping academics at an Ivy League School in a liberal voting district. Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, said as much in his interview with The New York Timesa few weeks ago:
Although Mr. Bollinger did not comment last night on what the report is likely to say, he said it was "simply preposterous to characterize Columbia as anti-Semitic or as having a hostile climate for Jewish students and faculty."
I would argue that it is precisely this assumption of liberal, enlightened behavior that blinds the public to anti-Semitism on Columbia's campus--and to wherever radical professors use the cover of the liberal university to their illiberal advantage. Remember that it took an outside organization, the David Project, to bring Columbia's problems to national attention.
I wouldn't be surprised if it was not this same attitude that set Columbia University up one hundred years ago as the headquarters of racial scholarship regarding the Civil War and Reconstruction. That right--the intellectual apologists of Southern Redemption were based right here in New York City. Professor William Archibald Dunning became Columbia's first Lieber professor of history and political philosophy in 1904. His popular theories of the Reconstruction provided the source materials for, among other things, D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," and cemented racist ideologies throughout the country for half a century.
From the school of William Archibald Dunning to the school of Edward Said: Columbia University enters the twenty-first century in the same tradition it entered the twentieth. All this, from the heart of New York City.
Jacob Gershman, of course, had the final word on what he called "The Hamlet of Morningside Heights."
For me, the vision was more "Cabaret," with Bollinger as the Emcee and The Gray Lady as Fraulein Sally Bowles and MEALAC as, hmmm, I'm sure we can find a role for them too. But can't you just see 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.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org