Middle East studies in the News
Taken for a Ride
by New York Sun Staff Editorial
If a university president's job is to raise money, then perhaps critics of Columbia University's president, Lee Bollinger, have misjudged his performance throughout the months-long controversy over the university's Middle Eastern studies department. For he managed to turn fears among Jewish alumni about anti-Israel sentiment on campus into donor interest in establishing a professorship in Israeli studies. Just before a university committee exonerated all but one of its Middle Eastern studies professors, Columbia announced that four of its trustees - Mark Kingdon, Richard Witten, Philip Milstein, and Chairman David Stern - had pledged more than $3 million toward an Israeli studies chair to be named after historian Yosef Yerushalmi.
What Columbia did not mention in its announcement of the chair was that two members of its search committee - Rashid Khalidi and Lila Abu-Lughod - are among Columbia's bitterest opponents of Israel. Mr. Khalidi in his writings and speeches has placed the blame for the Middle East conflict squarely on Israel and has said Israel's actions have made a two-state solution almost impossible. Ms. Abu-Lughod, as The New York Sun noted last week, is a signer of the anti-Israel divestment petition that circulated on campus in 2002 and that Mr. Bollinger reckons is inappropriate. After Edward Said died, she wrote a grief-stricken letter on behalf of his memory: "I sit here on the earthen terrace with the sunset warming the pharaonic temple across the field, wondering how to carry on your work. The first step, I know, is to keep talking about Palestine."
The composition of this search committee certainly makes it appear that these trustees have been played for suckers. There could be a surprise, but that's how it looks at the moment. Tel Aviv University's Martin Kramer, who has a Ph.D. in Middle East studies from Princeton and who is the author of "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America," wrote recently that the composition of the search committee leaves Messrs. Stern, Kingdon, Witten, and Milstein "looking like cuckolds for the next year - and possibly, forever." Mr. Kramer wrote "whenever guys in master-tailored suits get taken for a ride by the tweed jacket gang, you've gotta chuckle." Those with an interest in high-quality Middle East studies at Columbia can't be laughing. And as this charade goes on, the full board of trustees looks worse and worse for not exercising its authority.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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