Middle East studies in the News
Alleged Intimidator of Jewish Students Likely To Achieve Tenure at Columbia
by Jacob Gershman
Joseph Massad, whose fiery writings attacking Israel and alleged intimidation of Jewish students have made him the most polarizing figure on the Columbia University campus, is likely to be awarded tenure, according to a professor in his department.
Mr. Massad, an assistant professor of Arab studies, easily cleared the hurdle of his fifth-year review in the spring and is undergoing a tenure review this academic year, a complicated process that often takes more than six months to complete.
While Mr. Massad's future at Columbia poses a problem for an administration seeking to shed a reputation among Jewish groups, alumni, and donors that the university is a base for anti-Israel scholarship, such concerns are unlikely to outweigh several factors in his favor, a professor of Hebrew literature in Mr. Massad's department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures, Dan Miron, said.
By denying tenure to Mr. Massad, Columbia president Lee Bollinger and the university's trustees would risk a backlash from faculty members who would accuse Columbia of yielding to pressure from the press and from Jewish groups, Mr. Miron said.
"Columbia is not courageous enough to say 'no' to this person and face a whole choir of people who would say, 'Aha, you caved in,'" Mr. Miron said.
Mr. Massad, who is on leave this fall semester, also has the support of academic peers in Middle Eastern studies, whose evaluation of his work would focus less on his writings on Israel, in which he often calls for the country's destruction as a Jewish state, than on other subject matters he has covered. He has also written on Jordanian national identity and Western depictions of homosexual behavior in the Arab world. The latter is the subject of his second book, "Desiring Arabs," which is to be published by Harvard University Press.
"He happens to be a fairly good scholar when he's not dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict," Mr. Miron said.
However, he said he objected to such a separation of Mr. Massad's work, arguing that any review ought not to ignore what he describes as the scholar's "horrific propaganda."
Mr. Massad, in academic essays with titles such as "On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy" and "The Ends of Zionism: Racism and the Palestinian Struggle," puts forward the idea that Israel is inherently a racist state and that the Palestinian resistance against Israel is a worthy cause. He has also argued that Zionists are most guilty of anti-Semitism.
"The irony of an anti-Semitic Zionism depicting the Palestinians as the real anti-Semites is not a simply rhetorical move, but instead is crucial to Zionism's fashioning of Jewish public opinion, both in Israel and on a global scale," Mr. Massad wrote in an essay titled "The Persistence of the Palestinian Question," published in the winter 2005 issue of Cultural Critique.
Amid much public attention, an internal Columbia faculty committee investigated Mr. Massad during the last academic year for his allegedly bullying behavior toward Jewish students.
The committee found that Mr. Massad "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" of teaching when in the spring of 2002 he purportedly threatened to banish one of his students, Deena Shanker, from his classroom after she defended Israel's military tactics. Mr. Massad has denied making such a threat to Ms. Shanker.
At Columbia, arts and sciences tenure nominations begin with a vote by tenured professors in the candidate's department. If the candidate wins a majority vote, the department then submits a recommendation, along with a candidate's dossier, to the vice president for arts and sciences, Nicholas Dirks.
If Mr. Dirks approves of the nomination, he will submit it to Columbia's provost, Alan Brinkley. If he concurs, Mr. Brinkley will then consult with an advisory tenure committee and appoint a five-member ad hoc committee composed of scholars outside the candidate's department.
The ad hoc committee, which relies heavily on the department's dossier and more than a dozen referee letters, votes on the candidacy. Messrs. Brinkley and Bollinger can affirm or veto the decision of the adhoc committee. If affirmed, the nomination goes to the trustees for approval. It is extremely rare for the trustees to overturn a president's recommendation on tenure matters.
"An appointment to tenure is made in the University only when an individual of widely recognized excellence is found to fill a scholarly need that is demonstrably vital to a discipline and central to the University's purposes," the university's faculty handbook states.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