Middle East studies in the News
One Columbia Faculty Vetoed Saudi Junket
by Alec Magnet
The faculty of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism voted not to send a professor along on a trip to Saudi Arabia largely paid for by the kingdom's state-owned oil company, viewing it as a "propaganda junket" that would have set a poor ethical example for students.
Other Columbia professors and schools apparently had a different standard. As The New York Sun reported yesterday, the dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, Lisa Anderson, went along on the trip, just months before she was appointed to a committee that investigated allegations of misconduct by anti-Israel professors at Columbia. The five member committee for the most part cleared the professors, and its report was criticized by some as a whitewash.
Ms. Anderson earlier this week sought to defend the trip, saying she found it "very instructive" and that her school's students and faculty "often" travel around the world on projects funded by outside organizations or governments. Ten Columbia-affiliated scholars went on the Saudi-Aramco-sponsored trip to Saudi Arabia in March 2004.
But the journalism school opted out.
"We voted overwhelmingly not to participate in the program, because it was perceived as a propaganda junket - both for Saudi Arabia and Aramco. That decision was consistent with others we've made as a faculty in my 15 years here, rejecting free trips that come from special interests," a professor at the school, Samuel Freedman, said in an e-mail message.
There was little debate among the faculty over the issue, according to professors involved. The dean of the journalism school, Nicholas Lemann, said, "The feeling was that j-school professors should not accept junkets paid for by companies or foreign governments." To do so, he added, would be a violation of journalistic ethics and inappropriate for professors who serve as role models to their students.
At issue was whether the journalism school's newly appointed director of international programs, Joshua Freidman, should go on the Columbia trip to Saudi Arabia. The matter was discussed at journalism school faculty meetings in February and March of 2004.
"We don't accept any money from any government" for fear of influence, Mr. Friedman said. He added that he was offered the invitation because of his position as international director, and that he forwarded the invitation to the rest of the faculty because he was so new at his job. "I had no intention of going. I didn't want to go," he said.
He missed out on some good meals, according to a Web site for former Saudi Aramco employees, which details the "delightful lunch" enjoyed by the Columbia delegation, as well as a "wonderful dinner" during which "guests watched the sunset over the sand dunes from the tent."
Ms. Anderson said in an e-mail, "There was certainly an effort to persuade us of the virtues of Saudi Arabia, from its people to its landscapes, and of the challenges it faces and its valor in doing so, etc." She said she did not think that her service on the committee investigating the student complaints of professorial misconduct was affected "by any of my travels in the Middle East - neither my repeated visits to Israel, nor my travel in the Arab world."
Said Ms. Anderson, "If ever there were a marketplace of ideas, it should be the American university, and that means lots of groups, including groups associated with other countries, will try to make their interests known and voices heard."
The National Council on U.S.-Arab relations helped organize the trip. Representatives of Saudi Aramco and of the National Council did not respond to requests for comment.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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