Middle East studies in the News
Columbia University's Political Agendas [on, inter alia, Rashid Khalidi, Joseph Masaad, George Saliba, Hamid Dabashi]
by Jacob Laskin
Equally inappropriately, several courses offered through the African Studies department seem designed solely for the purpose of recruiting students to the cause of political activism. One such course is "Topics in the Black Experience Seminar: Organized Labor & the Black Worker" (AFAS C3930/001). According to the course description, the aim of this course is not merely to examine the historical experience of blacks in the labor movement but also to "address questions of organization, strategy and the larger environment that affected the course of labor relations in the USA." Perhaps unsurprisingly, this course has been taught by Bill Fletcher, a labor activist and a former assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. The agent of political change advocated in another course, "Topics in the Black Experience Seminar: Voting Rights in the U.S.: Contesting the Right to Vote" (AFASG4080/002) is not the labor movement but the Supreme Court. "We will pay particular attention to competing political philosophies and empirical assumptions that underlie the Supreme Court's reasoning while still focusing on the cases as litigation tools to be used to serve political ends," the course description states, making no pretence of scholarly detachment.
Another course encourages political activism against the supposed injustices of the American criminal justice system. In "Topics in the Black Experience Seminar: Lyrics on Lockdown -Hip Hop and Spoken Word vs. the Prison Industrial Complex" (AFAS G4080/004), students are assigned readings that "will examine the origin and evolution of the prison industrial complex in the U.S., the development of the criminal/juvenile injustice system, the sociological and psychological impact of mass incarceration on families and children, the role of the arts in social justice campaigns and resistance movements, and the use of popular culture as a pedagogical tool for popular education." To fulfill the requirements of the course, students must attend workshops where "hip hop or spoken word poets" will discuss "the prison crisis in America." They must also devise their own workshop "related to the criminal (in)justice system."
In still other courses, African American studies becomes a pretext for promoting various politically correct ideologies. The list of discussed topics in the misleadingly titled "Critical Approaches to African-American Studies Course," (AFASG4510/001) includes: "Afrocentricity and its critics; the connections between race, gender, sexuality and class; black feminist thought; black socialist and Marxist thought; multiculturalism and ethnic studies; and the changing character of race in post industrial, post-colonial societies." The clear impression imparted by the course is that these represent the complete spectrum of thought about the black experience in the United States, when in fact it is a miscellany of fringe political doctrines. Similarly with the course "Topics in the Black Experience Seminar: Transgressing Female Gendered-Sexualities" (AFAS G4060/001), which "examines Black female gendered-sexuality from a transnational perspective" and confines itself to the ideological frameworks of "race, gender, and sexuality." At the same time, there is no evidence that the course concerns itself with scholarship disconnected from politics.
The Africana Criminal Justice Project
Connected with the African Studies department is the Africana Criminal Justice Project (ACJP). Directed by Professor Marable and funded by the Open Society Institute, the grant-making arm of left-wing financier George Soros, the center presents itself as a research institution at Columbia. In practice, the center functions as an indoctrination and training center for Professor Marable's conspiratorial view that America's system of criminal justice is structurally racist and that black Americans remain victims of discrimination sanctioned by the highest levels of American government. Indeed, Professor Marable has said that the center's work is part of his "struggle against systemic or structural racism" in the criminal justice system and more broadly his "struggle to overturn the violence that is being meted out against millions of American citizens…particularly for citizens of African descent."
Consistent with Professor Marable's vision, ACJP "supports initiatives seeking to address a response to the contemporary crisis of racialized criminal injustice, especially through the promotion of black civic capacity and leadership in communities impacted by mass criminalization and incarceration." A creditable research institution might expected to grapple with such discomfiting data as the fact that black men record crime rates above the national average of other demographic groups, including Hispanic non-whites, and that this may account for their high levels of incarceration. Correspondingly, it might consider the implications of the fact that the blacks are disproportionately the victims of black crime. The ACJP eschews such complexities. Rather than conducting dispassionate research about the problems of crime in the black community, as befitting its academic status, the center promotes the political view that racist policies are the source of the black community's ills and that political activism -- especially vocal opposition to America's criminal justice system -- is the solution.
Conferences sponsored by the ACJP attest to its political commitments. In April 2003, for instance, the ACJP sponsored a conference entitled "Africana Studies Against Criminal Injustice: Research-Education-Action." In promoting the conference, the ACJP not only asserted as established fact the contentious claim that racism was a defining feature of the American criminal justice system; it also made clear that it was motivated by activist and not academic principles:
The conference brings together scholars, activists, practitioners, government, and community representatives together to discuss the issues of crime and justice in the Black experience, focusing on how crime, criminal justice policy, and racialized injustices impact African-American and Black Diaspora individuals, families, and communities. More than an academic exercise, this conference is part of an effort to address the crisis of mass criminalization and incarceration confronting African-American and other Black Diaspora communities. There is urgent need to develop new insight and strategies to address forms of social and political exclusion generated, reproduced and/or intensified by racialized criminal justice policies and procedures. It is also important that we understand these processes in relation to the historical and global development of the "color line" of social control. Africana Studies is poised to make valuable contributions to a growing body of work on the collateral consequences racialized mass incarceration, informing new strategies of critical research, education, and collective action.
As if to leave no doubt about its priorities, the ACJP revealed that its goal in putting on the conference was to "initiate systemic change in the U.S. criminal justice system." Such a mission would be entirely reasonable for an independent political organization or activist group. But the ACJP, as an ostensibly apolitical institution operating under the imprimatur of Columbia University, must be subject to different standards.
The ACJP again violated those standards in November of 2003, when it sponsored a symposium titled "Chanting Down the Walls: Using the Arts to Combat America's Prison Crisis." To make the argument that the locus of this "crisis" was the American prison system, the ACJP invited former Black Panther Party member Dhoruba Bin Wahad to deliver a keynote address. Bin Wahad was introduced as a "US political prisoner." What the ACJP failed to acknowledge is that Bin Wahad was also a onetime foot soldier in the so-called Black Liberation Army (BLA). Among other crimes, the BLA publicly claimed credit for a 1971 machine-gun assault that left two New York police officers seriously wounded. In 1973, Bin Wahad (a.k.a. Richard Moore) was convicted of two counts of attempted murder for his role in that attack, serving 18 years behind bars. Yet the ACJP made no effort to balance Bin Wahad's opposition to the prison system with a differing perspective. Instead, the ACJP extended invitations to a panel of political activists -- among them "poet" and anti-prison activist Bryonn Bain, activist/attorney and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement member Kamau Franklin, and activist/filmmaker Tania Cuevas Martinez -- who shared Bin Wahad's prejudices.
More recently, in 2005, ACJP sponsored a conference titled "Criminally Unjust: Young People & the Crisis of Mass Incarceration." Showing its typical disdain for intellectual diversity, the ACJP invited only those speakers who shared its views about the injustice of America's prison system. In turn, each of the speakers identified the titular "crisis" as being the "disproportionate representation of blacks in prison," a phenomenon that, in keeping with the ACJP's organizing beliefs, was ascribed to the racism of the juvenile justice system. Although the speakers did not consider alternative explanations for the high rates of black imprisonment, one speaker, Newark, New Jersey, Deputy Mayor Ras Baraka, claimed that prisons were themselves to blame for the problem of black crime. When "you're sending young people to jail, you're actually in some ways stiffening their resolve or strengthening their resolve to become criminals, Baraka stated. With its strict conformity of views, the event was more reminiscent of a political rally than an academic conference, a description that would apply equally well to the ACJP.
Along with many other ostensibly academic areas of study at Columbia, the department of Women's Studies is rigidly ideological. For instance, the course "Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies" (WMST V1001x) is devoted entirely to propagating various schools of feminist thought. No literature critical of feminist scholars is reviewed in the course. Instead, the course unabashedly promotes the sectarian view, espoused by radical feminists, that American women are victims of male oppression and discriminatory power structures inbuilt in American society.
In emphasizing this view, a course description explains that one of the principal themes of the course "pertains to systems of power and discrimination. We explore issues of hierarchy and domination, ask whether and how women have been subordinated and what the consequences of those constraints have been. We also want to know how women have challenged, resisted, and adapted to their devaluation and subordination. In addition we will analyze the practices and institutions women have created that have enabled them to survive and thrive."
This is not a reasonable foundation for an academic course. A genuinely academic course would properly treat the above claims as representing only one side of the argument. In addition, it might be expected to evaluate these claims in the context of other views, including those of other feminists, such as Camille Paglia, and Christina Hoff Summers, who have written skeptically about some feminist critiques of American society.
Yet, instead of making students aware of the wider spectrum of beliefs about women's issues, this course includes only those views consistent with its ideological theme about the allegedly discriminatory and sexist nature of American society. As a result, the first book that students are assigned, Myths of Gender: biological theories about women and men, Anne Fausto-Sterling, is a polemical attack on those scholars and thinkers who see differences between the sexes as the natural result of biological differences. Although there is no shortage of empirical evidence to support this understanding of sex differences, the book's author does not engage them. Indeed, the author's methodology is not scientific but political, as when she accuses socio-biologists of justifying "the domination and hierarchy" of men over women in society with their "biologically based argumentation," and thereby impeding "political efforts to obtain male/female equality." More stridently political is the tone of another book assigned in the class, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, by the radical feminist bell hooks. Amplifying the theme of the course, hooks in that work denounces the United States a "political system of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy," and portrays American women as victims of, among other oppressive intuitions, a "sexist tyranny," a "patriarchal mass media," and "sexism, racism, classism" more generally. Similarly, in her book, The Reproduction of Mothering, also assigned in this course, Nancy Chodorow makes the expressly "feminist" argument that American "[w]omen remain discriminated against in the labor force and unequal in the family." Describing the United States as a "male-dominant society," Chodorow further asserts that women become mothers not because of biological reasons or by conscious choice, but because of the unfair demands of "social organization" and the "sexual and familial division of labor." The notion that capitalism is a leading cause in the oppression of American women is reiterated in an article titled "Capitalism, Patriarchy and Job Segregation by Sex," in which author Heidi Hartman argues that Western men have used capitalism to establish "hierarchical organization and control" over women; that "job discrimination by sex" is the "primary mechanism in capitalist society that maintains the superiority of men over women;" and that "accommodation between patriarchy and capitalism has created a vicious circle for women" in the United States. A nearly identical theme animates Catherine MacKinnon's book Sexual Harassment of Working Women, which students are required to read. The book's very first sentence states: "Intimate violation of women by men is sufficiently pervasive in American society as to be nearly invisible," and MacKinnon subsequently adds that the sexual harassment of women is "institutionalized" in the U.S. labor force.
The only time that students are asked to read a piece of writing that departs from the political theme of the course is when, in one assignment, they must read an article by the journalist Andrew Sullivan arguing that men and women differ biologically primarily because men have more testosterone. However, because this argument contradicts many of the feminist theories advanced in the course, and especially in Anne Fausto-Sterling's book Myths of Gender, students are required to disagree with it by writing a "critical response," using Myths of Gender as their "primary reference" and imitating its "methodological criteria."
By any objective standard, this is not an academic course. It is, rather, a sustained exercise in feminist indoctrination that both advances a one-sided political agenda and requires students uncritically to affirm it.
Rare is the course that is not primarily rooted in feminist politics. Besides being the basis of two courses on feminist texts -- "Feminist texts, I: Wollstonecraft to Beauvoir" (WMST V3116x) and "Feminist texts, II: Beauvoir to the Present" (WMST V3117x) -- feminist politics are pervasive in courses like "Genealogies of Feminism" (WMST W4000y), a course billed as a survey of "20th-century feminist scholarship." Ideological feminism also forms the foundation of such derivative courses as "Women and Film" (WMST BC3117y), which is described as a "critical interpretation of film from a feminist perspective;" "The Jewish Woman," which takes as its subject issues "of concern to Jewish women as articulated by contemporary Jewish feminists;" "Discourses of Desire: Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies," (WMST BC3130x), which considers "feminism and les/bi/gay liberation;" "Women and Science" (WMST BC3502x), whose core is described as "[f]eminist critiques of biological research and of the institution of science," among many other similar courses that eschew scholarly objectivity in favor of feminist posturing.
Other courses offered through the Women's Studies program go beyond merely promoting feminist politics. For instance, a "Colloquium in Feminist Theory" (WMST V3112x) is described as an "exploration of the relationship between new feminist theory and feminist practice, both within the academy and in the realm of political organizing."
Taking this "exploration" to its logical conclusion, a course called "Theorizing Civil Engagement" (WMST 3590) requires students to actually become political activists. Central to the course is the partisan political claims that both the city government of New York and the federal government have failed or otherwise declined to address the problems faced by the poor and homeless and that the solution is community activism supporting increased government spending on various social programs. The course description for the course reads in part:
In New York City, poverty, racism, inadequate education, lack of access to health care, unemployment, and a host of other problems are daily realities for many. These issues are magnified for the City's homeless, who confront a constellation of problems on a daily basis, often without access to any support networks. At the national level, the federal government has increasingly distanced itself from the struggles facing the homeless in our city. At the community level--in neighborhoods, workplaces, non-profit organizations, and activist community groups--people continue to organize to solve the daunting problems confronting the homeless and other marginalized populations. In this class we will explore how communities and individuals make change, whether through traditional channels such as voting and supporting political parties and candidates, or through direct action, grassroots innovations, and/or socially aware business models. Through a combination of community-based learning, directed reflection, and theoretical readings, we will explore the different meanings of civic engagement by focusing on the multiple creative solutions homelessness advocates have developed in community organizing and conceptualizing social change.
Notwithstanding the tendentious analysis presented in this course, there is no consensus about the best public policy solutions for alleviating the problems it addresses. For the course to suggest differently is not only misleading, but a clear violation of students academic freedom, which stipulates that controversial political matters be discussed in an objective fashion and a wide range of scholarly views be taken into consideration.
That the course makes no concession to reasonable differences of opinion is further indicated by the required readings for the course, which uniformly extol the activist agenda of the political Left and encourage the conflation of scholarship and political activism. These books include, Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals, a manual for left-wing activists by political organizer Saul Alinsky. Another required book, Habits of the Heart: individualism and commitment in American life, is a politically motivated attack on free-market capitalism and the "cancerous" tradition of "American individualism" that, according to the authors, sustains it. Against this tradition the authors recommend a form of "distributive justice" in accordance with their left-wing politics.
Anti-capitalist polemic also informs another book assigned in the class,
Inequality, Poverty, and Neoliberal Governance: Activist Ethnography in the
Homeless Sheltering Industry. The activist theme of the course finds its clearest expression in another assigned book, Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power, and Public Life in America, in which the authors praise the blurring of distinctions between pedagogy and research and political activism.
For most of the last century many academics have perceived their job to be one of dispassionate analysis. In the past twenty years, however, the same factors that produced a new multiplicity of activist forms have shifted the terms of academic practice, encouraging the questioning of old stances, posing challenges to former ways of dong business, and raising new possibilities for engaging with public issues through our research. As a result, it has become possible for social scientists to explicitly relate our research to political, ethical and critical concerns.
These views about the propriety of merging scholarship and activism go unchallenged in the course. In addition, students are required not only to appreciate the distinctive forms of political activism championed in the course, but to participate in them, as well. As the course description explains:
Internships in New York City or participation in campus activism (min. 4-5 hours/week), dialogue with local leaders, and case studies will enrich our reflection upon and analysis of homelessness and related issues including: individual and community empowerment; public policy at the grassroots; the relationship between government funding and social change; communication and coalition-building across differences of race, ethnicity, gender, and class; and leadership development.
Such assignments cannot be reconciled with the values of academic freedom. A properly academic course would be expected to assess students on the basis of academic criteria. In compelling students to engage in activism as a basis for their evaluation, the course creates arbitrary standards, ones appropriate to a community activist group or a political party but hardly for an academic course.
Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures
Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics, stands as an exemplar of this academic abuse. Past students have charged that Professor Massad repeatedly used his course "Palestinian-Israeli Politics and Societies" as a soapbox to rail against Israel. One student asked the professor whether Israel provided warnings to civilians before striking residential areas. In the student's account, the professor became outraged at the question, saying that if she was going to "deny the atrocities" committed against Palestinians, she should "get out of his class."
Another student who took the course with Professor Massad, Noah Liben, complained that the professor repeatedly mischaracterized Jewish and Israeli history, as when he informed students that German Jews were not physically assaulted by Nazis until Kristallnacht in 1938. On another occasion, Professor Massad allegedly called Zionism a "male-dominated movement," and erroneously informed his students that the word "zion" means "penis" in Hebrew. Such in-class harangues have earned Professor Massad a reputation for being anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and even anti-Jewish.
Significantly, Professor Massad does not deny that he criticizes all three in his classroom, though he stresses that "I have always made a distinction between Jews, Israelis, and Zionists in my writings and my lectures." Yet this distinction hardly compensates for the fact that Professor Massad conducts his course in an unprofessional manner, and that he injects politically motivated critiques into what is supposed to be an academic course. (It is also unclear what qualifications Professor Massad has for holding forth on Jews, Zionism, or Israel, since his specific academic qualifications are in the history of Arab politics). That his lectures are indeed indistinguishable from political diatribes is conceded by the professor himself. In responding to the criticisms of his student Noah Liben, Professor Massad has written:
Noah seems to have forgotten the incident he cites. During a lecture about Israeli state racism against Asian and African Jews, Noah defended these practices on the basis that Asian and African Jews were underdeveloped and lacked Jewish culture, which the Ashkenazi State operatives were teaching them. When I explained to him that, as the assigned readings clarified, these were racist policies, he insisted that these Jews needed to be modernised and the Ashkenazim were helping them by civilising them.
In fact, there is no evidence that the Liben holds that views the professor attributes to him. It is clear, however, that in his courses Professor Massad deliberately presents his opposition to Israeli policies as a statement of fact rather what it is: eminently debatable opinion. In response to criticism that his course has an anti-Israel perspective, Professor Massad has said that it is necessary to counterbalance what he alleges is the "Israel-friendly angle" of other courses offered through department. Professor Massad offers no specific examples of which courses demonstrate this pro-Israel bias.
Even had he managed to produce such an example, however, it would hardly excuse the demagogic, politically loaded and blatantly unprofessional manner in which he conducts his course. No more convincing is the professor's protestation that while his course is openly "critical of Zionism," it is an "elective course which no student is forced to take." In reality, the mere fact that Professor Massad is teaching an ostensibly academic course -- rather than, for instance, presiding over a political rally -- makes the uncritical teaching of partisan agendas inappropriate. Whether the course is a requirement or an elective is entirely irrelevant to this fundamental issue.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Columbia has stopped offering "Palestinian-Israeli Politics and Societies." For his part, Professor Massad maintains that he willingly stopped teaching the course "under the duress of coercion and intimidation" of critics -- an obvious exaggeration given that no disciplinary action was ever taken against Professor Massad, and the "coercion and intimidation" he decries came in the form of outside criticism from disaffected students, concerned alumni, and media commentators.
Whatever the case, the fact remains that Professor Massad continues to use his courses to prosecute his political agenda against Israel. Further proof of the professor's misconduct comes from "Introduction to Major Topics in Asian Civilizations: The Middle East and India," a course that Professor Massad co-teaches in the department. On the evidence of its title and course description, this course is not primarily about Israel. But students have charged that even here the professor's animus against Israel is evident.
Several of these students have made public their lecture notes from the course, which together reveal a pattern of unprofessional behavior. For instance, according these students, Professor Massad has on more than one occasion likened Israel's Zionist character to the racism of apartheid-era South Africa. "We were not presented with any material that argued that Zionism is not racist," one student has said. On other occasions, students assert, the professor told jokes intended to present Zionism as a fringe phenomenon with virtually no following among Jews. "What makes a Zionist a Zionist?" the professor is alleged to have asked. "A Jew who asks a Jew to send a third Jew to Palestine."
Further, while omitting any mention of human rights abuses in other Middle Eastern countries, Professor Massad devotes consistent attention to crimes allegedly committed by Israel, even going so far as to question Israel's right to exist. The point is made more explicitly in the sole book on Israel assigned for the course, Israel, a Colonial Settler State?, by the French Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson, which includes a map of 1967 Israel that is labeled "Palestine." A stridently polemical book, the book assails Israel's right to exist and argues that it was created in order to "dominate [Arab peoples] economically and politically." The cumulative impression created by his repeated interjections of anti-Israel criticism and his one-sided reading assignments is that Professor Massad considers the course but another opportunity to advance his personal aversion to the state of Israel.
In his penchant for anti-Israel invective, Professor Massad is not alone. George Saliba, a professor of Arabic and Islamic science, has also come in for criticism by his former students, who allege that he uses his courses "Islam & Western Science" and "Intro to Islamic Civilization" to attack the West and the United States. Students also say that Saliba makes a point of criticizing Israel, and instead refers to it as "Palestine." Asked by a student whether this usage was intended to deny the legitimacy of Israel, Saliba responded with a political sermon: "Oh, so that's the ax that you have to grind? Why Israel is being called Palestine in my class? What about the plight of the Palestinians? Why isn't that what you are talking to me about?"
More notoriously, Saliba once informed a Jewish student of his that Jews like her had "no claim to the land of Israel because of the color of her eyes. "You have green eyes, you're not a true Semite," Saliba lectured the student. "I have brown eyes, I'm a true Semite." Saliba does not deny the incendiary substance of the student's charge: that he tells students that the right to live in the land of Israel is crucially dependent on eye color. "I do sometimes use the metaphor that inheriting a religion or converting to one is not the same as inheriting the color of one's eyes from one's parents ... and most certainly it does not come with a deed to a specific lot of real estate," Saliba has said. Political intimidation of this sort is not only unprofessional but also shamefully intolerant. Yet Professor Saliba sees nothing amiss with his abusive conduct.
Despite being subjected to political harangues by their professors -- Dan Miron, a professor of Hebrew literature at Columbia, reports that Jewish students visit his office weekly to bemoan anti-Israel bias in their courses -- many Columbia students have been reluctant to file complaints with school administrators. Their reluctance can be explained in part by the fact that the head of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department is Iranian studies professor Hamid Dabashi.
Professor Dabashi has his own record of unprofessional conduct and has shown little sympathy for students concerned about the anti-Israel bias in the classroom. Dabashi has been accused of canceling his courses in order to attend a pro-Palestinian rally where activists called for the destruction of Israel. In response, Dabashi unapologetically defended his "attendance at a political rally where both students and faculty could benefit from access to accurate information on the Middle East that is never reported by the newspapers ‘of record' nor is it even allowed to be reported by any member of the press as Ariel Sharon's army prohibited access to the press when he was committing his massacres in Jenin and for days, now weeks, after that."
Beyond permitting these professors to vent their grievances against Israel in the classroom, Columbia has in the past devoted academic "conferences" to anti-Israel themes. In January of 2005, for instance, Columbia sponsored a panel discussion under the title "One State or Two: Alternative Proposals for Middle East Peace." Although the notion of a "one-state" solution is widely interpreted to mean the effective destruction of Israel, the discussion was sponsored by Qanun (the Arab students in Columbia University's School of Law), the Human Rights program of SIPA (Columbia's School of Public Affairs), the office of the University Chaplain, and Columbia's Student Services and the Student Senate.
And far from discussing the proposed topic as scholars, the gathered panelists assumed the role of activists: three of the four professors who participated in the discussion -- including Columbia professors Joseph Massad and Rashid Khalidi and Haifa University professor Ilan Pappe -- endorsed the "one-state" solution, effectively calling for the dissolution of the Jewish state. Khalidi dismissed a two-state solution "a prescription first for civil war" and "for unending conflict" and attacked Israel for what he termed preventing "the growth of the Palestinian population." Massad, who repeatedly denounced Israel as a "racist apartheid state," stated that asking Palestinians to accept a sovereign Israel alongside a Palestinian state "was asking diaspora Palestinians to commit suicide." Ilan Pappe, who despite being an Israeli academic has supported an academic boycott of Israel, used the occasion to announce that Israel had committed a "Holocaust against the Palestinians." And while the "one-state" solution remains a fringe political view, assuring as it does the end of Israel's existence, it went unchallenged at the conference.
Columbia has given no indication that is capable of addressing the pervasive problems in the department. On the contrary, the school has consistently proven itself unwilling to hold professors accountable for their behavior. For instance, as a response to the complaints of students, Columbia President Lee Bollinger in December of 2004 appointed a five-member panel to adjudicate their concerns. But while students raised a number of incidents that they believed to illuminate a pattern of academic misconduct, the panel ignored all but three. Among those complaints scanted by the committee was one brought by a Jewish student who accused Professor Massad of declaring, as if it were a matter of fact rather than unfounded speculation, that it was official "Israeli policy" for soldiers to rape Palestinian women in Israeli jails so that they would be killed for adultery upon returning to the Palestinian territories. "In the end, they said that it was nothing," the student said of the committee.
Ultimately, the committee's ruling did little to hold professors to account. In March of 2005, the committee dismissed all but one complaint, ruling that "they found no claims of bias and intimidation in classrooms" -- a conclusion that does not square with the statements of the professors themselves, who not only acknowledge that they teach in a biased a manner, but defend it as their ostensible right. Even the one instance of intimidation the committee took seriously, in which Professor Massad threatened to expel a student from his class for disagreeing with his political conclusions, was downplayed as a momentary and inconsequential lapse in judgment, not a violation of academic standards. Professor Massad, the committee concluded, had "exceeded commonly accepted bounds by conveying that her question merited harsh public criticism," but this was merely a "rhetorical response." Similarly, of Professor Saliba's harassment of a Jewish student for the color of her eyes, the committee decided that "however regrettable a personal reference might have been, it is a good deal more likely to have been a statement that was integral to an argument about the uses of history and lineage than an act approaching intimidation." By the committee's lights, Professor Saliba's conduct was wholly befitting a professional educator.
Measurably more severe was the committee's verdict on the students. Indeed, the committee's final report suggested that it was the students, rather than the professors, who most imperiled academic freedom. "There is a thin line between participating fully and enthusiastically in a discussion, and intervening in a fashion which significantly disrupts the class," the report chided.
That the committee took such a charitable view of the professors' conduct, and their derogations of Israel and pro-Israel Jewish students, was not accidental. Two of the committee's members -- Farah Griffin, a professor of African-American studies, and Jean Howard, a professor of English and Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives at Columbia -- had previously signed a petition condemning Israel and appealing to Columbia to divest its holdings in companies that conduct business with the Jewish state. Another committee member, Lisa Anderson, the then-dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, had served as a dissertation advisor to Joseph Massad and, prior to joining the committee, had defended him from outside criticism, which she called a "campaign of defamation." Considering that the committee was the university's most resolute response to the problems of bias and intimidation, MEALAC seems destined to remain under the occupation of professors who call themselves scholars even as they pursue political agendas in the classroom.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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