Middle East studies in the News
President of Columbia Is Criticized [incl. Nadia Abu El-Haj, Joseph Massad]
by Tamar Lewin and Amanda Millner-Fairbanks
Their "statement of concern," read to him at a faculty meeting, outlined a grab bag of charges, some relating to governance of the university and some concerning Middle East issues that have repeatedly troubled the campus, in particular his challenging introductory remarks when the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited this fall.
Afterward, several faculty members stressed that there had been no call for Mr. Bollinger to step down and nothing like the anger that led to the resignation last year of Lawrence Summers, Harvard University's president.
"I didn't get the sense that this is the final call for Bollinger," said Peter Bearman, a professor of sociology. "Rather, the prevailing mood was one in which faculty eloquently modeled how to disagree, without insult or ad hominem charges."
Mr. Bollinger came under intense attack in September when Columbia invited the Iranian president, who has aroused strong passions by confronting the West and denying the Holocaust. Mr. Bollinger defended the invitation, then introduced the Iranian leader with a 10-minute verbal assault.
Unhappiness with that confrontation has simmered on campus ever since, and many professors said it provided the main impetus for the faculty petition.
"I think for most people the Ahmadinejad incident was an occasion that brought out a lot of discomfort," said Wayne Proudfoot, a religion professor. "It seemed clear to me that the language he used in introducing Ahmadinejad was intended to, and had the effect of, placating, appeasing and being a message to conservative critics."
Eric Foner, an American history professor who was one of the most outspoken professors at yesterday's meeting, read aloud some of Mr. Bollinger's remarks to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and added, "This is the language of warfare at a time when the administration of our country is trying to whip up Iran, and to my mind is completely inaccurate."
Many of the faculty members said they wanted to be more involved in Columbia's governance.
Mr. Bollinger, who likened his experience at the faculty meeting to watching open-heart surgery on himself, said that in his remarks to Mr. Ahmadinejad he was simply exercising his free-speech rights.
His faculty critics complained that he had expressed his personal views in a forum where he represented the university. In an interview, he acknowledged that he might be seen as speaking for the university, but said, "I think that's a risk, but I think it's outweighed by the benefit of having many, many voices."
Mr. Bollinger said that although he had reflected on whether his remarks to the Iranian leader went too far, he did not think he had erred. Mr. Bollinger said he did not expect a full-fledged faculty uprising.
As the "statement of concern" circulated, some 60 faculty members signed their own statement, generally defending Mr. Bollinger.
Tenure decisions have been another recent issue at Columbia. This fall, Judith R. Shapiro, the president of Barnard College, issued a statement rejecting outside efforts to influence a tenure decision on Nadia Abu El-Haj, a professor who is of Palestinian descent. Dr. Abu El-Haj's writing on Israeli archaeology aroused intense criticism, but she was recently granted tenure.
The faculty statement noted that Mr. Bollinger had made no comments like Dr. Shapiro's. And another controversial tenure decision is pending, that of Joseph Massad, an associate professor in the department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures who was a key figure in an investigation of charges of anti-Semitism at the university a few years ago.
In 2005, a faculty report found no proof of anti-Semitism, but said that Mr. Massad had "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" in how he treated a student in a class on Palestinian and Israeli politics. Mr. Massad did not return phone calls yesterday.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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