The Columbia disaster

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In late January Columbia University was forced to postpone a conference on the Palestinian conflict with Israel when Ambassador Danny Ayalon canceled his participation in the event. A source at the Israeli Embassy told The New York Sun at the time that Ayalon's decision to pull out of the conference came "in view of complaints by Jewish students of intimidation by faculty members."

Ayalon's move was a welcome decision for those who have been closely following the situation at Columbia where Jewish students have credibly and copiously documented repeated and pervasive abuse and intimidation at the hands of professors at the university's rabidly anti-Israel Middle East Languages and Cultures Department. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly clear both to once-proud Columbia alumni like myself and to the concerned public that Columbia cannot be trusted either to adequately address the issue of abuse or to contend with the fact that its Middle East Department has become a bastion of anti-Jewish bigotry posing as scholarship.


The pedagogical abuse of Jewish students was brought to the attention of the general public last October when the Boston-based pro-Israel group, The David Project, which was set up to combat anti-Israel propaganda at US university campuses, produced a short documentary on the issue.



Columbia students interviewed in the film recounted incidents where they had been publicly humiliated by their professors when they dared to question their instructors' mendacious assaults against Israel and support for Palestinian terrorists.


In the wake of the public maelstrom, and consequent inquiries by alumni donors, Columbia president Lee Bollinger appointed an ad-hoc committee of five faculty members last December to look into the complaints of abuse. From the committee's membership it was immediately clear that its report would be a whitewash of the entire situation. Two of the members had signed a petition calling for the university to divest its holdings in companies that sell military equipment to Israel.


Another committee member was the doctoral adviser for one of the professors under investigation. American Jewish leaders as well as the students who complained of professorial abuse immediately launched an outcry denouncing Bollinger's committee.


That committee issued its report late last week and as expected, it largely exonerated the university and its professors from all allegations of wrongdoing. Aside from proving that indeed, Bollinger had set up the committee to ensure that the intended conclusion would be reached, the report exposes three fundamental failures of the university in contending with anti-Israel propaganda in its classrooms.


The committee report centers on three allegations by Jewish students among dozens submitted. The first was a student's allegation that Prof. Joseph Massad ordered her to leave his lecture hall when she suggested that the IDF often warns Palestinians before bombing buildings. The second involved a student alleging that when he identified himself as an Israeli student who had served in the IDF, Massad demanded that he tell him how many Palestinians he had killed. The third instance involved a student's allegation that Prof. George Saliba told her that because she has green eyes, she has no claim to the Land of Israel because she is not a Semite, whereas since he has brown eyes, he is a Semite and therefore has a right to the Land of Israel.


The odd thing is not that the committee refused to focus on any of the other student complaints. Rather, in each of these three complaints, the committee found that the students' allegations were probably true and that the professors' denials of their complaints were probably untrue. And yet, rather than lashing out at these professors for making such amazing statements and then lying about having made them, the committee didn't find anything egregious about them.


The same is true of the committee's treatment of a decision by some of the professors to cancel classes in April 2002 to participate in an anti-Israel campus demonstration held on Israeli Independence Day. Columbia's tuition is more than $30,000 a year. When one breaks that down for cost per hour of instruction it comes to roughly $100 per class session. This means that the professors who canceled their classes to participate in a radically anti-Israel protest essentially stole $100 from each student. And yet, aside from mentioning that it is not exactly proper for professors to cancel class and not offer a make-up session, the committee again, saw nothing unacceptable about what the professors did.


Another striking aspect of the report is that the term "diversity" does not appear once. In this morally relative age where "diversity" seems to have replaced goodness as the only value worth upholding, at no point is the issue of the homogeneity of views in Columbia's Middle East Department mentioned. What this shows is just how opportunistic Columbia's embrace of "diversity" really is. If all diversity means is that the professorate is a rainbow coalition of like-minded radical leftists then the university has moved from the world of scholarship into the world of intellectual bankruptcy.


Finally, the report reserves its harshest criticism, indeed, its only harsh criticism, for "outside organizations," which, the committee alleged, acted not out of regard for the health of the university, but rather were motivated by prejudicial concerns, and for faculty members who were "apparently prepared to encourage students to report to them on a fellow-professor's classroom statements."


The notion that faculty members would try to monitor what their colleagues were doing in their classrooms was "deeply disturbing" to the members of the faculty committee charged with investigating what their colleagues have been doing in their classrooms.


The only conclusion that can be drawn from Columbia's failure to police itself, or even to accept the notion that there is something wrong on campus when professors exploit their classrooms to indoctrinate students in the bile of anti-Israel claptrap is that public pressure on Columbia must be increased, not lessened. Just as Ayalon was right to boycott Columbia's conference in January, so alumni should withhold all donations until the university is forced to take steps to end brainwashing in the classroom and force its professors to contend with the kind of intellectual scrutiny that they should have had to encounter when they were hired to teach at a once-great institution.



Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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