Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Columbia University Students Allege Intimidation By Pro-Palestinian Professors

The New York Times is reporting that a simmering controversy at New York City's Columbia University has now boiled over to the point where the University has convened a committee made up of five faculty members for the purpose of listening to students and others register their concerns about alleged intimidation of Jewish students by Pro-Palestinian professors.

The day before yesterday, one of our TipWonks passed along to us the address of a website that is being run by the concerned students. The site is called Columbians For Academic Freedom, and it can be viewed
here. The site makes for some very informative reading, and the students make a compelling argument that several professors have engaged in various types of intimidating and unprofessional behavior.

Without a doubt, there is a strong element of anti-Israel bias at some college campuses around the country. Many say that the academic atmosphere of Columbia University has definitely become more pro-Palestinian in recent years.

The Times said that one such incident, often cited by Columbia students as an example of anti-Jewish bias, involved an undergraduate student named Lindsay Shrier. She charged that one of her professors, George Saliba, said to her that, "Because she had green eyes she was not a Semite and could not claim ancestral ties to Israel."

Professor Saliba publicly denied the allegations in the University's newspaper, The Columbia Spectator.

There are four professors that the students are most concerned about: Joseph Massad, Hamid Dabashi, George Saliba and Rashid Khalidi, who is director of Columbia's Middle East Institute. All of them deny any unethical behavior.

According to The Times, it is Professor Massad (who is untenured) that the students have the most complaints about. Students have given one of his courses the nickname, "Israel Is Racist."

At the center of the firestorm is university president Lee C. Bollinger. Some professors condemn him for being too weak, they say that he has not been vocal enough in his role as promoter of academic freedom.

Who is right and who is wrong? That is a tough question to decide, especially when we as outsiders are not in full possession of the facts, nor are we able to walk about Columbia's campus in order to get a feel for the school's atmosphere. But one incident is very indicative that there is something going on and the students may have a case:

The Times quotes President Bollinger as saying that he found the viewpoints of Professor Dabashi, "deeply personally offensive." And in response, Professor Dabashi retorted with, "I find him [President Bolinger] 10 times more outrageous. What sort of president is he?"
The whole mess at Columbia is indicative of several serious problems that are becoming increasingly commonplace on many of our college campuses.

One problem is that of increasing incivility in academic discourse. It seems that in almost any argument now-a-days one side or the other quickly resorts to name-calling and personal attacks. Civil discourse often degenerates into so much noise.

Another concern is the existence of well-documented incidents of bias against students that have expressed conservative viewpoints. These have not been confined to one region of the country, but have been occurring on a widespread basis around the country.

Probably the most troubling new tendency that is being exhibited on campus (and the nation as a whole) is the reluctance to compromise. As a culture, we Americans are becoming increasingly polorized with an "all or nothing" mentality. What's worse, the notion is becoming prevalent that "if you are not with me, then you are against me."

As Americans, we often like to think of ourselves as uncompromising. We here at the 'Wonks disagree with that statement. Beginning with the adoption of the United States Constitution, our entire governmental structure resulted from a series of well-considered compromises. It is the ability of disparate groups to come together for the greater good that is often the greatest catalyst for positive societal change.

As a people, we seem to be forgetting how necessary it is to work together toward achieving those common aims.

And that troubles us.

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