[Marxism] Columbia Mideast studies developments
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Mon Mar 28 08:06:52 MST 2005
Professors Contest Charges Of Anti-Semitism
Some Call Bollinger's Response to MEALAC Dispute Inadequate
by James Romoser
Columbia Spectator Senior Staff Writer
March 28, 2005
Disturbed by the outgrowths of the controversy over Middle East studies at
Columbia, faculty members across the university are speaking out against
what they see as baseless attacks from outsiders intending to harm
They are responding not to the specific allegations made against certain
professors in the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department,
but to the broader characterizations of Columbia as an intolerant, even
anti-Semitic university that have arisen out of those allegations.
Some professors are also criticizing University President Lee Bollinger for
not defending Columbia forcefully enough or early enough in the
controversy, thereby letting outside organizations like The David Project
and newspapers like The New York Sun frame the debate.
In their comments, made both publicly and in interviews with Spectator, the
professors have repeatedly invoked the ideals and terminology of academic
freedom, saying universities like Columbia must retain absolute authority
over what they teach and how they teach it. Outside groups, they say, are
violating professorial autonomy by attacking Columbia based on the
controversial views of certain MEALAC professors, like Joseph Massad and
Hamid Dabashi, who have been critical of Israel.
There is a broad sentiment among the faculty that Columbia has been very
unfairly under attack from public organizations and newspapers, said Eric
Foner, the Dewitt Clinton professor of history.
Charges that there is a climate of anti-Semitism at Columbia, that it is
impossible to express pro-Israeli views at Columbia, these wild charges
that this is a place where Jewish students are intimidated all the timeI
just feel that these charges are utterly inaccurate and they need to be
refuted directly, Foner added.
Such charges have come from a variety of sources over the last few months
in the aftermath of the release of Columbia Unbecoming, a documentary
produced by The David Project in which several students and recent alumni
say they were intimidated by some MEALAC professors, including Massad and
Last October, a New York Daily News editorial entitled Depths of bigotry
at Columbia stated, Columbia University classrooms are infected by a
culture of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bigotry.
Last November, an editorial in The New York Sun said, The fact is that
Columbia has been infected with a contingent of faculty members whose
hatred for Israel has eclipsed any academic mission.
In addition, heavily pro-Israel commentators like Martin Kramer, of Tel
Aviv University, and Daniel Pipes, of the Middle East Forum and Campus
Watch, have long been critical of Middle East studies at Columbia and have
made similarly severe accusations against the university recently.
As a way to respond to these charges, Foner and David Johnston, the Joseph
Straus professor of political philosophy and the core curriculum, composed
an open letter on academic freedom and gathered 43 other signatures from
members of the arts and sciences faculty. The one-and-a-half-page letter,
which refers to the MEALAC controversy only implicitly, supports the
unfettered right of professors to explore unwelcome, unsettling, or
Many of the allegations that have been made during this
campaignallegations that have attempted to create the impression that an
atmosphere of intolerance exists at Columbiaare blatantly false, the
Even Jonathan Cole, Columbias former provost, addressed the allegations
against Columbia in a talk on campus last Tuesday. Comparing the current
situation to a McCarthy-era witchhunt, Cole said, The university must
nurture the creation of novel and sometimes unsettling ideas.
A number of faculty members have also criticized the way the president has
handled the attacks. While most professors expressed lukewarm support for
the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee, the Bollinger-created task force which is
nearing the end of its investigation of students claims of intimidation,
many of them also said his public comments in response to outside charges
of anti-Semitism have been inadequate.
Although theres been some defense of academic freedom in the
administrations statements certainly, its been a pretty mixed defense,
Christia Mercer, a professor of philosophy who signed the letter, called
Columbia Unbecoming a piece of right-wing propaganda, and said, It would
have behooved the administration to say very early on that the claims The
David Project made about Columbia were just utterly absurd. If we at
Columbia let the right-wingers attack us and get away with it, that will
set a very bad precedent.
A university spokeswoman, Susan Brown, did not respond to requests for
comment on the professors criticisms of Bollinger, but she did issue a
statement on the faculty letter. The statement read in part, The letter
signed by  members of the faculty addresses the fundamental importance
of freedom of thought and speech to the mission, character and
contributions of research universities. The values expressed by the faculty
members are shared by the administration.
In a speech before the New York City bar association last Wednesday,
Bollinger made some of his most forceful remarks to date in regard to
Columbias critics. It is simply preposterous to characterize Columbia as
anti-Semitic or as having a hostile climate for Jewish students and
faculty, he said, according to a transcript of the speech.
But early on in the controversy, Bollingers public comments were far more
measured, often going no further than to stress the general importance of
academic freedom for both professors and students.
And even in Wednesdays speech, Bollinger did not go as far in defending
professorial autonomy as some faculty members have called for. Autonomy,
Bollinger said, is not absoluteand there can be limits on the content of
what is taught.
We should not say that academic freedom means that there is no review
within the university, no accountability, for the content of our classes
or our scholarship. There is review, it does have consequences, and it does
consider content, he said.
Andrew Nathan, the Class of 1919 professor of political science, was
sharply critical of that portion of Bollingers speech.
This was a talk in which he still entertained the possibility that what he
calls unacceptable ideas are being taught in the classroom, Nathan said.
Nathan also said he wishes Bollinger had been more supportive of the
faculty from the beginning.
I think the administration should say strongly that our existing
mechanisms of faculty self-governance and the quality of teaching and
scholarship on the campus is high, and that they dont believe that
unacceptable ideas have been promulgated in the classroom, Nathan said.
History professor Richard Bulliet, a Middle East specialist who has not
been named in the controversy, said he wishes the administration had acted
more quickly to quell the controversy, but he generally defended
If you have very specific charges that are made, I think it probably is
wise not to make absolute blanket statements absolving professors of all
misbehavior until you have made some sort of determination as to whether
theres a factual base that would call for some action, he said.
Bulliets name was not on the letter circulated by Foner and Johnston, and
he said he was unaware of it.
CU to Create $5 mil Chair Of Israel Studies
Trustees Contribute $3 million; Committee Hopes to Hire Ivy's First Chair
of Israel Studies by Fall 2006
By Owen Hearey
Columbia Spectator Staff Writer
March 28, 2005
In the midst of a controversy centered on allegations of pro-Palestinian
teaching in Columbias MEALAC department, the administration has pushed
forward with its plans to hire the Ivy Leagues first permanent chair of
Although the new position was publicly announced by University Trustee Mark
Kingdon, CC 71, at the March 3rd John Jay Awards Dinner, a search
committee met for the first time last Friday to begin drawing up plans to
fill the position. According to the search committee chair, professor
Michael Stanislawski, the committee hopes to have the new professor on
campus by Fall 2006.
Stanislawski, also the assistant director of Columbias Center for Israel
and Jewish Studies, did not waste any time in making the new chairs role
This chair is not a political appointment; its an academic appointment,
he said in an interview Saturday.
While the announcement comes at a time of mounting national exposure for
Columbias MEALAC department, Stanislawski was adamant that the timing was
completely coincidental. The idea for the Israel Studies chair, he said,
predated the recent controversy.
It would be naïve to think that theres a Chinese wall between the two,
but theres no causal relationship between this years controversy and this
chair, he said.
So far, the donors, all University trustees, have pledged more than $3
million to the chairs creation, which the school has billed as a $5
million undertaking. Although Stanislawski refused to speculate what
motivated the chairs benefactors to make donations, he mentioned that it
was not a tough sell. Stanislawski said that he had been talking to
donors for well over a year, and that the announcement simply came at a
time when the search committee had been formed.
In the past, most notably with Rashid Khalidis Edward Said Chair of Middle
East studies, the donors identities have sometimes become a contentious
issue. Reacting to pressure from outside groups, the University identified
the Said Chairs then-anonymous donors in March 2003; the donors included
the United Arab Emirates as well as other individual and corporate
Stanislawski did not foresee similar wrangling over this new positions
Theres no secret source of funding here. These are trustees of Columbia
that have been extremely generous, he said.
He added that, at a time yet to be decided by the University Development
office, the donors names would absolutely be released.
Although he refused to comment on the MEALAC controversy and has refrained
from viewing Columbia Unbecoming, the documentary that first alleged
professorial misconduct in the department, he called the idea that Columbia
was unfriendly to Jews or anti-Semitic calumny.
I think Columbia University is the best institution in Jewish studies in
the country, and this [appointment] is only going to make us prouder, he
said. Its just a natural fit.
Stanislawski rejected the belief that there could be only two sides to an
issue, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also expressed his
disapproval for increasing the facultys diversity of opinion by hiring
additional professors to counter existing ones.
We abhor the notion that some people have of balancing opinions, he
said, speaking on behalf of the search committee.
Instead, Stanislawski is focused on hiring someone who would approach the
subject matter from an academic point of view. Although he said that the
professor would be free to voice his or her opinions freely, he expressed
his hope that the focus of the chairs role would be an interdisciplinary,
scholarly focus on Israel.
Stanislawski went on to describe the search process as totally open.
Theres no preferred candidate, theres nobody that weve isolated yet,
he said. Were still considering all possible fields.
The search committee is composed entirely of Columbia faculty, and a good
number are from the Center for Israel and Jewish Studies. Stanislawski said
that although the committee is looking for anyone in the humanities or
social sciences with an excellent understanding of Israeli society,
culture, and politics, its unlikely that the professor will be a historian
or a Hebrew literature scholar, since existing professors already cover
both fields at Columbia.
But Stanislawski was completely unsure where the new professor would come from.
It could be an American, Israeli, Australian, Austrian, Swede, a
Palestinian. ... Its going to be a real international search for the best
person we can find, he said.
While the chair could conceivably come from anywhere in the world, the
academic focal point for Israel studies remains within the country itself.
Stanislawski plans to make a trip there in May to help scout potential
According to the current timetable, which, along with most other decisions,
must be approved by Vice President of University Development Susan Feagin,
the search committee will set a December 15 deadline for applications to
the position. Next spring, the committee will vet a short list of
candidates on campus, and then it will make a decision in anticipation of a
Fall 2006 start date. While the actual selection process might deviate
somewhat from this tentative schedule, Stanislawski was optimistic that the
committee would stay on target.
The committee expects the appointee to teach four classes each year,
including both undergraduate and graduate level courses. Although the
chairs overwhelming scholarly focus will be issues related to modern
Israel, the professor will be housed in an existing academic department
befitting his or her discipline and will be free to teach whatever he or
The position will be named after current Columbia Professor Yosef Hayim
Yerushalmi upon his retirement. The Universitys Salo Wittmayer Baron
Professor of Jewish History and director of the Center for Israel and
Jewish Studies, Yerushalmi received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1966 and has
been at the University since 1980.
In addition to the permanent chair, the school is creating a visiting
professorship designed to bring Israeli scholars from an even wider variety
of disciplines to Columbia. The director and assistant director of the
Center for Israel and Jewish Studies, currently Yerushalmi and
Stanislawski, along with an advisory committee to be established later,
will select the visiting professors. Stanislawski said that he hopes to
secure one for the next academic year, although he said a Spring 2006
arrival seems more realistic. The new professorships are designed to create
a more structured program for Israeli visitors and to help better acquaint
the University community with respected Israeli scholars.
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