Friday, April 01, 2005

Columbia and the New York Times disgraced

The report by a faculty ad hoc committee into academic intimidation at Columbia was released yesterday and Columbia managed not only to disgrace itself but the New York Times as well. According to the New York Sun:

In an effort to manage favorable coverage of its investigation into the complaints, the university disclosed a summary of the committee's report only to the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper, and the New York Times. Those newspapers, sources indicated to The New York Sun last night, made an agreement with the central administration that they would not speak to the students who made the complaints against the professors.

Powerline has the skinny on the 'deal' which apparently the student newspaper Spectator found unpalatable but was ok for the New York Times.

The report itself is a bad whitewash. Bad, in that the ad hoc committee (composed of members whose selection itself was criticized for conflicts of interest) couldn't even do a decent job of pretending to be serious about allegations. Read the whole thing here.

First, out of "62 interviews and over 60 written submissions" the committee managed to find three instances of inappropriate behavior and was barely critical in each case.

On the most 'serious' charge against Professor Joseph Massad who reported threated to expel a student from class for 'deny atrocities against Palestinians' the committee had this:

Upon extensive deliberation, the committee finds it credible that Professor Massad became angered at a question that he understood to countenance Israeli conduct of which he disapproved, and that he responded heatedly. While we have no reason to believe that Professor Massad intended to expel Ms. Shanker from the classroom (she did not, in fact, leave the class), his rhetorical response to her query exceeded commonly accepted bounds by conveying that her question merited harsh public criticism. Angry criticism directed at a student in class because she disagrees, or appears to disagree, with a faculty member on a matter of substance is not consistent with the obligation "to show respect for the rights of others to hold opinions differing from their own," to exercise "responsible self-discipline," and "to demonstrate appropriate restraint."

That'll put the fear of God into anybody.

On the accusation that Massad asked an Israeli student how many Palestinians he had killed:

In light of the confirmation of the event by another student and the contemporaneous reporting to a dean, the committee finds it credible that an exchange of this nature did occur at a location adjacent to campus...An evaluation of the seriousness of this event is a good deal more difficult, especially as it is not possible to pin down issues of time, venue, and sponsorship. It appears that this incident falls into a challenging grey zone, neither in the classroom, where the reported behavior would not be acceptable, nor in an off-campus political event, where it might fit within a not unfamiliar range of give and take regarding charged issues. [emphasis added]

Nice DODGE. I guess the committee is taking the Fifth here.

With reference to this charge:

"We discussed the history of Jews in Israel …. Saliba told me I had no voice in the debate. I was puzzled by his comment. Then he slowly came towards me, moved down his glasses, looked right into my eyes, and said, "See you have green eyes; you are not a Semite. I am a true Semite. I have brown eyes. You have no claim to the land of Israel."

the committee concluded:

As these were the only participants in the reported exchange, and as, ultimately, Professor Saliba acknowledges it did likely take place, we find it credible that this conversation did occur and that a reference to eye color was made near its conclusion. But as it is impossible to judge the imputation, and since more than one reading of the statement is viable, we conclude 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. A 45-minute conversation outside of class or office hours is not consistent with such an effort at intimidation. [emphasis added]

So anything that happens outside of the classroom or office hours is ok.

The committee then pontificates for an inordinate amount of time discussing the lack of decent grievance procedures. Finally, their five recommendations are unserious and largely incoherent babble:
1. Many Schools are now actively considering their grievance procedures...Having good procedures in place is imperative, but widespread knowledge about them is equally important.
2. ...we strongly urge each Dean to undertake a general examination of the advising system in his or her School to ensure that students have regular personal contact with individuals whom they know and trust throughout their career as students.
3. Simultaneously, Arts and Sciences should ensure that all faculty, particularly Departmental Chairs and Directors of Undergraduate and Graduate Studies, are familiar with their responsibilities and obligations in regard to the counseling of students and the handling of grievances.
4. Because there is particular ambiguity over the role of the Office of the University Chaplain and the associated campus ministries, we recommend a review of their prerogatives and responsibilities, with an eye to developing more regular and routinized consultation between the chaplains, appropriate faculty committees, and university offices, including those dealing with student affairs.
5. Many of the matters brought before us did not, in our opinion, constitute the basis for formal grievances but were issues that warranted sympathetic hearing and an appropriate university response. We therefore recommend consideration of a common, central university site to which students, faculty and administrators could turn to express concerns, though not necessarily grievances, about the quality of their experience at Columbia.

Wow. Damn. They must think Columbia students are IDIOTS.

In truth the issue starts right at the top. This is part of VP of Arts & Sciences Nicholas Dirk's directive to the committee:

The committee is specifically not being asked to investigate political or scholarly opinions, curriculum, or departments, but to identify cases where there appear to be violations of the obligation to create a civil and tolerant teaching environment in which opposing views can be expressed.

So the committee wasn't supposed to investigate a department - Middle East and Asian Language and Cultures Department (MEALAC) - that is virulently anti-Israel, engages in blood libels and didn't bother to mention Professor Hamid Dabashi who wrote in an Egyptian newspaper last fall that Israelis suffer from "a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture."

For this kind of malfeasance at one of America's finest universities responsibility has to be assigned - the failure of this flawed committee to assign it leaves it squarely in the hands of Dirks and Columbia President Lee Bollinger. Frankly, Columbia alums should show their displeasure by overtly withholding donations to the University until the administration decides to do something meaningful.

Here's a rebuttal from the David Project who helped bring the fetid truth to light by funding the film Columbia Unbecoming.

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