The battle over Columbia University's consideration of tenure for Nadia Abu El-Haj made headlines again today in the wake of Barnard College's decision in favor and an online alumni petition organized by Barnard alum Paula Stern. The petition calls for tenure to be denied, and for very good reason. El-Haj's sole claim to fame is, as Ms. Stern suggests, "a single profoundly flawed book" -- one which can best be described in the very terms El-Haj abuses to characterize most of ancient Jewish and Israeli history: a pure political fabrication.
The outrage here is not that Abu El-Haj, whose work is reported to be riddled with factual inaccuracies, seriously shoddy scholarship and unsubstantiated libel against professional archeologists (she is not one), might actually be granted tenure. The outrage is that an institution of Columbia's reputation and vaunted high standards would even be considering such a thing.
Now a lot of excellent commentary has been written on this subject (e.g., here and here), and I highly recommend that you follow the links if you haven't followed the story to date. What I want to emphasize here is that this is not a struggle to deny a platform to someone with odious ideas (although it would have that effect), nor to silence criticism of Israel (to the contrary, these battles always tend to bring it out more vehemently), nor to interfere in what ought to be an internal academic decision made in accordance with the rules of the university and the professional judgment of peers (because that's not how this process is playing out). It is, rather, a struggle to salvage the integrity of one of this country's great institutions of higher learning (if not academia in general) and to restore confidence in its ability to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for all of its students.
It's one thing to publish a volume of political propaganda thinly disguised as scholarship in an effort to delegitimize an entire religion, an entire people and an entire nation. This is a free country and Nadia Abu El-Haj is entitled to promote her version of revisionist history and pseudo- social science as she pleases. It's quite another thing when our esteemed academic institutions ignore their own standards in honoring such perversion. And it's beyond the pale to ask parents and alumni to stand idly by while those entrusted with the education (not indoctrination) of our young people demonstrate their inability to distinguish fact from fiction.
It's time that academia started to take its role seriously again. It's time for consequences to ensue if it does not.