As I feared, Chronicle of Higher Education has apparently chosen not to run my letter commenting on Jon Wiener's dumb article. So, as promised, I hereby protest the suppression of my free speech rights and present in full my brutally censored remarks.
To the Editor:
Jon Wiener's essay requires several comments. His contrast of the Thernstrom affair at Harvard with that which continues to unfold at Columbia over Middle East Studies situates both in a crude left-right dichotomy. In his predictable morality tale, the left lost, in part because the right was "well-funded." This sort of simplistic reductionism does credit to neither situation.
Of the Thernstrom affair I can say little except that 1. it dealt with "insensitivity" and 2. it took place in pre-internet 1988. Columbia dealt with harassment and intimidation that unfolded in real time, in part thanks to broadband.
But if technology and the substance of the issues do not figure in Wiener's narrative, money, power and real estate do. Wiener believes that Columbia's need to secure city approval for campus expansion is the hidden background to its dithering. Such dithering over expansion goes back to the 1950s, and in any event, community opposition, not city approval, is and has always been Columbia's real problem.
Wiener's ability to read Columbia President Lee Bollinger's mind on the real estate angle is impressive. How then does he parse Columbia's release of its report on harassment and intimidation on the same day New York City announced its long awaited decision to permit building a sports stadium on Manhattan's West Side?
But Wiener's assertion that outside groups such as Campus Watch and the David Project (see under "well-funded" and "sophisticated media campaign") framed the debate in a completely one-sided manner does no credit to Professor Massad and his supporters. One need only examine the fawning New York Times profile of Massad, which culminated months of that newspaper first ignoring the story and then setting up a sweetheart deal with the university to release the investigating committee's report before all other media outlets. They have not been passive victims, and indeed it is they, not Campus Watch or the David Project, who have been most vocal in reframing questions of harassment and intimidation in terms of "anti-Israel basis," which of course they promptly deny. And for the record, Campus Watch does not dispatch "monitors" into classrooms. Wiener's familiarity with the facts is deficient.
Whether or not the vast right wing conspiracy, never named but certainly hinted at by Wiener, underplayed the accusations against Thernstrom in order produce Dinesh D'Souza is trivial, as is the self-evident matter of whether the news media likes controversies. More to the point are Wiener's misrepresentations and the larger question of the role of outside organizations in the life of the university. For faculty to simultaneously pronounce on anything and everything outside the university, and then deny the rest of us the right to observe and comment on what goes on inside the university is inconsistent and best and hypocritical at worst. For a change the university should be prepared to engage its critics rather than dismiss them, and their right to criticize. Until they are, comments such as Wiener's cannot be taken seriously.