At Columbia this fall, the SPME chapter co-sponsored three events with student groups: Benjamin Anthony of Our Soldiers Speak with LionPAC, Geert Wilders with the Campus Republicans, and Effie Eitam with LionPAC. These events were well attended by students but not by faculty. However, the feedback we have received from faculty indicated appreciation of the notification and of the role of SPME on campus.
An attempt to schedule a fourth event, a presentation by Nonie Darwish, in collaboration with a new student organization, Campus MediaWatch, was unsuccessful because, due to miscommunication between SPME and the student group, security arrangements were inadequate. This situation led to a series of conversations and emails with Columbia Security. My colleagues and I were favorably impressed with what we perceive as a real commitment on the part of the university and Security staff to make it possible for controversial speakers to appear on campus without endangering themselves or others. Columbia developed its policy regarding such speakers after receiving adverse publicity when a spokesman for the Minuteman organization was forced to abort his presentation because members of the audience had stormed the stage.
Unfortunately, Security now sometimes requires that events with controversial speakers be closed to those without Columbia ID and/or require advance registration or tickets (usually free) to be obtained from the Columbia box office. For example, Columbia ID and tickets were required for Geert Wilders's talk; as a result faculty spouses and other family members were unable to attend. Security staff understand that the need for these restrictions is generally not the fault of the speakers but of those who are trying to silence them. However, we pointed out to them, the burden falls on the speakers and their sponsors. We were also told that the SPME chapter is not an official campus organization and that faculty who lack departmental or center sponsorship have no official standing to book rooms for events. However, at our December meeting with the Provost (see below), we raised that issue, and he informed us that faculty members in the future will have the same right to book rooms that official student organizations and academic departments do.
We have heard that other chapters are dealing with similar issues of lack of official recognition. I hope that we can be helpful in addressing those issues.
For the spring 2010 semester, another student group has asked for our help in having one of the authors of Startup Nation speak at Columbia. Thanks to the generosity of one of the chapter members, we now have a small budget for guest speakers.
Dr. Michael Baum, a British breast cancer surgeon and distinguished cancer researcher, will be in New York as a visiting professor at another institution in the spring. We hope to have him speak at the health sciences campus about his research and separately about his experiences as a result of his having challenged accusations that the Israel Medical Association was complicit in the torture of Palestinian prisoners.
Last July, following the highly controversial and widely publicized review and award of tenure to Professor Joseph Massad, 14 chapter members sent a letter to the incoming Provost Claude Steel and President Bollinger, identifying four important areas where Columbia's tightly regulated appointment and tenure review procedures appeared to have been violated. Our letter focused on the (appearance of) violations of these procedures rather than the merits of the case per se, as our objective was to prevent future manipulations of the system. Our letter and Provost Steele's response were subsequently made public through links in an article that journalist Judith Miller wrote about the case.
On December 18, five representatives of the SPME chapter, from five of our professional schools, met with Provost Steele and Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg. We expressed our concerns regarding the precedent set by the procedure violations that occurred in the Massad case, reviewing the content of our letters and adding information that we had received from a confidential source subsequent to their publication. Vice Provost Rittenberg, who has overseen every aspect of each of Columbia's tenure and appointment cases over the past 15 or more years, did not comment on any of the points we raised. Provost Steele assured us that he plans to address consistency in the tenure review process in the coming year. The overall tone of the meeting was pleasant and collegial.