As an engineering student at Columbia, the issue of bias in the classroom has been, for the most part, nonexistent—unfortunately, this is, in my experience, not the case for a significant number of classes in the department of Middle East, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS, formerly MEALAC). Despite the constant reminders of professors' one-sided agendas, I have always tried to take as many of these classes as possible. This semester, my curiosity for the subject led me to check out the class titled "Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Society," taught by the renowned Joseph Massad. Although I entered the class with a hopeful outlook, it only took a handful of lectures for Massad to prove so many of his detractors right—he not only made his biases obvious but also embarrassed me in the process.
After attending a few lectures, I was still unsure as to whether I wanted to register and remain in the class. While Massad's reputation had preceded him for the most part, his statements were often tainted with a hue of partiality, making me, and several other students, extremely uncomfortable. With a skillfully crafted curriculum and required reading list filled to the brim with anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiment, Massad had no intention of teaching history—he planned on rewriting it.
The course began with an extremely "brief" introduction to the history of the land. Starting in the 16th century and briskly moving into in the 19th and 20th centuries, Massad had completely avoided the historical context that would nullify his own agenda. During these first few lectures, there was absolutely no mention of the 3,000-year-old Jewish presence in Israel, which is backed by an exhaustive amount of both written and archeological proof. In his subsequent description of the founding of Tel Aviv, Israel's major economic hub and richest city, Massad once again turned history upside down. Through the use of disturbing anecdotes and baseless accusations, Massad claimed that Tel Aviv was built through a process of Arab labor and expulsions by Jews, disregarding the plethora of proof that discredits these allegations, including dozens of photographs before the city's founding and endless official British documentation describing the city as built and inhabited by only Jews.
Several weeks into the semester, Spectator interviewed me about Campus Media Watch, a Middle East watchdog group I founded at Columbia. After reading the article, I noticed I was incorrectly described as the sole contributor to one of the group's innocuous blog posts regarding Massad. The following day, I attended class for what I thought would be a regular lesson. After a few minutes of friendly banter with Massad, I sat down as he brought order to the class. With the full attention of his students, Massad singled me out and asked several questions about my attendance. Although I tried to clarify that I was still unsure about registration, my explanation was useless—Massad told me to leave his class immediately, explaining that I was in violation of school policy. Confused and embarrassed for being singled out in front of nearly 60 of my peers, I left the class with an uneasy feeling. Over the next few days, many of my former classmates approached me and described Massad's disturbing reaction to the incident. Although I was not present at the time, I was told that Massad had gone on a "paranoid rant," denouncing me as a "Jewish spy" for the same organization that "had tried to get him in trouble before."
After reviewing school policy, it turns out that Massad had the right to ask me to leave the classroom for not being registered. He did not, however, have the right to deliberately humiliate me in front of my peers. Massad's claim that I was spying on his class is just as bizarre as it is baseless. During the times I attended his lectures, I sat in the front row, making my presence even more obvious with the handful of questions I asked each class. By not confronting me about registration during the time we talked before class began, Massad had the clear intention of making an example of me. I had entered the class with an optimistic mind-set—I had left it embarrassed and shocked by the unprofessional behavior of an instructor at Columbia University. Massad has since filed a grievance against me, which was thankfully resolved, in yet another attempt to stifle free speech and intimidate those who do not blindly follow his teachings. After four years at Columbia, a university known to encourage free speech and debate, I have never encountered a professor who has fought so diligently to vilify and silence a student who he believed had done nothing more than discuss his class on a blog, which leads me to ask a simple question—what does professor Massad have to hide?
The author is a senior in the School of Engineering and Applied Science majoring in computer science. He is a campus fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.