[The following comes from a Columbia student web-site, run by Matt Pellow, which documented the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel and teacher coercion scandal. The entire debate can be found at: http://www.columbia.edu/~map76/debate.html]
On Wednesday, 17 April 2002, a rally was held on Low Library Plaza by students, faculty and community members to support Palestinians and condemn the Israeli military action in the West Bank that began in April 2002 . Some professors cancelled their classes in order to attend the rally. Some students voiced their concern that their professors' manner of informing them about the rally clearly conveyed those professors' belief that students should attend the rally; and in so doing, made inappropriate political use of their position as academic instructors. A contentious exchange about this issue has ensued.
This page has several purposes:
1. To present a compilation of the debate in print at the present time
2. To summarize the core issues of the debate
3. To present a sample of student comment on the controversy
4. To present by belief that some of arguments have been without merit and gratuitously incendiary
Because of the volume of responses being posted to Prof. Dabashi's Spectator article , they will not all be posted here. All published exchanges of faculty, administration and clergy will continue to appear here as I become aware of them. The commentary appearing here will necessarily reflect a limited selection.
The body of student comment has been growing, and many questions have been raised. Some relate to the core questions of this controversy, and some do not.
This controversy concerns:
• Did the faculty appropriately manage their separate their political and academic roles? Did professors use their academic platform for political exhortation in a way that amounts to coercion? This is the original and motivating concern which was brought to Rabbi Sheer's attention. This was the sole issue he addressed in his article in the Spectator. What level of separation is required between a professor's academic duties and political expression? How much are political commitments to influence the classroom?
• The character of debate on campus. Many people had two problems with Prof. Dabashi's written reply. They felt he clearly misrepresented Rabbi Sheer's argument and failed to address the issues raised by Rabbi Sheer, to whom he was intending to respond; and they felt he maligned Rabbi Sheer's motives with no justification. Both aspects are inimical to healthy academic debate.
• What is the appropriate role of clergy on campus? Prof. Dabashi states that clergy have no place in the university. Is he right?
• Why has the administration been silent on these issues? It is the administration's responsibility to articulate its policies on these issues. It has failed to do so.
This controversy does not concern:
• The legitimacy of on-campus political expression. The right of any group to hold a political rally, or of any student or faculty member to attend it, are not being contested. No objection has been offered in this exchange to the fact that a pro-Palestinian rally was held on Low Plaza.
Religious influence in secular institutions. The concerns raised by the students, and expressed by Rabbi Sheer, are irrespective of religious affiliation.
• The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The political circumstances in the Middle East, while of great concern, are not the subject of the students' concerns. Students are concerned about the conduct of academic affairs within Columbia University.
The public record of this debate includes:
• Prof. Hamid Dabashi's e-mail to the students whose class was cancelled (18 April)
• Rabbi Charles Sheer's letter in the Columbia Daily Spectator (26 April)
• Prof. George Saliba's response to Rabbi Sheer in the Columbia Daily Spectator (3 May)
• Tallie Leiberman's response to Prof. Dabashi (4 May)
• Amy Weiner's comments w (6 May)
• Daniel Immerwahr's comments (6 May)
• Aryea Aranoff's comments (6 May)
• Shireen Ahmed's comments (7 May)
• Ari Friedlander's comments (8 May)
As of this writing, there has been no statement from the Columbia University administration concerning this issue.
• [18 April] Prof. Dabashi sent an ex post facto e-mail to the students in the class which had been abruptly cancelled the day before. [Pellow's comments]
today i ran into dean yatrakis on college walk. she informed me that a number of you have registered a complaint with her about the cancellation of my class yesterday. i write this note and copy it to dean yatrakis in order to clear the air and set the record straight. yesterday i had to cancel our class because i was morally bound to perform a public duty. as citizens of what i hope will remain a free republic, we are regularly called to jury duty, for which we have a court order to suspend our regular life and report to the court. i too had to report for a jury duty yesterday, called by my conscience. i did not check my conscience at the columbia gate when i agreed to teach here.
it deeply saddens me whenever my public and professional duties conflict in scheduling. the class we have missed will be made up by an additional session. we were late in informing you about the cancellation because i tried my best to perform both my professional and public duties in a way that will compromise neither. if this has caused you any inconvenience, i apologize. i also apologize if the way you were informed about the class cancellation by my teaching assistants implied that you had to join me in the pro-palestinian rally where i was scheduled to talk. in no shape or form were any one of you required, expected, or encouraged to join me in that rally. you were and are completely free to participate or not to participate in any rally you wish. that is your innate and inalienable right that has never been in the slightest way compromised.
having made that clarification, let me assert categorically that if there is another occasion when performing my moral duty prevents me from being in my class i will repeat what i did yesterday, cherish the privilege of doing so, and regrettably reschedule my class.
• [26 April] Some of the concerned students contacted Rabbi Sheer, Jewish Chaplain and Director of Hillel at Columbia University, with their concerns. Rabbi Sheer wrote a short essay in the Columbia Daily Spectator addressing those concerns. ("Instruct, Don't Coerce." See the Spectator's online publication of this piece.) [Pellow's comments]
As I listened to the speeches last week at the rally in support of the Palestinian cause, I was sure I saw Alma Mater cry. It must have pained her--as it did me--to hear myths based on bias and hatred presented as truths.
What is it about Alma Mater that allows students--and some faculty--to talk differently in her presence? Statements they would not dare to make inside our Ivy walls are acceptable on Low Plaza. Are there different rules of discourse that govern our public spaces?
I shall allow others to respond to what was said on Low Plaza. I wish us to turn our thoughts to some things that were said--and done--inside our classrooms. Students reported that one faculty member sent out an e-mail message written by a student coalition calling for support for the rally and for a class boycott.
One professor started his lecture and then informed the students that the class was cancelled because he was going to speak at the rally. In another class the TA informed the students that the professor would not be lecturing since he was speaking at the rally. The TA wore a black armband of solidarity and urged the students to attend.
I am aware of only a few class cancellations and occurrences such as the above. Education did not stop at Columbia last Wednesday, but we should ponder whether the behavior I cited is acceptable.
Our Rules of University Conduct (see "FACETS," page 122) state that "demonstrations [and] rallies have an important place in the life of a university. But in order to protect the rights of all members of the University community and to ensure the proper functioning of the University as an institution of teaching and research, it is necessary to impose reasonable restraints on the place and manner in which picketing and other demonstrations are conducted."
If a student receives an e-mail from his or her professor that is not directly related to the course, especially if it espouses a cause or opinion about a political, social or religious issue, it will be perceived by the student as the professor's personal opinion. And, more importantly, in all of the above cases, students saw their professors asking them to affirm his or her thinking or action on this matter. The faculty member was urging the student to follow him or her in both thought and deed. Not kosher.
Elsewhere, the Rules of University Conduct warn about the "inherent power differential" in faculty/student sexual or romantic relationships. These rules tacitly acknowledge that a faculty member's power over the student via his or her grade can produce some unwanted bedfellows. Should we not have similar concerns in areas of political, religious or foreign policy affairs?
Some students were irritated at the cancellation of class. Although I understand their disappointment in the professor, he or she is within faculty rights to do so.
In an instance wherein a professor chose to speak at the time of the class, rather than at another occasion during the daylong rally, the professor should have attempted to avoid a conflict. Also, it is unacceptable that the professor did not inform the class in advance so they could have planned accordingly. To have students come to a class and advise them only then that the class is cancelled because the professor is about to deliver a public speech is a coercive invitation. How can one refuse the invitation of one's teacher to see him or her in action, especially when it is within class time?
It is acceptable for faculty to cancel a class--and plan a make-up session--for appropriate reasons. If a professor has jury duty, an important family occasion or a religious holiday, our regulations allow for a class cancellation.
I would be the last to argue that a faculty member should not be able to take off for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or a Christian or Muslim holiday. If the professor, however, chooses to announce the reason for the cancellation--"Sorry, class, but I will not be able to teach next Wednesday because it is Yom Kippur, and I'd like to work with you to find a make-up date"--he or she should not be permitted to say, "and those of you who are Jewish should be in synagogue too." The right of faculty to modify their academic responsibilities for a justifiable cause does not allow a professor to urge the class to follow his behavior.
We may allow great latitude in our speech before Alma Mater, but we must review University rules regarding the limits of discourse in a classroom setting. A clearer policy must be established that protects freedom of speech and allows students and faculty to think and act on their own. Our University guidelines need to assure that our students are impressed by the clarity and persuasiveness of the faculty's ideas, not because of coercion.
[written by Rabbi Sheer]
• [3 May] Professors Hamid Dabashi and George Saliba, current and former chairs of the Department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures, wrote responses to Rabbi Sheer's essay which appeared on the Spectator on the same day.
Prof. Dabashi's piece appeared, like Rabbi Sheer's, as an op-ed. ("The Hallowed Ground of Our Secular Institution." See the Spectator's online publication of this letter.) [Pellow's comments]
It is a sad and astonishingly degenerate development in the American academy when a Jewish rabbi, a Christian priest, a Muslim mullah, or any other figure of religious authority ventures to step out of his or her role as a preacher and interferes with the cornerstone of academic freedom at a university.
Rabbi Charles Sheer, Jewish chaplain and director of Hillel at Columbia University and Barnard College, has taken upon himself the task of mobilizing and spearheading a crusade of fear and intimidation against members of the Columbia faculty and students who have dared to speak against the slaughter of innocent Palestinians. In a succession of rude and intrusive interventions, he has launched a campaign of terror and disinformation reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition against me and other members of Columbia and Barnard faculty who have dared to speak in terms contrary to his political views.
Rabbi Sheer is not a member of Columbia faculty or administration, yet he has the audacity to preach to us as to what the University policies about appropriate conduct ought to be. According to our collectively acknowledged administrators, among them Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis and Dr. Marsha L. Wagner, our Ombuds officer, none of us who have publicly spoken against the Israeli slaughter of innocent Palestinians in Jenin refugee camps and other parts of Palestine have broken any University rule and have operated perfectly within our right to freedom of expression.
As a Columbia faculty member, I honor and respect the office of my deans, vice president, provost, and President, and when it comes to the all-important matter of faculty-student relations, the honorable Ombuds office. I have absolutely no reason to honor the preaching of a misplaced rabbi, priest, or mullah in the University. If I ever care to enter a synagogue, a church, or a mosque, I am duty-bound to honor the office of the presiding rabbi, priest, or mullah. But if for whatever misguided reason, a rabbi, a priest, or a mullah finds his or her way into academic affairs, I expect no less and demand that they behave within the boundaries of rules of conduct operative in our secular institution.
The last time I checked, Columbia University is neither a Zionist state, nor a medieval Christian theocracy, nor an Islamic republic. Rabbi Sheer has to understand that we hold absolutely sacred the secular foundations of our University. We will not allow religious zealotry of one sort or another to threaten our inalienable rights to free and fearless dialogue and expression. Rabbis, priests, and mullahs have a function to perform in their respective synagogues, churches, and mosques. But they may not impose their views on the members of a secular community, who choose to live and work outside the dictates of their particular religious spaces. Religious leaders who are offered welcome and decide to enter into a secular academic community must equally respect its rules and traditions.
In about two weeks we will march in the 248th Commencement of our institution. Rabbi Sheer should come in his rabbinic outfit and see and honor the glory of ours. We are "rabbis, priests, and mullahs" of an entirely different order, of the sort that monstrous perpetrators of the religious persecution of reason and fairness have categorically failed to understand. Today we are as diligent in safeguarding the sacred boundaries of our secular institutions as he ought to be about his. We will protect the hallowed ground of our academy inch by inch and brick by brick against religious bigotry of any sort. The image of Alma Mater that Rabbi Sheer dares to invoke in his tirades against us has absolutely no sacred memory in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. She is the symbol of our equally sacred institution. We honor her every time we walk into our classrooms.
Generations of grateful Columbia students have graciously acknowledge their debts to generations of my colleagues. An avalanche of teaching and scholarly awards has been poured over precisely those members of the faculty whom Rabbi Sheer targets to denounce in his tirade or subject to systematic harassment in his crusade against those of us who believe Zionism is a ghastly racist ideology. Responsible administrators have regularly and unfailingly recognized our teaching and scholarship and our right to express our commitment to our views.
I have no reason either to doubt or to acknowledge Rabbi Sheer's competence in interpreting the Hebrew Bible to us should we opt to hear his thoughts on the matter in his synagogue. But he has absolutely no authority whatsoever to interpret University policy. Those who are--namely our collectively acknowledged administrators, senators, and the overwhelming majority of our students-- have found nothing wrong or remotely questionable in our conduct. For every abusive and threatening e-mail that Rabbi Sheer has orchestrated against us we have received dozens in support of our speaking our views. We have received repeated and unequivocal assurances from our recognized administrators that we have done absolutely nothing wrong in defending the rights of voiceless victims of the massacres in Palestine.
We are all here as autonomous voices in an open intellectual community, and we will speak freely and publicly on this and all other atrocities. We need no rabbi, no priest, no mullah preaching to us about our duties and responsibilities in flagrant disrespect for the laws upheld and honored by our community. We categorically deny them authority to intimidate and silence on the hallowed ground of our secular institution.
Prof. Saliba's piece appeared as a letter to the editor. ("Clergy Should Not Interfere in Running Secular Institution." See the Spectator's online publication of this piece.
I find the imperative voice in the title "Instruct, Do not Coerce" particularly outrageous, especially when it comes from a man of the cloth in a secular institution (April 26, 2002). Rabbi Sheer insinuates that misconduct has taken place and cites FACETS to support his claim, thus assuming an administrative authoritative role. My reaction: Stop accusing people by insinuation. If you have a specific complaint, lodge it with the right office.
It is doubly alarming to learn from Rabbi Sheer that students are reporting to him, as he claims, what goes on in the classrooms, thus making one feel that we have been miraculously transported to some medieval theocracy, where a religious authority is re-instituting the Inquisition. I have been at this institution for more than 23 years now, and have never heard of any person speaking to the faculty with that tone of voice.
Rabbi Sheer cites several conditions under which a class could be cancelled, of course including religious holidays, but obviously not including attendance at a political rally where both students and faculty could benefit from access to accurate information on the Middle East that is never reported by the newspapers "of record" nor is it even allowed to be reported by any member of the press as Ariel Sharon's army prohibited access to the press when he was committing his massacres in Jenin and for days, now weeks, after that. He still objects even to fact-finding missions from the U.N. God knows what war-crimes he is afraid they would uncover.
Rabbi Sheer himself could also derive a benefit from such rallies, if nothing else except to learn how a secular institution operates. Otherwise my only advice: "Rabbi! Just preach! Do not even attempt to teach!"
[Submitted by Hamid Dabashi]
I hate to draw any more attention to one, who indubitably and insatiably seeks the limelight. However, as I have yet to recover from my incredulity at Hamid Dabashi's miserable attempt to provide a pretext – through gross fabrication and scrupulously manipulated rhetoric – for his disgraceful abuse of authority during the time of the Palestinian sit-in, I have chosen to make an exception. Dabashi, this one's for you.
Dabashi, long before I had the bad luck of picking up yesterday's Spectator to read your nonsensical opinion piece, I had misgivings about you. In fact, I can trace your consistent and deliberate tactic of shifting blame away from yourself to innocent bystanders to the period closely following the Palestinian sit-in, when you wrote an email to the class that you had cancelled the day before and blamed your TA's for convincing your students to attend the sit-in: "My teaching assistants implied that you had to join me in the pro-Palestinian rally where I was scheduled to talk."
It was during this time, following the sit-in, that life was made less comfortable for you. However it was not only Rabbi Sheer, but your own students who disagreed with your unprofessional abuse of the pulpit of your authority, in "preaching" morality at them in order to conform their views to yours on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You wrote in yesterday's anti-Sheer piece, "Namely our collectively acknowledged administrators, senators, and the overwhelming majority of our students have found nothing wrong or remotely questionable in our conduct."
Dabashi, you and I both know this statement to be a bold-faced lie. Let me refresh your selective memory with the same email that you wrote and sent out to your class email list post-Palestinian sit-in: "Today, I ran into Dean Yatrakis on college walk. She informed me that a number of you have registered a complaint with her about the cancellation of my class yesterday."
To your chagrin, Dabashi, you have provided the evidence with which to prove that Rabbi Sheer was not the lone vanguard on the front against your authoritarian abuse of authority. In fact, he was only one of innumerably concerned faculty members and students – many of whom, as you already mentioned in the email, were students of yours.
Let me try to explain to you why your students – at the very least – are complaining about you, Dabashi. You put them in the uncomfortable and undemocratic position of being forced to follow your political leanings, out of fear of academic repercussions. The authoritarian actions you imposed on your students go directly contrary to the utopian society you described in yesterday's opinion piece: "We are all here as autonomous voices in an open intellectual community, and we will speak freely and publicly." Perhaps, you have different interpretations of the words "autonomous" and "speak freely," but to my mind they include the right to reject a Professor's ideologies flagrantly and without fear of academic sentencing.
In fact, you consistently put your students in the position of either adhering to your moral interpretations or being resigned to feeling lost and uncomfortable in your classroom setting. In a post-sit in email to your students, you decisively put each and every one of them in the position of having to agree with your personal convictions. You wrote: "Yesterday, I had to cancel our class because I was morally bound to perform a public duty. I…had to report for a jury duty yesterday, called by my conscience. I did not check my conscience at the Columbia gate when I agreed to teach here…let me assert categorically that if there is another occasion when performing my moral duty prevents me from being in my class I will repeat what I did yesterday, cherish the privilege of doing so, and regrettably reschedule my class."
What is also unavoidably clear beneath your intricate rhetoric is that you truly have no respect for our University, because you are so clearly focused on your own convictions that you have no scope with which to appreciate the individual packages of backgrounds, ethics, interests, and convictions who are the students sitting in your very own classroom. These students constitute our university, not the other way around. If you cannot so much as acknowledge their rightful autonomy to maintain their respective political opinions, and in so doing respect this right enough to refrain from verbosely coercing these students to digest your political pill, then you certainly should not be teaching at Columbia.
[Written by Tallie Lieberman]
• [6 May] Amy Weiner responded online to Prof. Dabashi's piece. [Pellow's comments]
Let's get a few things straight in response to Professor Dabashi. When Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Sheer wrote in to the Spectator against Dabashi's recent shift from pedagogue to wanna-be demagogue, he was speaking not as a preacher, but on behalf of numerous students who, feeling threatened by Dabashi and by some of Dabashi's colleagues, had turned to Sheer as someone who is, I assure you, despite Dabashi's delusions, eminently familiar with university history and policy, and sufficiently literate to quote university policy that is already in writing. Bottom line, by not announcing that class would be cancelled so they could speak at the sit-in, Professors Dabashi and Saliba effectively forced their students to come to class and listen to exhortations by TA's and the professor himself, respectively, to attend the rally. That is manipulation, plain and simple. And if those professors would adhere to THEIR job, which is to teach and not to incite, they would grant appropriate respect to us students to make our own decisions, driven by informed ideology rather than by manipulation. In a pathetic attempt to avoid the truth about his overt manipulation of students, Dabashi has argued that Rabbi Sheer is, somehow, despite over twenty-five years at this university, not sufficiently literate to read and quote university rules. Nice try. If Professor Dabashi wants more students to manipulate next year, he ought to stop behaving like such a despicable lightweight.
[Written by Amy Weiner]
• [6 May] Daniel Immerwahr, a Columbia College student, granted me permission to post his comments. [Pellow's comments]
Rabbi Sheer's essay makes one very good point, but he also makes a number of less compelling points in the process. First, he claims that FACETS comments on the matter. The quotation he pulled from FACETS does not deal with whether faculty should speak at rallies, but with what forms the rallies may take (where they can be held, etc.). He also seems to think that professors voicing their personal opinions is a problem. What is the problem with this? The vision of teachers as automatons spitting out facts (and somehow making sure to choose facts that are amenable to all) is neither realistic nor desirable.
Nevertheless, Sheer does make a very good point in drawing the relation between sexual harassment and political advocacy. There is indeed a power differential between students and faculty, and it has the potential for abuse. For a faculty member to use his or her power to coerce students into voicing certain opinions is despicable.
To say that professors should not coerce, however, is not to say that they should not advocate. The best professors are those who argue for their positions while encouraging students to disagree and to argue back. What is more, many professors are able to do this without making students feel that their grade or recommendation depends on conformity to the professor's point of view.
That said, there is a very good case to be made that what Prof. Dabashi did was not only appropriate, but even that it was educational. Unfortunately, neither Prof. Dabashi's editorial nor Prof. Saliba's letter made this case. The complaint that Sheer invoked his authority as a rabbi is a confused one. Sheer IS a rabbi, and whatever he says, he will say as a rabbi. In the same way, Dabashi is a professor, and cannot but invoke his power as a professor when he speaks.
The best defense of Prof. Dabashi's actions would be for him to say that he has a moral duty to stand up against oppression, and that his status as a professor amplifies that duty rather than erasing it. However, by this argument, he lacks a basis for being so hostile to Sheer, who has the same duty (and for the same reason). Just as Dabashi has the right and the duty to comment on the affairs of a religious state of which he is not a part (Israel), so has Sheer the right and duty to comment on a secular institution of which he IS a part. Saliba's line about "preach, don't teach" is simply reprehensible. EVERYONE should be teaching, always.
My biggest worry in this is that this controversy has and will mask the real concern here: not the right of Dabashi to cancel classes or Sheer to complain, but of Israel to maintain an occupation. Although I do not support Dabashi's and Saliba's attempt to push Sheer out of campus dialogue, I laud Dabashi's decision to resist oppression and to make his beliefs public. I only hope that it provokes thoughtful dialogue about the real issue at stake rather than just thoughtful dialogue about the right of Dabashi and Sheer to express themselves as they have.
[Submitted by Daniel Immerwahr]
While I was reading through Prof Dabashi's article in last Friday's Spectator I could not help but notice that there was no reference to the actual critiques and points that were made in ' Rabbi Sheer's article, the very article that Prof Dabashi was responding to. Prof. Dabashi de-legitimized Rabbi Sheer's right as a Rabbi to criticize academic affairs of the university, but he had nothing to say to the actual points that Rabbi Sheer made. Prof. Dabashi went as far to say that Rabbi Sheer was interfering with academic freedom and that his behavior was reminiscent of the "Spanish Inquisition" and at the same time he was denying Rabbi Sheer's freedom to speak.
As a senior at Columbia, I have always found that what characterizes the academic sphere is its openness to any opinions without any concern for who the speaker is, but only with a concern for truth. In my courses we have studied many thinkers who espoused many different lifestyles regardless whether the writer was a member of any clergy. In my experience, in the academic arena all voices are heard and only by their truth alone do we judge them, and not on the affiliation of the speaker.
Prof Dabashi broke this academic ideal by telling Rabbi Sheer that he did not have the right to criticize the academic system. He felt he needed to protect the "autonomous voices in an open intellectual community" and yet at the same time, here Prof Dabashi was trying to silence one of those voices. This silencing only takes away from the very freedom that Prof. Dabashi is trying to protect. By refusing to respond to Rabbi Sheer's points, Prof. Dabashi became the Rabbi who is afraid to read a New Testament or the priest who is afraid to have a conversation with a mullah. He became the professor who refused to respond to an idea he did not agree with.
[Written by Aryea Aranoff]
• [7 May] Shireen Ahmed granted me permission to post her comments. [Pellow's comments]
Actually, I feel Professor Dabashi and Professor Saliba answered Rabbi Sheer*s concern very effectively. They answered him in kind. Rabbi Sheer was asserting his view of the role of faculty, and they were providing their views of what the word 'professor' meant, and then what role they saw for rabbi, priest, etc. It is funny that people should be upset with Prof. D and Prof S. for responding to Rabbi S. with the -You're-a-Rabbi-stick-to-the-synagogue-and-don't-express-your-views-regarding-academic-matters-etc. line when in effect, Rabbi S. used the -You're-a-Professor-and-you-shouldnt-be-expressing-your-views-about-x-y-z. line.
Regarding the coercion of students to attend the sit-in-I have already said that this was NOT the case. It seems that depending on how students viewed the issue of Palestine-Israel, they interpreted the TA's words accordingly, that is whether or not they felt it was coercive. The TA just informed the class on what was happening-we obviously needed an explanation as to where the professor was and why, and said the class was cancelled. As I recall, somebody asked if we were allowed to join the sit in, and the TA said if you wanted to you could. (the TA's wearing black armbands hardly coerces one to follow ones TA to a sit-in, any more than a professor wearing an om or crucifix compel you to follow him or her into a temple or church. Making distinctions, that is to say one is an organized religion, and the other is a political belief, is unfair as beliefs of individuals who do not follow organized religions should be respected, and also it seems a bit odd to segment every belief into nice little compartments with some being taboo and others acceptable -ex: these are my Political beliefs, and over here are my Religious beliefs, oh, and over here are my beliefs regarding purple vegetables. For most people including Prof. Dabashi it seems, Prof. Saliba, myself, and even Rabbi Sheer, I suspect these beliefs do not exist in neat packages but blend together. Religious, political, academic, etc. do not exist separate and distinct, so knocking black armbands as a coercive political gesture worn inside a classroom seems kind of absurd. Now whether one finds black armbands OFFENSIVE is another issue, but can you really objectify offendedness (if that is even a word)?
[Submitted by Shireen Ahmed]
• [8 May] Ari Friedlander granted me permission to post his comments. [Pellow's comments]
In no way does the following reflect my views on the Middle East, the debate about Israel-Palestine on campus, or the tone of the debate between Sheer, Dabashi and Saliba. It simply reflects my thoughts about the campaign to limit political speech in the classroom discussed on this web page:
I do not believe that professors should have to curtail their political views in the classroom, nor do I believe that they should be prevented from advocating their views to their students. I think that professors have every right to say what they want in class, and I further believe that students who felt threatened by this advocacy are over-sensitive. These students should already be familiar with the fact that there are those who hold views that they may find reprehensible, and that their professors might number among them. These students should be prepared to be exposed to these people and their views, especially in a class with professors whose politics are very widely recognized. I believe that this debate, despite some very well-stated arguments to the contrary, is more about the content of Dabashi and Saliba's speech than the form. I wonder if anyone who objects so vigorously on moral grounds to what happened on the day of the Palestinian sit-in would have been quite as voluble if something comparable happened involving a rally for Israel, and a pro-Israel professor. I also think that, even and especially if it is successful, this movement will accomplish nothing other than heightening Columbia's pro-Palestinian MEALAC faculty members' sense of persecution and inquisition, while simultaneously reducing the quality and quantity of political speech in the classroom. In other words, I think that it is not only wrong, but also counter-productive.
It is true, as Charles Sheer and Daniel Immerwahr point out on Matt's very helpful website, that Professors have an implicit and explicit power over those they instruct, and that this power can be abused. I simply don't think that trying to convince students, however forcefully or even hysterically, constitutes such an abuse. Students object that they feared that their grades would be affected. If a professor were to make such a threat, then he or she should be properly censured, but this did not happen. Students inferred, seemingly without any reason other than their difference of opinion, that they were threatened. If some students feel threatened simply by the presentation of opinions other than their own, let them stay in their room, and avoid class altogether.
In my mind, the whole controversy is so blatantly engineered to suppress, or at least disipline, the content of Dabashi and Saliba's speech, that it is embarrassing. I hope that the people organizing this campaign realize how it looks to much of the public: like the District Attorney failing to get Al Capone for Racketeering and therefore prosecuting him for Tax Evasion. In other words, it sounds like you are trying to accomplish through a technicality what you could not accomplish straightforwardly: punishing Dabashi and Saliba for what they believe. If the people who support this campaign do not think that this is what they are doing, and I hope they do not, then they should take a moment to reconsider.
I am glad that we are all having this discussion; I think that many of us, myself included, of course, can and have benefited much from the efforts of students like Justin and Matt, even those of us, like myself, who disagree with many of their arguments.
[Written by Ari Friedlander]"The Sheer - Dabashi Controversy," Compiled by Matt Pellow, August 7, 2002, at http://www.columbia.edu/~map76/debate.html. August 7, 2002.