The president of Columbia University, spoke with the Editorial Board about free-speech and Mideast controversies on his campus.
You set up a committee on academic freedom after a professor said he hoped the U.S. suffers "a million Mogadishus" in Iraq. Should faculty comments in public debates be considered in promotions, tenure and discipline?
I took a position that I would not act to discipline or penalize that professor or any professor for statements made as part of the debate on public issues. That was criticized by many people. A second problem involves classroom issues. If a faculty member intimidates students for whatever reason - let's say political bias - I've taken the position that that is not covered by academic freedom. I wanted a faculty group to think about whether I am right that this is what academic freedom should mean at Columbia.
Has the committee found bias or intimidation in classrooms?
It was not set up to investigate that, but of course they would talk to people about it. They have said to me they have not found claims of bias or intimidation.
Some say your department of Mideast and Asian studies is biased against Israel. Two-thirds of its faculty signed a petition urging Columbia to disinvest from companies linked to arms sales to Israel.
I spoke out publicly and said that was deeply offensive. It is offensive to think about Israel as the equivalent, or close to it, of apartheid South Africa.
Does Columbia offer a full range of views in its Middle Eastern programs?
Everybody in the academy knows Middle Eastern studies have had trouble over the years developing great scholars and teachers. Obviously, there are people who have been great, but it has not been sufficient, given the area's importance. We hired Rashid Khalidi, an outstanding scholar and teacher from the University of Chicago, as head of our Middle Eastern institute. He has a particular point of view, pro-Palestinian nationalism. But within the mix of people who are teaching about this area, we are not as comprehensive as we should be. We need people teaching contemporary Israel, contemporary Jewish studies, and we're actively looking. We have a wonderful center for Jewish studies, but we do not have sufficient coverage of 20th-century Israel and Jewish studies.
You accepted $200,000 from the United Arab Emirates, a country that denies rights to women, homosexuals, Jews and unions, toward a chair in Mideast studies.
It's a tricky question for universities: Should you accept donations only from individuals with whom you share values? I don't think so. I don't want to defend all of the UAE's policies, but I think it is a society struggling to achieve the kinds of values and policies we believe in.