Columbia University is looking to raise money for an endowed professorship in Israel studies, a possible sign that the school is responding to criticism over the anti-Israel views of faculty members. Provost and American historian Alan Brinkley told The New York Sun by e-mail that Columbia "would welcome a chair in Israel studies" but has yet to organize a search for donors or for the professor.
"[W]e have not yet done any formal fundraising for such a chair, have not set a financial target for it,and have not considered where it might sit if it were to be created," he said. Endowed chairs typically require $2 million to $4 million in donations.
The establishment of such a chair could allay criticism from trustees, alumni, and donors, who believe Middle East studies at Columbia is tilted against Israel. The chair would likely be perceived as a counterbalance to the Edward Said chair that Columbia established last year, though much depends on whom Columbia hires.Columbia is considering an Israel studies chair as it looks into whether to place limits on political activism among faculty members.
Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, has convened a committee of six Columbia professors that has investigated the problem of political intimidation in the classroom.
One of the most frequent complaints concerning anti-Israel sentiment at Columbia is that professors use their courses to advocate a certain political view, often one that is openly hostile to American and Israel.Named after the postcolonial theorist and Palestinian advocate who died last year, the Edward Said chair is occupied by Rashid Khalidi, a historian of Arab nationalism and perhaps the most prominent critic of Israel in academia. Columbia recruited him from the University of Chicago in 2002.
Many pro-Israeli people involved with Columbia viewed the recruitment of Mr. Khalidi — who has endorsed the killing of Israeli soldiers in occupied territories — as further proof of a pro-Palestinian bias at the school.
Columbia's refusal to release donors to the chair also drew critical attention. In March, the school released a list, which included the United Arab Emirates.
In a May 7 interview with the New York Daily News, Mr. Bollinger said Mr. Khalidi represents "a particular point of view, pro-Palestinian nationalism." He acknowledged that Columbia does "not have sufficient coverage of 20th-century Israel and Jewish studies."
In the spring semester, Columbia offered a course that explored Jewish identity called "Zionism: A Cultural Perspective," taught by Israeli literary critic, Dan Miron.
An associate professor of modern Arab politics, Joseph Massad, taught a course called "Palestinian-Israeli politics and societies." Mr. Massad has compared Israel to Nazi Germany and has said the country does not have the right to exist as a Jewish state.