Columbia University's president, Lee C. Bollinger, asked on Wednesday that the university provost investigate assertions that some professors have intimidated Jewish students during discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said in an interview yesterday.
Ten current and former Columbia students voiced the complaints in a half-hour video documentary, "Unbecoming Columbia," produced last winter by the David Project, a group based in Boston that seeks to document campus harassment of Jewish students. The producers have shown it to several New York journalists this week.
In the video, several students say professors in the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department have often accused Jewish students during classroom discussions of responsibility for Palestinian deaths. The students also say professors have routinely focused discussions exclusively on what the professors called Israeli war crimes, without discussing human rights violations by Arab regimes.
Mr. Bollinger said that because of the offensive nature of some of the episodes described, he had asked the provost, Alan Brinkley, to evaluate the film and develop the university's response.
"This is a serious matter," Mr. Bollinger said. "I'm talking about the intellectual climate on a major American campus. We've got to be able to talk about the most controversial subjects of our time and do it in a way that doesn't suppress passion but invites the full range of opinions. And no students should feel intimidated from participating."
The David Project was formed two years ago by Charles Jacobs, a management consultant who was a co-founder of the American Anti-Slavery Group, and by Avi Goldwasser, a technology industry executive, the two men said in an interview yesterday.
The interview took place in an Upper East Side apartment where the group played the video documentary for a reporter. The apartment is the home of Rachel Fish, a Harvard Divinity School graduate who led a successful campaign last year to persuade Harvard to return a $2.5 million gift to its donor, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates.
Ms. Fish, who began working with the David Project last year, said the group decided to produce the video after she visited the university during the fall 2003 term and heard of incidents of intimidation of Jewish students.
In the video, a female student who graduated in 2003, Lindsay Shrier, says that in one history class, a professor showed a documentary saying Arabs have a more legitimate claim to land in Israel than do Jews. In a discussion after the film, the professor told Ms. Shrier that she could not have ancestral ties to Israel because her eyes were green, she says in the video.
Another Columbia student, an Israeli Army veteran, Tomy Schoenfeld, says in the video that a professor refused to answer his question in class and instead asked Mr. Schoenfeld, "How many Palestinians have you killed?"
None of the 10 students interviewed in the documentary filed complaints with Columbia about the confrontations, Mr. Jacobs said. The university's normal grievance procedure, he said, involves reporting problems to professors or department chairmen, and in some cases those are the people who have helped create an intimidating atmosphere.
One professor in the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department mentioned in the documentary, Joseph A. Massad, said yesterday that he had not seen it but had read press descriptions of it.
"This is a propaganda film funded by a pro-Israel group as part of a racist witchhunt of Arab and Muslim professors," he said. "I have intimidated no one. Neither Columbia University nor I have ever received a complaint from any student."
Neville Hoad, an English professor at the University of Texas, sent a letter to Mr. Bollinger, signed by hundreds of colleagues, calling Dr. Massad "a public intellectual who has courageously written in Arabic and in English against anti-Semitism and anti-Semites."
The new inquiry comes five months after six professors designated by Mr. Bollinger investigated similar allegations of biased scholarship and intimidation. The professors reported in May that it had found no evidence of academic abuses, he said.