Now that we've seen Columbia Unbecoming, the David Project's film that levels accusations of bias against professors in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department, we're no closer to issuing a judgment about the situation than we were last week. All of the parties involved in the controversy have laid their cards on the table, and no clear victim has emerged. It's up to President Bollinger to arbitrate the matter by conducting a fair and prompt investigation, and to the film's supporters to encourage him to follow through.
Students interviewed for the movie said that they felt intimidated in classes taught by MEALAC Professors Joseph Massad, Hamid Dabashi, and George Saliba. Along with these testimonies, however, we have read the statements issued by both Massad and Saliba. (We commend Massad for responding to our call for a statement, which can be found on his web site). They charge students with fabricating conversations, misunderstanding lectures, and neglecting schoolwork. The professors call the David Project's film a work of "propaganda" and allege that their academic freedom has been threatened.
This is where President Bollinger must step in. It's his responsibility to mediate what is fundamentally a "he-said, she-said" situation, and search for the truth behind the finger-pointing. Bollinger has shown a commendable willingness to get involved. On Oct. 27, he promised that an administrative team led by University Provost Alan Brinkley would look into the issue. However, we hope that this investigation will not become mired in the usual Columbia bureaucracy, and will produce tangible results.
The investigating team must interview all concerned parties and do so in a timely manner. They must talk to all of the students featured in the film as well as others currently enrolled in the involved professors' classes. They must listen to the grievances expressed by Massad and Saliba as well as those issued by the students, determine who is right, and take fair and proper action.
In the meantime, we'd like to hear from the students featured in the film. If you believe that your opinions are really being suppressed on this campus, make a bold move: get out on Low steps, protest, and distribute flyers. Make your case to your fellow students, not just to filmmakers and to the New York Sun. Recent history has shown that such actions are the best way to force the administration's hand.
Both the students and the professors involved in this issue have leveled serious allegations against the academic climate at Columbia. The general student population deserves a clearer understanding of the situation. Last week, we called on Massad and the other accused professors to respond to the charges leveled at them in Columbia Unbecoming. Now it's time for the administration to help us separate truth from fiction.