Columbia University's provost, Alan Brinkley, said the school is prepared to take "forceful steps" to ensure that Jewish students are not harassed by faculty members prejudiced against Israel.
As concern among faculty members has grown over what some fear will be an attack against their academic freedom, Mr. Brinkley has begun to investigate claims made by a number of Jewish students that they have been intimidated in the classroom by teachers openly hostile to Israel.
"Things have to be really bad to intrude into what the faculty are doing," he said.
In an interview, Mr. Brinkley said he has had ongoing conversations with faculty members accused of harassment and with students. He also said he would complete his investigation by the end of the fall semester.
Leaving open the possibility that faculty members could be disciplined if found to have intimidated students, Mr. Brinkley said if he finds that the environment in a classroom is hostile to students, the school will move "aggressively" to improve the situation.
Mr. Brinkley said he isn't personally investigating claims made by students in the documentary film "Columbia Unbecoming," which features interviews with current and former students recounting incidents of harassment. The film put a spotlight on what some perceive as a problem of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias at one of the most esteemed universities in the country.
"We can't accept them as fact because they appeared in the film," he said.
In one case, Joseph Massad, an assistant professor of modern Arab politics in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department, is accused of screaming at a student in a spring 2002 class concerning the Israeli and Palestinian conflict after the student defended Israel's military actions in the West Bank.
The student, Deena Shanker, told The New York Sun that she asked Mr. Massad if it is true that Israel gives prior warning before launching strikes in Palestinian Arab territories.
"That provoked him to start screaming, 'If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against the Palestinians then you could leave the class,'" Ms. Shanker said.
She said she was "shocked" by his reaction, and that Mr. Massad "usually answered civilly along the lines of, 'No, you're wrong.'"
She said Mr. Massad compared Israelis to Nazis during lectures in class.
At another point in the film, a Columbia student who graduated in 2003, Lindsay Shrier, said a professor, George Saliba of the Middle East studies department, told her in a conversation outside the class that because she has green eyes she could not have ties to Israel. She is Jewish.
Mr. Brinkley said he was primarily concerned with incidents inside the classroom and said he is allowing for the fact that not "every view will be represented" in courses.
Columbia has recently released new grievance procedures for students stating that faculty must express their opinions "in an environment that is open to divergent views." The procedures instruct students to take complaints against faculty members to the ombudsman office for advice or clarification of university policies. If they feel they have been discriminated against, they can seek assistance from the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office, which investigates such complaints.