The president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, has been quietly making the rounds in town, reassuring key figures in the Jewish community - and in other communities - that he deems unacceptable the kind of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel behavior recently uncovered by documentary filmmakers on the Columbia campus. He assigned the university's provost, Alan Brinkley, to look into the matter. But Mr. Brinkley's early statements are already sending a ripple of concern through the key parties watching this dispute that what is going to be done will be a whitewash of a serious situation.
The provost has blundered at the outset by saying, as our Jacob Gershman reported Wednesday, that he was primarily concerned with incidents inside the classroom, as opposed to what professors say or write beyond their teaching. This comes amid pressure from guilt-ridden professors who do not want standards enforced in their department or professors disciplined and who know that much of the harassment that has taken place has been outside the classroom or, in some reported instances, off campus. The approach Mr. Brinkley is taking ignores the content of the scholars' research. In other words, Mr. Brinkley is avoiding the heart of Columbia's problem.
Treating this problem as one of harassment of students is all well and good, but only up to a point. The fact is that mistreatment of students is but a simple matter that could be taken care of by federal civil rights prosecutors or investigators, either from the Justice Department or the Department of Education in Washington. The Education Department recently indicated it will expand its enforcement activities in respect of campus anti-Semitism. Our reporting suggests that eventually federal authorities will have to get involved at Columbia. But a more fundamental problem exists, one articulated by a professor of Yiddish at Harvard, Ruth Wisse, in an interview with The New York Sun last spring: "This is not a question of comfort of students. The real question is what is the status of Middle East studies at Columbia University."
In other words, if Mr. Bollinger thinks the problem at Columbia can be dealt with by establishing new grievance policies for students or by creating a professorship of Israel studies, as Columbia is setting out to do, it's time for the Trustees to get involved. For such measures will only palliate the university's crisis. There will be much quoting of Columbia's code of academic freedom and tenure, which states that faculty members "may not be penalized by the University for expressions of opinion or associations in their private or civic capacity." But it also calls on them to "bear in mind the special obligations arising from their position in the academic community." The fact is that Columbia has been infected with a contingent of faculty members whose hatred for Israel has eclipsed any academic mission that makes sense in a crown jewel of education in the city of New York.
This point is well understood by the courageous critics who have been seeking to expose the problems at Columbia, including Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum and Campus Watch, and the David Project, which produced the film that forced Columbia to mount the investigation that Mr. Brinkey is now heading. Writing in the Columbia Spectator this week, Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser of the David Project conclude with a call for an intellectually diverse Middle East department "that deals with the major challenges in the Middle East, including the oppression of women, gays, and minorities, and the challenges of democracy, human rights, civil society, and modernity," all matters that the anti-Jewish crowd fears will cast a harsh light on the enemies of Israel.
In the long run, a failure by Columbia to address the scandal in its midst, or hide behind an academic code of conduct, will not only invite intervention by the federal authorities but will also bring market pressures to bear. Our own view is that it is long past time for the community of big givers to Columbia to call a halt to further financial support of the university until such time as it is clear that a whitewash is not going to be Mr. Bollinger's approach to the current scandal. There are other universities in New York City, both private and public, where great philanthropic opportunities await that do not confront donors with the risk that their funds will be hijacked by haters of Jews and Israel. And where, if such a problem does occur, it will be addressed by the university leadership both inside the classroom and without.