The ever-clueless New York Civil Liberties Union has leaped head-first into the ongoing controversy sur rounding alleged anti-Israel bias and intimidation of students at Columbia University by siding — surprise, surprise — with the accused professors.
Indeed, the NYCLU — proving that it doesn't need Norman Siegel in charge to look through the wrong end of the telescope — charges that an investigation into the students' charges is "likely to descend into an inquisition."
Actually, there's little chance of that: As The New York Sun reported, Columbia President Lee Bollinger has stacked the deck of his fact-finding committee, choosing members who all have a record of left-wing activism — and two of whom themselves have a public record of anti-Israel bias.
But this is not, as the NYCLU claims, simply an attack on the "ideological or political views" of members of Columbia's Middle East Asian Language and Culture Department.
It is, in fact, a demand for the very kind of academic freedom that the NYCLU claims to support — a genuinely free exchange of ideas without harassment or intimidation.
At issue are charges raised in a recently released documentary film that the department has become less a home for intellectual debate than for anti-Israel polemics — with issues like Arab terrorism and oppression in the Muslim world deliberately swept under the rug.
More disturbingly, students complain that they have been actively harassed by individual professors for expressing pro-Israel views.
The controversy has focused particularly on Joseph Massad, a non-tenured professor of modern Arab politics and unabashedly harsh critic of Israel.
In one well-publicized incident, Massad allegedly refused to answer a student until he disclosed how many Palestinians he had killed as an Israeli soldier.
Other students contend that Massad canceled classes on Israel's independence day, urging them instead to attend anti-Israel demonstrations.
That goes well beyond acceptable academic behavior; professors, whatever their particular points of view, are meant to educate — not to harangue or intimidate.
The irony is that the complaining students are being accused — both by the NYCLU and Massad's other defenders — of harboring "a political agenda."
In fact, NYCLU head Donna Lieberman, in a nine-page letter to Bollinger, warned against taking the students' allegations "at face value" — a degree of skepticism the NYCLU never seems to show in other circumstances.
Echoing that line, Massad himself contends he is the victim of "a witch-hunt."
In her letter, Lieberman insists that "there must be ideological diversity, pluralism and tolerance in the campus community."
We couldn't agree more — but we believe that students who express positions not currently in sync with the leftist political trends current in academia also deserve those protections.
As for President Bollinger, it will be interesting to see whether his committee treats the allegations seriously.
Academic freedom and honesty are on the line — as is the reputation of a great university.