A Columbia University professor who has called Israel a "racist" state with an "apartheid system," and who has supported attacks by Palestinian-Arabs on Israelis, is scheduled to lecture a group of New York City public school teachers on how to teach Mideast politics to schoolchildren.
The professor, Rashid Khalidi, is director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. His professorship is named in memory of Edward Said, a divisive scholar, and is paid for in part with a donation from the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Khalidi is one of more than a dozen Columbia professors expected to give city public-school teachers an overview of the history and culture of the Middle East, as part of a professional-development course offered by the city's Department of Education.
A course description in a booklet published by the education department and bearing the name of the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, says kindergarten teachers, high-school teachers, and everyone in between is eligible for the Middle East course. Its topics include religion, history, government, language, art, the economy, the status of women, foreign relations, and literature.
Before the course started early this month, regional education officials contacted principals throughout the city, informing them about the class. An e-mail message told principals that the course would be most helpful to social studies teachers, but that it was open to all educators from all disciplines.
"The course on The Middle East will be about that region's cultural patterns and complex history," the message, obtained by The New York Sun, said. "It will be given in conjunction with and under the sponsorship of The Middle East Institute of Columbia University."
The class, which meets in a public school on the Upper West Side, started early this month.
The education department is offering the course with Columbia despite a scandal that has been unfolding in recent months at the university, stemming from students' complaints that some professors in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture treated pupils who are sympathetic toward Israel with hostility.
When The New York Sun told some public officials about the course, many were outraged.
"I think it's an abomination," a member of the City Council from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, said. "I am certain that once the administration is made aware of this, they will make sure that a person who has a record of being racist and anti-Semite is not a person who is educating educators who are educating our children."
He said the inclusion of some other lecturers in the course who have pro-Israel stances doesn't excuse the city department's subjecting public-school teachers to Mr. Khalidi's opinions.
One of the Democrats running for mayor, Rep. Anthony Weiner, said: "It's pretty outrageous that this guy is still teaching college students. For my money, this guy shouldn't even be teaching at Columbia, let alone being recruited to train our Board of Ed teachers. Anyone who refers to Israel as a racist and an apartheid state and claims that America has been brainwashed by Israel ... should not be on the city payroll."
A spokesman for the education department, Keith Kalb, said the courses in the After School Professional Development Program catalogue are offered to teachers across the city "to build their knowledge in a variety of subjects."
"Our division of Human Resources compiles this publication with the courses available, but does not provide the professional development itself," Mr. Kalb said. "... Courses are taught by independent scholars and educators from across the city, and curriculum varies with each course. We do not endorse any specific course."
Under the professional-development program, each public-school teacher who signs up for the class pays the department $145. According to a source familiar with the program, the department then pays speakers.
The Sun's telephone call late yesterday to a Columbia spokesman was not returned.
Two union leaders who talked to the Sun did not condemn the class outright but did raise questions about it.
The president of the principals union, Jill Levy, said her union has received some complaints about the class and said the union is investigating exactly what's in the curriculum. "We have received information that has caused us great concern," she said.
The president of the teachers union, Randi Weingarten, said she was "concerned" by the situation. "How could the school system get itself embroiled with what's going on at Columbia?" she asked. "Don't we have enough issues?"
Successful completion of professional-development courses, like the one in which Mr. Khalidi is to participate, qualifies a teacher for higher pay.