A Columbia education is intended to get students to discuss and evaluate ideas for themselves. Despite an excessive amount of vitriol, the debate over MEALAC may be healthy for the University community insofar as it furthers that admirable goal. Unfortunately, journalistic coverage of the issue has taken the focus of the debate away from the University community.
It is no secret that the Sun's editorial page has an axe to grind with Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi and the MEALAC department in general. It has run several editorials which were critical of Khalidi, suggesting that the University should discipline him for alleged errors in his academic work.
The real problem, though, has arisen from the Sun's so-called news coverage of the players involved. On February 15, the Sun ran a news article about Khalidi's involvement in a New York City Department of Education professional development program. The paper's bias showed through in an astonishingly one-sided article that didn't bother to seek comment from Khalidi and offered only a token attempt to contact the Columbia administration just before the article went to press.
After that news piece, the DOE dismissed Khalidi from the program without so much as a discussion. As Khalidi has served in the DOE program twice in the past, it is difficult to believe that no one there was aware of his academic corpus. Instead, it seems that the DOE was intimidated by the Sun's yellow journalism.
We hope this trend will not continue, but we have little reason for this optimism. By throwing its hat into the ring, the Sun has done a disservice to all Columbians, regardless of their stance on MELAC. The opinions of a small group of editors and reporters, or even of the public at large, should not play a role in what is fundamentally a University-based issue.
The Sun is not the only guilty party in this case, though. If Bollinger and the Columbia administration were taking a more active role in addressing the controversy and in encouraging an active discussion on campus, the Sun's biased reporting wouldn't present such a problem. True, the Sun might still run sensationalist stories, but they and other outside voices would be drowned out by the constructive dialogue taking place on campus where it belongs.
Columbians on both sides of the MEALAC debate deserve the opportunity to make their arguments in a reasoned and civil manner, without external players like the Sun interfering on behalf of either side. Beyond that, however, there remains the simple principle so central to our University: no matter how controversial the issue, we should always be able to take care of our problems ourselves. If we can't do this, the Sun is the least of our problems.