The remarks by President Bollinger of Columbia about how he wants to balance academic freedom with the responsibility to prevent teachers from using the classrooms as ideological platforms struck us as a decidedly encouraging turn in the drama on Morningside Heights. Speaking Wednesday evening in a speech at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Mr. Bollinger delivered what our Jacob Gershman characterized as an exegesis on the scope, meaning, and history of academic freedom.
Mr. Bollinger said that the university "should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty above all other values" or accept "transgressions" among faculty members "without consequences." Mr. Gershman quoted Mr. Bollinger as saying the classroom must not be turned into a "political convention" and "We should not accept the argument that we as teachers can do what we want because students are of sufficient good sense to know bias and indoctrination when they see it."
Mr. Bollinger said, "We should not say that academic freedom means that there is no review within the university, no accountability, for the 'content' of our classes or our scholarship. There is a review, it does have consequences, and it does consider content." That sentiment is, by our lights, a significant step in the right direction and it took no small amount of gumption to say it, judging by the sentiments our Mr. Gershman has been picking up among the faculty.
It seems the professors on Morningside Heights are starting to complain that Mr. Bollinger hasn't been supportive enough of their rights. A former provost, Jonathan Cole, gave a speech Tuesday that Mr. Gershman characterized as being in stark contrast to Mr. Bollinger's own remarks. Mr. Cole didn't attack Mr. Bollinger by name, but he expressed the view that when the content of a professor's views is under attack, "leaders of research universities," of which Columbia is one, "must come to the professor's defense." Mr. Bollinger has been reserved in respect of content, saying what professors teach is not under investigation.
Instead, he has convened a faculty committee to review complaints about their harassment of students. It wouldn't surprise us if that committee, which is due to report next week, were to criticize the David Project, which is the group that made the film that aired the complaints of a number of Jewish students at Columbia in respect of what they deemed to be professors hostile to Israel and to pro-Israel students.
But even before the committee has issued its report, its own credibility has been questioned by students and some faculty because the members of the committee include several figures who have signed a petition for Columbia to divest from certain companies doing business with Israel. Mr. Bollinger accepted such members on the committee even though he, himself, has denounced the Israel divestment petition as inappropriate.
At the end of the day, it's going to be the substance that counts, and our expectation is that addressing it will require a more thorough investigation of what is happening in Middle East studies. The episode with Professor Rashid Khalidi and the New York City school system saw Mr. Bollinger race to the defense of one of his professors only to learn - if he didn't already know - that Mr. Khalidi has been scrounging money for his department's outreach program from Saudi Aramco. It would be as if, to take a hypothetical, a newspaper's foreign desk were raising its own capital by seeking funds from Middle East tyrants. At some point, its credibility would start to suffer.
We have long felt that Mr. Bollinger should get on top of this cash flow - and stop tainted funding - and that, failing such actions by his office, the trustees have a responsibility. Particularly when America is in a state of war and under attack by Islamic extremists prepared to use terror and when a war against the Jewish state and Jewish people worldwide is being levied by these same Islamic extremists and paid for by Saudi Arabia and other governments.
We agree with Mr. Bollinger that Columbia is not anti-Semitic. Its trustees, its professoriate, its funders, and its students number many proud Jews who find it easy to live a Jewish life in the Columbia family. But to set one's standard as simply being not anti-Semitic at a time of war against the Jewish people strikes us as a tepid posture. A better one would be to take an aggressive, vigilant stance against the danger that the campus will be entered and funded by enemies of the Jews or the Jewish state and used to fight the political dimension of the war against them under the mantle of Columbia's credibility.