President Bollinger of Columbia University seems pleased as punch with the report from the faculty committee investigating professors in Middle East studies who have been criticized by students. "The Committee's work and report help sustain our trust in the absolutely critical norm of peer review," Mr. Bollinger said. By "peer review," Mr. Bollinger means that the faculty should be left to police itself. The whole point about the controversy at Columbia, however, is that such an approach is not credible. At least two of the five "peers" on the Columbia committee had called on Columbia to divest from companies selling arms to Israel, a position that Mr. Bollinger himself once termed "grotesque" and that the president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, has called anti-Semitic in effect if not intent.
In our view, the text of Columbia's report tends to undermine the concept of peer review rather than support it. The faculty members criticize "outside organizations," "outside bodies," and "outside advocacy groups." Inside bodies, however, totally flubbed earlier investigations of the scandal in Middle East studies, and only because of outside bodies has any action been achieved at all. The only such groups the faculty committee carps about, moreover, are the pro-Israel ones, Campus Watch and the David Project. The "peer review" completely ignores the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Aramco, two outside bodies hostile to Israel that have, between them, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into backing a certain Columbia professor and his center.
Nor did the committee deal with questions of bias and inaccurate information, which constituted the majority of complaints made by students. The committee said such questions should be left for "peer review of teaching" and "departments." But the committee lashed out at one unnamed pro-Israel professor, saying, "We find it deeply disturbing that faculty were apparently prepared to encourage students to report to them on a fellow-professor's classroom statements." How are the faculty supposed to review each other if they can't ask students about their colleagues' classes?
This is the kind of thing that contributes to what we detect is a broad sense of disgust among Jewish leaders in the city and elsewhere with the way Columbia has handled this whole situation. The president of the David Project, Charles Jacobs, which produced the film "Columbia Unbecoming," called the report "disgraceful." The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, called it a "whitewash." "It's a sad day at Columbia University," is how the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, reacted to the report. "Who would have thought," said the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, Joseph Potasnik, "that Columbia would make the U.N. look good?"
At this juncture, many are starting to ask privately, "Where are the trustees?" They are a distinguished group. Jose Cabranes is one of our nation's greatest judges. Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate who runs Memorial Sloan-Kettering, is one of our greatest scientists. Esta Stecher is involved with the Jewish community through service on the New York regional board of the Anti-Defamation League and on the board of the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. Evan Davis is a masterful lawyer who, in retrospect, might have been a better New York attorney general than Eliot Spitzer. We name but a few.
Yet with the exception of Mr. Bollinger and the chairman, David Stern, not one of the 22 trustees has deigned to utter a peep of public comment to clarify where they stand in respect of what is happening at their university. We invite our readers to study the list above. Has the cat got all their tongues? Do these individuals know where - at a time when their country is at war - the funding is coming from for Columbia's Middle East studies programs? Are they aware of the formal protest that was made to Mr. Bollinger by a minister of the government of Israel over the statements of one of their professors? Are they aware of the brush-off Mr. Bollinger gave the complaint? Do they care?
How would one know? The trustees stonewall a reporter. And Columbia's administration goes through contortions of news management to try to secure a positive spin on the faculty report. If Columbia were a corporation, like AIG or Enron, eventually some regulator would start to wonder what they were doing with the trust that has been reposed in them. We comprehend that universities aren't the same kinds of corporations big businesses are, and Columbia isn't Enron. But trustees have responsibilities, nonetheless, and our sense is that people are starting to wonder whether Columbia's trustees are living up to the trust that has been placed in them.