New York - The American Jewish Committee today commended Columbia University for acting in recent weeks to reaffirm academic freedom and for recognizing that academic freedom is diminished when intimidation is allowed.
"The university's Ad Hoc Grievance Committee's report is an important step forward," said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris. "We encourage all interested parties, inside and outside Columbia, to see the report as a point of departure, to look ahead, and to concentrate on the next positive steps to strengthen this leading academic institution."
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger had appointed the committee to examine students' allegations that they were intimidated by several faculty members in the university's Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture department.
AJC noted that the report reaffirmed the principles President Bollinger articulated in a speech last week, underscoring that academic freedom applies to both faculty and students – that with this freedom comes responsibility and with its abuse comes consequences.
"We welcome Bollinger's agreement with the report's conclusion that problems on campus were exacerbated by the lack of a clear procedure for reporting and investigating such incidents," Harris said. "We applaud the campus leadership for announcing that it will soon take important steps to address this concern."
The grievance committee's report found credible evidence that on at least one occasion Professor Joseph Massad had failed in his obligation to "show respect for the rights of others to hold opinions differing from their own," notwithstanding his denial that such an incident had occurred. It also found credible evidence that his behavior at another incident, though outside of the classroom, would have been unacceptable if it had occurred in a classroom.
AJC also is pleased that Columbia has recently announced steps to further academic discourse about Israel, including the announcement of a chair in Israel studies, as well as various academic symposia and forums.