A chapter of Columbia's history was concluded on Thursday morning with the publication of the report by Nicholas Dirks' ad hoc committee. It ended much like it began—with disregard for the sensitivities of students. Now, we are poised to write a new chapter in the history of Columbia. Since this chapter is one that we will all have to write together, our community should reflect on how the plot has played out thus far. Only with an honest appraisal of the past can we move together toward a brighter future for Columbia.
This past week, Susan Brown and the Columbia University Public Affairs Office decided to give the committee report exclusively to The New York Times and Spectator, predicated on the fact that they wouldn't talk to the students who had not yet read the report—even though the report was given to Professor Joseph Massad prior to its publication. With this move, we saw the University once again try to protect its public image and its faculty at the expense of those brave students and faculty members who testified before the committee.
Prioritizing the protection of faculty over the interests of students has been a common theme for the past half-year. The committee itself was explicitly composed to protect faculty. It was chaired by Ira Katznelson, who ignored the complaints of students during his tenure as Vice President of Arts and Sciences—he saw the David Project's film on June 14, 2004. Considering that another member of the committee, Dean Lisa Anderson, was the thesis advisor of Prof. Massad, it is hard to believe that the report could have ended up any other way. As New York Civil Rights Coalition Director Michael Meyers commented, it is as if, during the civil rights era, cops would be allowed to judge cops.
The report itself added insult to injury. For the past two months, the committee interviewed 60 persons face to face and read over 60 testimonies. And yet the report itself focused solely upon the three most publicly covered charges of abuse and not the myriad others brought before the committee. The others who were cautious about letting their incident be recounted in the media, students dependent upon the department and these professors for recommendations and support, were brushed aside as if their testimony meant nothing. This shows the committee was more concerned with mopping up the public mess than healing the wounds caused by abusive actions.
Further, it latched onto the empty claim of anti-Semitism, saying the University was cleared of charges. This suggests that the committee thought that it simply could erect a straw man and blow it away instead of taking on the real problems presented before it, namely the fact that some political opinions, such as Zionism, have been stigmatized in Columbia's classrooms.
Yet, despite the fact that all the cards were stacked against the students, the committee still found something very serious: the students they cited were credible in their grievances, and Joseph Massad, for one, used his position to intimidate students.
Despite our deep divisions, we Columbians should now come together to realize our great potential as a community. We need to think together about the nature of the community we want to be a part of. We need a community where an argument will be judged by its merits alone.
We look forward to the day when Zionists and anti-Zionists, liberals and conservatives, libertarians and socialists will be able to sit in one room and discuss the most contentious issues of the day without fear of being silenced—when debates, and not monotonic lectures, are the norm.
To do so, we will need the full participation of all members of the Columbia community. It will take the efforts of all to create a new norm of discussion, to cast off the politics of the outside world in favor of creating a truly free marketplace of ideas in which the academic freedom of students is no less important than the academic freedom of professors.