Imagine that you're learning derivatives in calculus class. There are two different ways to teach derivatives, and the professor chooses his favorite one. Unfortunately, you're having a tough time understanding it. You ask the teacher if he'll explain the other method to you. He immediately refuses your request, emphasizing that he has a right to free speech and academic freedom. "I can teach Calculus however I want," he says.
You wouldn't expect that in a math class, so why do we expect that in certain liberal arts classes? The answer is that in a politically-charged environment, each side is far too emotional to reach a rational conclusion. The recent MEALAC controversy epitomizes this bull-headedness.
The ad hoc committee report, released March 31, has effectively done nothing. It's what one would have expected: a lot of words that don't combine to say anything. There's plenty of talk about "grievance procedures," "general examination," and a review of "prerogatives and responsibilities," but no talk about any of the real problems or any real solutions.
The problem is the utter lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses, especially in liberal arts departments. Professors have their dogma, and hire those with the same dogma, and they all shove it down students' throats.
It's an accepted fact that if you take a MEALAC class, your professor will make his hatred of Israel clear early on. One of my favorite examples of the dearth of intellectual diversity at Columbia was a panel held to debate the future of the Middle East in late January. In the ninth paragraph of the Spectator article describing the debate it is off-handedly mentioned that "all the panelists voiced their agreement that the reality is defined by Israeli racism." That's like having a civil rights debate and only inviting Klan members.
Yet the actions of those opposed to MEALAC are not all in good faith either. The proposed chair of Israel studies will make the problem worse, as we'll be faced with professors who are simply dogmatic on the other side of the Israel debate. The problem is not the opinions that the professors have, but the lack of countering opinions. Certainly, all professors have a right to free speech. No professors should feel threatened because they support controversial causes.
However, professors also have a responsibility to their students and to the university as a whole. The primary purpose of the classroom setting is for students to learn as much as they can about differing opinions so that they can make their own conclusions about the world.
Teaching only one side of the Middle East debate is like teaching only one explanation of derivatives; it's not against the rules, it simply makes you a bad teacher. This seems to have been forgotten by professors like Joseph Massad and George Saliba, who are so obsessed with their myopic political agendas that they seem to forget that they also have responsibilities to their students. They have students who are frustrated, feel intimidated, and aren't learning. The proper response is not to scream about free speech, but to address their students' concerns and become better teachers.
The solution to the MEALAC problem is not to create two warring departments, one supporting and the other opposing Israel. The department must open its doors to opposing viewpoints. It must hire professors based on their ability to do scholarly work and teach, not only their ability to hate Israel. Professors must be open-minded toward differing viewpoints and opinions.
Perhaps the most important tenet of liberalism is diversity. But diversity doesn't just mean black, white, Asian, and Hispanic. Diversity really means diversity of thought, opinions, and culture. Diverse student groups don't mean anything if they all have the same opinions. Being in an environment where everyone agrees with you is boring and leads to intellectual decay. The whole point of a good university is for students and professors to expand their minds and learn about the world.