When the minister of education of the State of Israel, Limor Livnat, first complained to Columbia University's president, Lee Bollinger, back in August of 2003 about a professor's comments in support of violence against Israeli soldiers, she received a reply that blamed elements of the press for somehow distorting the reality of the situation. "I can well understand how anyone reading some of the attacks on Columbia and Khalidi in the New York Post and the New York Sun might draw from them a very unfavorable opinion of the university's approach to teaching about the Middle East," is the language in the September 15, 2003, letter with which Columbia's provost, Alan Brinkley, brushed off Israel's complaint. "But in reality, Columbia has many scholars working in this field taking many positions on both historical and modern issues."
Well, it's not just the Sun and the Post anymore. The Daily News, with headlines like "Vile Words of Hate That Shame Top University," and the Village Voice, led by its columnist Nat Hentoff, have also been sharply critical of a university whose reputation is clearly now at stake. Yesterday, in a memorable editorial, the New York Times said that Columbia had "botched" its handling of the matter. The Times urged Columbia to "follow up" with "determination and care" on "complaints about politicized courses and a lack of scholarly rigor." The Times called "deeply unsatisfactory" a report by a faculty committee that Mr. Bollinger had asked to look into some of the problems, a report that Mr. Bollinger, in a major lapse, had praised. The accession of the Times in its editorial yesterday is all the more noteworthy for the fact that its former chairman, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, is a trustee emeritus of Columbia.
What needs to be said to the Times is, "Welcome to the fight." And what needs to be said to Columbia is that when the faculty, the provost, and the president of the university are clearly unwilling or unable to face up to the problem, the time has come for the trustees to step up to their trust, so eloquently articulated by Candace de Russy on the adjacent page. Some at Columbia may still claim that anyone reading the Post, the Sun, the News, the Voice, and even the Times might have an unrealistic impression of what is happening at the university, but there aren't many papers left. It can't have been easy for the Times to issue that editorial. So let it inspirit the trustees to attend to their own reputations, as well as their university's, by asserting their authority where their employees have failed.