Columbia University is encouraging its students to file formal grievances against professors who abuse "faculty authority" by pressuring students "into supporting a political or social cause," according to new policies issued yesterday by the administration.
Columbia unveiled a revised set of university-wide grievance procedures for students who have grievances involving the classroom conduct of professors. The administration promised the new policies after an internal investigation into the conduct of anti-Israel faculty members criticized the procedures currently in place for handling student complaints. Some Jewish students have accused the administration of tolerating a hostile classroom environment in which students are not free to express opinions sympathetic toward Israel.
Going beyond simply addressing how a student files a complaint, the policies specify three grounds for complaint.
"Conduct that is grievable under these obligations," the policies said, "may include, among other things: failure to show appropriate respect in an instructional setting for the rights of others to hold opinions differing from their own; misuse of faculty authority within an instructional setting to pressure students into supporting a political or social cause; and conduct in the classroom or another instructional setting that adversely affects the learning environment."
Several of the students who testified before the committee investigating the conduct of faculty members accused their teachers of failing to meet the obligations specified in the new policies. Students testified that at least three professors canceled class in April 2002 on the day of an anti-Israel rally on campus and encouraged their students to attend.
A sophomore, Bari Weiss, 21, who was one of the students who publicly brought complaints against professors in Columbia's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, said the new procedures help to acknowledge that an "atmosphere of intellectual orthodoxy creates an environment where dissenters are turned into pariahs."
A professor of management at the Columbia Business School and a harsh critic of anti-Israel professors in the Middle Eastern studies department, Awi Federgruen, said the procedures released by the administration did not go far enough in discouraging political advocacy in the classroom.
"You really have to hammer down that the classroom is not a forum for political advocacy," he said. "I don't see it here."
Mr. Federgruen also criticized the report for not specifying the consequences for faculty members who violate classroom standards.
Columbia's new procedures for filing complaints essentially establish a new route for students to take if they believe the administrators in the academic school in which they are enrolled - such as their class dean - have not responded satisfactorily. Students can now take their grievances to a newly formed standing committee composed of five faculty members in the Arts and Sciences. The committee is to be appointed by the executive committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The recommendations of the committee will be either accepted or rejected by the vice president for arts and sciences, currently Nicholas Dirks. Students may appeal the decision to the provost, currently Alan Brinkley, whose decision is final.
The university's president, Lee Bollinger, said in a statement announcing the policies that he wants to "ensure that we have open and clear channels of communications in place among all students, faculty, and administrators in order to strengthen our entire community."
Mr. Bollinger also announced the formation of a student committee called the President's Council on Student Affairs.