A month before Columbia University's president, Lee Bollinger, named a dean, Lisa Anderson, to a committee investigating the conduct of some of the university's Middle East scholars, she signed a letter to Mr. Bollinger defending one of those scholars against a "campaign of defamation."
Ms. Anderson, dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, was among 11 members of the Middle East Studies Association of North America to have signed the letter to Mr. Bollinger dated November 5, 2004. She was the only Columbia faculty member to sign the letter.
The letter denounces New York City press reports on the student complaints about anti-Israel professors as "the latest salvo against academic freedom at Columbia," and it cautions Mr. Bollinger about his decision to investigate the allegations.
Two days earlier, one of the professors who were the target of Jewish students' complaints, Joseph Massad, published a statement on his faculty Web site that described the complaints as the "latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation."
The letter to Mr. Bollinger also strongly suggests that a press report in the Jewish Week quoting students who praised Mr. Massad, an assistant professor, was more credible than other reports that focused on allegations that Mr. Massad bullied some Jewish students.
On December 8, Mr. Bollinger announced that he had appointed Ms. Anderson and four other faculty members to serve on the committee investigating allegations against professors in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures.
"The ad hoc committee that will be created will allow us to resolve the current controversies," Mr. Bollinger wrote in a letter to the Columbia community.
Students and other critics of the Middle East studies department said they disagreed with Mr. Bollinger's selections and expressed concern that some of the committee members were partial to the professors. Some pointed to the inclusion on the five-member committee of two scholars, Farah Griffin and Jean Howard, who signed a petition in 2002 denouncing Israel and calling on Columbia to divest its holdings in companies that sell military hardware to the Jewish state.
A Columbia University senior who has criticized the Middle Eastern studies scholars, Ariel Beery, said the existence of the letter to Mr. Bollinger signed by Ms. Anderson confirms his doubts about the committee.
The letter, he said, "proves ... that there are many more serious matters the committee steamrolled in its quest to protect Dr. Massad from Anderson's irrational fears."
The letter Ms. Anderson signed states: "We understand that you have asked the Provost of the university to look into the matter. This is certainly an appropriate step if there are any genuine grounds for concern regarding these allegations. Such a response, however, because it has been made public, may also suggest that the university is open to politicized pressure from the outside to silence debate and dissent on Columbia University's campus."
It continues: "We therefore urge you to take every appropriate opportunity to reassert that Columbia University will continue to uphold the fundamental values of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas, and that the campaign of defamation against Dr. Massad will find no resonance within your administration."
Ms. Anderson did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment. A Columbia press aide declined last night to comment.
Ms. Anderson, who has served as president of the Middle East Studies Association, also served as a dissertation adviser to Mr. Massad. He acknowledges her contribution in his book "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan," an expansion of his dissertation.
"I would like to begin by thanking Lisa Anderson, my professor and advisor, for believing in this project and for supporting it despite her initial misgivings about its unorthodox methodology," he writes. "Her trust in me strengthened my resolve to proceed and finally to complete this project."
Last month, the committee, after completing its investigation, announced that it found only one allegation of intimidation against the professors to be "credible."