Re: "New Grievance Policy Includes 3 New Grounds for Complaints," Jacob Gershman, New York, April 12, 2005. Columbia's Grievance Committee report and new grievance procedures have fulfilled the expectations of those who, months ago, criticized the committee members' conflicts of interest and the narrowness of their charge. All five committee members, and the administrator to whom they reported, had a history of collaboration with or support for strong anti-Israel views of faculty members previously accused of intimidating students or had previously been unresponsive to the charges of intimidation.
President Bollinger charged the committee "where appropriate, [to] investigate student complaints." He added: "The committee will not investigate anyone's political or scholarly beliefs and will not review departments or curricula," as if both excluded actions were equally inappropriate and undesirable.
The committee further narrowed its focus to "pedagogical intimidation or failure to create a civil learning environment," and concluded that only three of dozens of incidents were relevant, without explaining why. It found only one incident credible and relevant, merely characterizing it as "exceeding commonly accepted bounds."
The committee admitted that the students' continuous attempts, over two years, to register their grievances, were met with "both negligent or misguided behavior of individuals and widespread systemic confusion about responsibility and authority." But it construed the efforts of those faculty who tried to help the students as a witch-hunt in which politically motivated outsiders manipulated innocent and otherwise happy students.
At a recent meeting organized by Stop McCarthyism at Columbia, 20 professors accused powerful outsiders waging an ideological battle against Columbia. History Professor Khalidi thought it was deja vu all over again: "We've seen this with Churchill [the University of Colorado professor who compared World Trade Center victims to Nazis], we've seen this with our colleague Massad." Flyers handed out by the organizers claimed that "the current attack on academics critical of Israel is connected to international developments such as the decreasing number of American teenagers visiting Israel since 2001."
On March 22, former Columbia Provost Cole also characterized as McCarthyism the criticisms of Columbia's Middle Eastern scholars, Nicholas de Genova (an anthropology professor at Columbia, who called for "a million Mogadishus"), and Ward Churchill.
Academic freedom entails the protection of research and teaching from undue external pressure. In general, only peers, chosen from an appropriately broad spectrum of fields and academic institutions, should evaluate scholars' research and teaching, and universities should be alert to the dangers of pressure from funding sources. Disclosure of funding sources provides some protection against such pressures, and federal and state laws require the disclosure of funding from foreign governments or their lobbyists, in particular when they may be promoting a specific political agenda.
However, Columbia initially refused to disclose, and continues to refuse to return money donated by the United Arab Emirates, whose President Zayed had a record of systematic human-rights violations and whose think tank, the Zayed Center, was disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda before publicity surrounding a major gift to Harvard forced it to close. Columbia also has accepted money from the Saudi government to support outreach programs at the Middle East Institute, but SMAC has not objected to these invasions of the Ivory Tower.
Academic freedom does not mean freedom from accountability or integrity. Integrity is inconsistent with systematic omission or distortion of facts such as calling the Jenin operation a massacre, long after the United Nations concluded that, in fact, 52 Arabs and 23 Jews died in door-to-door battle, precisely because Israel wanted to minimize civilian casualties, or when Mr. Massad teaches that "U.S. forces strafed the retreating Iraqi soldiers on the Basra-Kuwait highway after their withdrawal from Kuwait, savagely murdering thousands of Iraqis." It means that an introductory course in political economy may not be restricted to either Marx or Adam Smith, and that a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict should include more than the proposition that Israel must be replaced by a "secular" bi-national state.
If Columbia's faculty and administration do not implement these basic standards, alumni, trustees, legislators, and society must step in to restore academic integrity. The focus on revised grievance procedures serves primarily to whitewash the growing stains on Columbia's ivory tower.
Charles E. Exley Professor of Management
Chairman of the Decision, Risk and Operations Division
Graduate School of Business
The letter was also signed by Judith Jacobson, assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University. The writers are co-coordinators of the Columbia Chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.