New York Times - March 31, 2005
Columbia Panel Reports No Proof of Anti-Semitism
By KAREN W. ARENSON
An ad hoc faculty committee charged with investigating complaints that pro-Israel Jewish students were harassed by pro-Palestinian professors at Columbia University said it had found one instance in which a professor "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" of behavior when he became angry at a student who he believed was defending Israel's conduct toward Palestinians.
But the report, obtained by The New York Times and scheduled for release today, said it had found "no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic."
It did, however, describe a broader environment of incivility on campus, with pro-Israel students disrupting lectures on Middle Eastern studies and some faculty members feeling that they were being spied on.
It said that Columbia's failure to address various student complaints quickly had had a "deeply negative impact" on the university as a whole, had led to an "acute erosion of trust between faculty and students," and had left Columbia vulnerable to criticism from outside groups with their own agendas.
The committee was formed during the winter at the request of Columbia's president, Lee C. Bollinger, after the release of a videotape in which Columbia and Barnard students said they had been intimidated by professors of Middle Eastern studies both in and out of class. The tape sparked widespread concern among Jewish groups, alumni, trustees and activists concerned about academic freedom.
Pro-Israel students said they made the video because they had been unable for several years to get administrators to take their complaints seriously. The film was backed by the David Project, a pro-Israel group based in Boston.
The report (which is to be posted on Columbia's Web site today) noted that although often combative exchanges occurred between pro-Palestinian professors and pro-Israel students, no students received lower grades because of their views.
The most credible, the committee found, was an incident involving Professor Joseph Massad, who was teaching a class on Palestinian and Israeli politics. According to the report, a student, Deena Shanker, recalled asking if it was true that Israel sometimes gave a warning before a bombing so that people would not be hurt. She said the professor blew up, telling her, "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!"
The report said that the professor had "denied emphatically that this incident took place" and had told the committee that he would never ask a student to leave his class. And it said that others in the "particularly tense" class differed about whether the incident, which was never formally reported, had taken place.
But the committee said that in the end, it found the account "credible" and concluded that the professor's "rhetorical response to her query exceeded commonly accepted bounds by conveying that her question merited harsh public criticism."
Reached last evening, Professor Massad said he had just finished reading the report and was still trying to figure out what it meant. "I clearly disagree with their findings," he said. "I deny the allegations. I do not know on what basis they found them credible. It was a he-said she-said thing. It is unclear on what basis they made the determination that one claim was more credible than the other." He added that there had been a lack of due process.