Columbia Whitewashes Itself

A committee of insiders, some with conflicts of interest, clears the university

President [Lee] Bollinger Accepts [the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee] Report as [a] "Thoughtful and Comprehensive Review." Press release, Office of Public Affairs, Columbia University, March 31


The committee's report . . . represents a significant victory for Columbia's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. Jacob Gershman, The New York Sun, March 31


The eagerness of Columbia University to get favorable press coverage of this report composed by colleagues and friends of the accused—including a thesis adviser of Joseph Massad, one of the more fervently biased professors in the Middle East studies department—was first reported by Jacob Gershman of The New York Sun:

"The university [first] disclosed a summary of the committee's report to . . . The New York Times," which promised Columbia's administration that in return for the exclusive, it would not, before going to print, tell the protesting students what was in the report.

Accordingly, in Karen Arenson's March 31 front-page Timesstory on the report, "Columbia Panel Clears Professors of Anti-Semitism," there was no mention of any student reactions. Also, Joseph Massad was given an advance look at the report so that his answer could be included (the Times apologized, April 6, page 2).

The official Columbia report cited only three instances of intimidation by professors in the department—all of them previously publicized—but omitted many more, according to students who were interviewed by the committee.

Most remarkably left out was testimony to the alleged investigating committee by Yael Bitton that in a class taught by Joseph Massad, he told the students that the killers of the Israeli Olympic athletes in the 1972 massacre in Munich were not Palestinians or Germans—but Israelis!

As for the three instances of questionable, intimidating behavior by enthusiastic anti-Israel professors, only one was substantiated, but the reprimand was mildly bureaucratic in tone: "His rhetorical response . . . exceeded commonly accepted bounds."

What particularly struck me in the 24-page exercise in whitewashing was this attack by the committee on whistle-blowers among the students and their faculty supporters. Dig this:

"We find it deeply disturbing that faculty were apparently prepared to encourage students to report to them on a fellow-professor's classroom statements. Such behavior undermines the standing of the professoriate as a whole, erodes the relationship of trust that ought to exist between a teacher and his students, and threatens to turn the latter into informers."

So this official Columbia committee is now advocating a gag rule on all students at the university. They can't report to a fellow professor, even if they hear the professor engage in outright agitprop racist or gender fabrications.

What most surprised and disappointed me in connection with this factitious official report was the performance of the committee's adviser, Floyd Abrams, the most renowned First Amendment paladin before the Supreme Court.

The students who appeared before the committee were told that Abrams would not be present when testimony was taken and, as I also noted in "Columbia Implodes!" (March 2-8), the committee chose not to have its sessions tape-recorded.

So adviser Abrams did not have a full record of the proceedings. He could only consult the committee members and follow, in the media, what Jacob Gershman, I, and other reporters wrote—including a number of stories on the conflicts of interest of certain members of the committee. Those conflicts he apparently disregarded.

Nonetheless, Abrams told the Sun (April 1): "The report walked a very delicate line of trying to protect academic freedom of the faculty at the same time as they protected the rights of students to be treated in a civil and appropriate manner." That line was so delicate it was made of gossamer.

It is no wonder that in a front-page footnote to the report, there is this accolade: "The committee would like to thank Floyd Abrams, who has served as a valuable advisor throughout our deliberations." (What was his advice?)

The title of Abrams's new book on his famous cases is Speaking Freely (Viking). I have never known him not to—except this time.

Especially missing from the report are the spirit and much of the letter of a valuable speech on academic freedom given before the Association of the Bar of the City of New York on March 23 by Columbia president Lee Bollinger:

"In the classroom, especially . . . the professor knows [should know?] the need to resist . . . the temptation to use the podium . . . to indoctrinate a captive audience, to play favorites with the like-minded and silence the others. . . . We should not accept the argument that our professional norms cannot be defined and therefore transgressions must be accepted without consequences." (Emphasis added.) There were no consequences in the official report.

"We should not accept the argument," Bollinger continued, "that we as teachers can do what we want because students are of sufficient good sense to know bias and indoctrination when they see it. This ignores the enormous differential in power between the professor and the student in a classroom setting."

That's what this by now international controversy is all about. As student Bari Weiss of Columbians for Academic Freedom writes of the courageous student protesters: "We are doing this because we believe in the rights of all Columbia students to dissent without fear of abuse. Yes, this means for conservative students as well as left-wingers, for Zionists as well as anti-Zionists. . . . Criticizing professors does not violate their academic freedom or stifle debate. It only adds to it."

Yet Lee Bollinger supports the committee report that finds only one substantiated incident of intimidation of students. A March 24 New York Sun story was headlined "Faculty Revolt Is Brewing at Columbia." It was about Bollinger's "handling of the university's investigation into the conduct of professors in the Middle East studies department." He was attacked for not protecting those professors.

But the official company report is now in, protecting them. Bollinger praises the report. I guess he'll keep his job.

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