Columbia’s Report: Professors Respond

April 12, 2005

Joseph Massad wrote a “Response to the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee Report“ last week to defend himself and to analyze the flaws of Columbia University’s Ad Hoc Grievance Committee Report. He states:

The Committee makes no attempt to relate Shanker’s allegations to two of its own findings: first, that those testifying before the Committee agreed that I conducted my class in an inclusive manner, both in terms of allowing everyone to ask questions and that I set no limitations on the questions that could be asked. How then was the allegation that I sought to exclude, whether directly or through a heated exchange, a student who disagreed with me found credible? And, second, that I and my class were already the target of an organized attempt at espionage and intimidation when Shanker claimed to recover her memory suddenly because of hearsay by another student interviewed in “Columbia Unbecoming.”

…In contrast with the committee’s conclusion that at worst it found it “credible” that I responded to Shanker “heatedly” with “harsh public criticism,” President Bollinger reached an altogether different conclusion. In a radio interview on April 1, 2005 with NPR’s Brian Lehrer, Bollinger responded to Lehrer’s statement that the committee found it probably true that Massad “yelled at a Jewish student to get out of his classroom,” by affirming that the described incident “did in fact happen” (emphasis added). Bollinger not only changes the report’s finding that the claim of a “heated” response and “harsh public criticism” is “credible” but transforms it into a new claim, namely, that I instructed Shanker to “get out” of my class room, and that this claim is a “fact.”

Monique Dols also argues on Socialist Worker Online last week that, despite concluding there has been no evidence of systematic anti-Semitism on campus, the report singles out Professor Joseph Massad as potentially having made a “hostile” statement to a student. She writes:

But the committee’s report found one story “credible”–in which Massad was accused of telling a student that if she was going to deny Israeli atrocities, she should get out of his class. The report shows that two people corroborated the “main elements” of the story, only one of whom was actually registered for the class. But three people–including the two graduate student teaching assistants for the class and one undergraduate–have no recollection of the incident. The committee’s report fails to address the fact that the student, Deena Shanker, gave three different versions of the incident.

…Bollinger has remained silent in the face of death threats and racist e-mails sent to MEALAC professors, the subsequent canceling of Massad’s class due to intimidation, and calls from politicians and the New York media for Massad’s firing. Bollinger never met with Massad–though he met with the accusing students.

As he told students at a university dinner, “I’m not going to talk about whether the accusations are true or not. Let’s just assume they’re true.” The committee followed Bollinger’s lead in considering Massad guilty until proven innocent.

Also, the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote Columbia to insist that the report was inadequate and point out the same issue with the discrepancy between Deena Shanker’s and Professor Massad’s testimonies:

Given this conflicting testimony and the absence of contemporaneous corrobation of Ms. Shanker’s account, it is unclear how or why the Committee chose to believe Ms. Shanker and disbelieve Professor Massad. If the conflicting testimony ultimately devolves into a credibility contest between Ms. Shanker and Professor Massad with inadequate corroboration on either side of the issue, the serious question that must be asked is whether the investigative processes employed by the Committee were sufficient to allow it to reach a factual conclusion with respect to this matter.

Professors last week also came together for a “faculty teach-in on academic freedom” during which Massad and other professors spoke about issues of academic freedom and politics on campus. The Spectator reports that:

Several speakers reported that unregistered auditors had frequently attended their classes in order to disrupt them with controversial comments or to gather information about the professors to be used to attack them later. Noha Radwan, an assistant professor in MEALAC, said that because the committee’s mandate had been to defend students, it had not addressed the issues of defending faculty against outside intimidation in the classroom. Andrew Nathan, Class of 1919 professor of political science, recounted threatening phone messages received by some professors and said he was troubled that University administrators had not pursued any legal action in response to them.

…In conclusion, Mahmood Mamdani, the Herbert Lehman professor of government and anthropology, sounded a constructive, forward-looking note.

“The leadership of the University has been speaking freely to the press, but not so freely to [the faculty],” Mamdani said. “I believe the next question is for us to demand a dialogue, an exchange, with that leadership.”

It looks like students and faculty (and many other concerned individuals) are unsatisfied by the committee’s report (see my last post) and find it inconsistent. The report, portrayed by some professors as “defending students,” ironically undermines student empowerment (see my previous post on “The Failure of the Educational Machine“); thus it seems that the professors also might be missing the mark. They are demanding to dialogue with the “leadership,” denouncing the accusations at a teach-in—but why not dialogue with the students (and other accusers) themselves?

Anyway, let’s see what Columbia will do (or not do) next.

Schools:  Columbia University