Columbia To Probe Faculty Remarks

Columbia University announced Wednesday that it will launch an investigation into anti-Semitic remarks by faculty members, which were brought to light in a video of student testimonials about anti-Semitism.

Rachel Lea Fish, the New York office director of advocacy group the David Project, met with Jewish students in October 2003 to investigate campus life. Several reported problems with professors who used the classroom as a bully pulpit, according to Fish.

Fish, who led the drive at Harvard’s Divinity School to return a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates, advised the students to document such incidents.

In December 2003 the group began filming student testimonials for the film Columbia Unbecoming. Although the film was initially meant to be screened privately for administrative members of the Columbia community, the film became public when Barnard College President Judith Shapiro mentioned the video at a national women’s conference, according to Fish.

“I wouldn’t say [the leak] is a bad thing,” Fish said. “It was bound to be a public issue.”

According to Andrea Liebman, a staffer at The David Project, the video showed students describing personal attacks from faculty.

Professor Joseph Massad refused to answer a question from an Israeli student, according to the video, until the student said how many Palestinians he had killed while serving in the Israeli army.

The Columbia Spectator reported that Columbia’s provost, Alan Brinkley, will lead an investigation into the video’s allegations.

“The process is beginning. [Columbia] must find a way for students to lodge formal complaints and be protected while doing so,” Fish said.

Fish has experience in campaigning against what she says is anti-Semitism.

According to Rami R. Sarafa ’07, a former board member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, a common misconception is that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are identical. Safara said it is possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic.

While Sarafa said that Massad’s political statements, such as labeling Israel a racist state, are valid, he does not approve of any personal attacks against students.

Sarafa stressed that the accusations against Massad and others had not yet been verified.

Joshua Suskewicz ’05, the political chair for Harvard Students for Israel, felt that the discussion at Harvard is more civilized.

“I don’t think it’s quite at that level here,” he said. “There should be absolutely no place for bias, intimidation, or humiliation in the class room.”

According to Charles Jacobs, who heads the David Project, the group is not looking for any faculty members to get fired. Instead, its most immediate demand is that Columbia institute a university-wide, simple complaint process where submissions remain anonymous, similar to sexual harassment reporting procedures.

Other things that the David Project would like to see added at Columbia include a tougher policy to prevent professors from intimidating students, a diversity of academic perspectives that would focus more broadly on the Middle East and the adoption of a single standard for minorities, which would treat Jews like other minorities.

The chair of Columbia’s Middle East Asian Languages and Cultures department could not be reached for comment yesterday after repeated calls and e-mails.