Columbia University Under Investigation

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an investigation into a complaint filed by Kenneth L. Marcus, the director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Mr. Marcus alleges that last January, a Jewish student from Barnard, an all-women college at Columbia University, was “steered” away from attending an Arab politics and intellectual history class taught by controversial CU professor Joseph Massad. Marcus contends that such steering, which is usually related to the real estate practice of guiding people away from certain neighborhoods based on racial considerations, also applies to college courses and student ethnicity.

“I’m delighted that OCR has opened an investigation,” Marcus said. “And I think it sends a signal that they’re taking the case very seriously.” Marcus himself headed the OCR between 2003 and 2004, and he contends that the chair of Barnard’s Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department told the student, whose Orthodox background was apparent due to her modest attire, that she might not be “comfortable” in Massad’s class. Mr. Massad, who has been highly critical of Israel, has been accused of anti-Semitism on a number of occasions. The chair suggested the student might want to consider a course on Ancient Israel instead.

Mr. Marcus is pressing the OCR to decide whether or not the chair violated the student’s rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Marcus believes that what the chair did is called “steering,” which he likened to a real estate agent telling an African American couple they would not be “comfortable” living in a white neighborhood and that they should look for a house in a black neighborhood instead. As Marcus notes, whether such a suggestion is well-intentioned or not, it still amounts to discrimination. “Columbia violates Title VI when it discourages Jewish students from pursuing coursework which may be important not only to their pursuit of the MEALAC (Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures) major, but more broadly to their attainment of a broad understanding of the Middle East,” he explained. “This harms Jewish students by narrowing their range of study, but it also harms non-Jewish students by denying them the educational benefits which are said to flow from a multi-faceted student diversity.”

Yet Marcus is equally concerned about something else as well. He wonders if the warning was “correct,” meaning that it is possible Prof. Massad may be violating the civil rights of Columbia students as well, by teaching a class where anti-Semitism is countenanced under the rubric of “academic freedom.” Massad was one of a few members of Columbia University’s Middle Eastern Studies faculty heavily criticized in a 2005 film produced by the David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group. The documentary, Columbia Unbecoming, is a 40-minute film of testimony by fourteen students and university graduates about facing intimidation for expressing pro-Israel sentiments in class. Massad was accused by one student, an Israeli and a former soldier, of demanding to know how many Palestinians he had killed.

Massad, who denied the allegation, subsequently fired back in a piece for Al-Ahram, an English language newspaper serving the Arab community. He accused the movie of being “the latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticise Israel.” A university investigation prompted by the film led to no firings or resignations. Critics characterized that investigation as a “whitewash.”

Marcus remains undeterred by the results. “The big question is whether Massad is violating students’ rights too,” he wrote. “If there is a problem in Professor Massad’s classroom, as the Barnard chair may believe, then steering Jewish students away is not the solution. Nor is it the biggest problem. The biggest problem may be the failure of some universities to take anti-Semitism allegations seriously, especially when academic freedom is frivolously invoked.”

He continued. “What OCR most needs to investigate is whether Columbia is willfully failing to address a discriminatory environment about which it is now clearly on notice. It is not acceptable to allow bias to persist and then simply to steer Jews away into courses which are thought to be more ‘appropriate’ for them.”

Professor Rachel McDermott was the longtime chair of Barnard’s Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures department until September, when she was succeeded by D. Max Moerman. Since the incident allegedly took place last January, it would be reasonable to suspect that Ms. McDermott was involved. But DOE spokesperson Jim Bradshaw said he was prohibited by law from identifying people involved in civil rights cases, and Ms. McDermott did not respond to a request for comments by the Columbia Spectator, the university’s student newspaper.

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  • Arafat

    CU has banned me from commenting on their internet newspaper. For over a year I commented on articles/editorials and/or opinion pieces that I felt were prejudicial against Israel. I tried to keep my comments civil, although admittedly at times I would get down into the gutter when a rival did so first.

    I did receive notes of thanks from anonymous posters for my attempts to add a voice of reason and logic to anti-semitic diatribes. I guess CU's editorial board decided I was being Islamophobic, or some other such BS.

    • Howard

      Islamophobia would be a irrational fear of islam/moslems? Seems to me that given the teachings of islam and the conduct of a great many moslems towards Jews and Israel that fear would be anything but irrational.

  • StephenD

    A tough spot for the student to be sure. Can you imagine now being admitted to this class? How uncomfortable that would be! Should this claim prevail I tip my hat to the young lady and encourage her to be strong and continue to fight the good fight. It takes folks exactly like her to shine a light on this darkness.
    I get so bored with the boiler plate responses from the Universities and Colleges. They are “against discrimination and will carefully review all alleged incidents…blah, blah, blah.” They should stop it. Know that people see the truth eventually and they should rout it out quietly if possible but no less completely…for their own good

  • mrbean

    The tolerance of anti semitism by Muslim students by the administrations at nearly every major university has reach a point where there is open threats of and actual violence against Jewish students on and off campus. Colonbia and Bezerkley are the two worst. I would have them charged and when found guilty, have the State Department revoke their student visas and deport them immediately.

  • waterwillows

    I wonder if anyone has taken a look at the where the money comes from? Who is funding the higher education brothels?
    Perhaps an audit would shed a great deal of light on their 'rights to so called freedom' to bash the cultures and peoples of non-muslim identity.

  • Choi

    When one sees the spectacle of "All-American" College Football,one is seeing a facade.
    Beneath the packed stadiums,marching bands,cheerleaders, tailgating and the game itself,it's an American postcard,EXCEPT that beneath it all is the ROT of the LEFTY Professors and adminstrators who HATE this countryand who are BRAINWASHING tommorrow's leaders .
    Big-Time College Football brings millions of dollars in to the Universities.,which then turnout America-Haters and Anti-Semites.

  • Choi

    Look no further than Notre Dame.
    Is there any school which epitimizes All-American College Football more than Notre Dame?
    When one thinks Notre Dame ,one thinks of College Football.The "College Football Hall of Fame MOVED to South Bend,Indiana,because of Notre Dame.
    I myself was a Notre Dame Fan UNTIL Notre Dame attempted to bring Tariq Ramadan,Islamist and relation to Muslim Brotherhood founder Al-Banna to their faculty as part of an Arab/Muslim Funded Middle East Center.
    Now I'm NEVER for Notre Dame, in fact I WANT THEM TO LOSE & KEEP LOSING,and hopefully keep BIG $$$$ that the Notre Dame "mystique" keeps generating ,OUT of South Bend.

    One last example is the Univ.of Wisconsin.
    A powerful Big 10 Football team.
    Packed SOLD-OUT home stadium,all of the "All-American"College Football trappings,and among the MOST LEFT-WING Schools in the nation that churns out LEFTY AMERICA-HATERS

  • Flipside

    I think it is interesting that the Jewish fighting organizations on campus are treating this as a racial incident.

    • tanstaafl

      As opposed to the "Muslim killers" organizations?

      • Flipside

        Screw the Muslims. This is about the Jews.

  • Bernice Lipkin

    Columbia doesn't just discriminate against Jewish students by hiring anti-Semitic professors who can't keep their bias out of their lectures, it adds contempt into the mix.
    In 2004-5, as part of Columbia U.'s damage control when the details of how Arab professors treated Jewish students could no longer be ignored, President Lee Bollinger convened a Provost Committee to investigate Rashid Khalid's unscholarly ideology-driven
    rabid hostility to Israel. Surprise, surprise, 2 of the 5 members had signed a divest-from-Israel petition and another was known as
    anti-Israel. Khalidi was of course exonerated and Columbia's selective
    freedom-of-speech continued. What really gets me is that
    Khalidi was put in as head of the committee to pick a head of Jewish Studies at
    Columbia. Predictably the committee picked an anti-Zionist Jew.
    See here.

    Bernice Lipkin
    Alumna, Columbia U Faculty of Pure Sciencel, 1961

    • Flipside

      Yes, but aren’t you a Kahanist who attacks the Presbyterian church and whose associates are trying to set up trade monopolies with the Kurds? Doesn’t that cast a small aspersion on your impartiality?

  • tagalog

    Is Lee Bollinger the Bollinger of Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, about affirmative action racial preference admission programs at the U. of Michigan undergrad program and the U. Mich. Law School?

  • maturin20

    I'm constantly amazed at the molehill-mountain transmutation that goes on in US academies.

  • Bill Riordan

    I love this. This is truly disgusting. Massad did not encourage the student to not take his class as is obvious by this garbage article. Many Jewish students have taken his class and have testified that he is not anti-Semitic. Where is their testimony in this piece of crap? This is bs and you know it. The attempts to smear Massad go back several years. It is truly despicable that this is still going on. You should be ashamed.

  • Bill Riordan

    And here is the result. Apparently there is still some justice in this world.