Report rejects intimidation allegations at Columbia
University panel faults a professor, but finds no pattern
NEW YORK -- Columbia University's Middle Eastern studies professors did not engage in large-scale intimidation of pro-Israel students, but one angry professor exceeded ''commonly accepted bounds" of behavior in the classroom, a university report said yesterday.
A five-member panel criticized Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, for implying that a student should leave his class after she defended Israel's conduct toward Palestinians.
As a result of the long-awaited report, new procedures will be announced within weeks to address any lapses, said Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger.
''The committee was charged with looking into student claims of intimidation. They found one incident," Bollinger told The Associated Press yesterday.
Massad did not immediately return a phone call from the AP. He has repeatedly denied allegations that he intimidated the student during a discussion of whether Palestinians might be targets of Israeli ''atrocities." The university has taken no action against him.
Bollinger ordered the investigation after a group of students made a video alleging that Middle Eastern studies professors had harassed them. The video was funded by the David Project, a Boston-based pro-Israel group.
The committee, appointed by the university, interviewed students, faculty members, administrators, and alumni, and received written statements from others. Some advocates of the students have criticized the committee's makeup, saying it included several faculty members who have expressed anti-Israel views.
Bari Weiss, a 21-year-old student who cofounded the group Columbians for Academic Freedom, questioned the thoroughness of the report, which she said was compiled by a ''committee of insiders."
''We are pleased that we were able to drive Columbia University to acknowledge that they had a problem, that professors abused their students and disregarded their rights," Weiss said. ''But unfortunately, it is clear that the university cares more about protecting the faculty and its own public image than about its students."
The committee did not find further examples of outright student intimidation, but did mention two other incidents that, because of unclear information or other circumstances, were not determined to be cases of intimidation.
The Columbia committee recommended that the school revamp its grievance process and create a center where students, faculty, and administrators could express their concerns ''about the quality of their experience at Columbia."
''Our grievance procedures are not what they should be, and this goes back many years," Bollinger told the AP. ''When we have lapses, we will take them very seriously. This is not something that we will sweep under the rug."
In a statement posted on Columbia's website in November, Massad said the student-made video ''is the latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel."
The strategy of some pro-Israel groups, the professor said, is one ''that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism."
The committee said it found no evidence that professors had made anti-Semitic remarks to Jewish students. Bollinger said this was never the issue; ''this was about intimidation."