Thursday, March 31, 2005

am i the only one who thinks this entire thing is ridiculous?

Being a student at Columbia University gives you the privilege to be a part of the protest or quietly sit as a spectator. During last year's uproar over alleged racism in one of the Fed's cartoon's you could sit back and understand why many were outraged and we could sympathize. This year we have another campus implosion, turning Columbian against Columbian. We have the New York Sun doing play by play on our every move, actively trying to paint our University with a dark secret: anti-Semitism and then we have the New York Times adding their two-cents every now and then.

As a spectator, am I the only one that finds the allegations of anti-Semitism absolutely ridiculous? This is where our story begins. Ding. Turn the page.

Allegations of anti-Semitism. Students who believed they were being intimidated by the professors in the MEALAC department decide to take part in a documentary put together by The David Project. They claim to be trying to present an objective view of academic freedom in the classroom, but all you really hear about are accusations of he did this and he did that. Granted, I wasn't in the classroom, what really happened remains in the confines of the minds of the professors and those in the classroom. [now that I think about it, wouldn't it be easily verified what statements were made? theses classes must have at least 20-30+ people in them, surely more than the alleged victims would be able to remember a story that in context is blatantly offensive]. The story has become a circus. Everybody and their mother has their own opinion about what happened and what should happen in the MEALAC dept. because the Sun and the David Project have turned the situation into a medieval crusade... or a witch hunt. The ad-hoc committee’s report was released today, no anti-Semitism, but the grievance policy is terrible.

Our story continues. I was sitting in image processing reading the Spec's articles and as soon as I finished the articles last sentence I think something in my brain snapped.

"I was disturbed because we wanted so badly to heal the Columbia community and get past this and we think at the very least the people that see that report would be the Columbia students."- Bari Weiss '07"

There had been something that had disturbed me about this entire anti-Semitism "scandal" and I could never really put my finger on it till now.

Heal the Columbia Community... I realize that there are students on this campus that feel like they were hurt somehow. I don't mean the portions of the Jewish community and others who have been following the proceedings and have taken a stance on it in their own detached sort of way, I mean the people that were in the classrooms, the ones that asked a question and had a wake up call answer that they probably didn't expect to be thrown at them. Perhaps I'm being insensitive, but I don't exactly feel like this has rocked Columbia to the foundation of its being.

Every semester I sit at my desk and with my advisors I pick about 5 classes to take. I believe the reason we go to university and take classes is for the purpose of learning. We go to university to get a deeper perspective on issues, to question beliefs that we have held all our lives that have not yet been subject to rigorous intellectual debate.

It struck me while I was reading the newspaper that everyone that has been mentioned as having grievances with MEALAC has been Jewish and in a class pertaining to the Arab world. I had to ask myself, why are you in that class. I believe that everyone's motive was to get an alternative perspective to the world that is adjacent to what they hold dear to their hearts (Israel); they want to know about Arabs and Palestine. I think that is a worthy cause, find the root of all the controversy; why has the hatred and fighting become so ingrained in the modern consciousness of both involved parties. The deviation I believe that occurred with those making the majority of grievances is that while they allowed themselves to listen to an alternative perspective, they did not allow themselves to give any consideration to the opposition view.

The problem with academic freedom is not between the student and the teacher; it is within the student.

I am going out on a limb but it seems logical that while enrolled in Massad's class, some of his students could not accept or at least give consideration to what he was teaching. Prejudice is a difficult barrier to get past. There is an over used adage that says that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink from it, this couldn't be closer to the truth.

Students in this conflict claim they have been verbally intimidated in the classroom. It would be virtually impossible, especially at a school of prestige at Columbia for a professor to circle the room and pick somebody out for intimidation. Massad did not go around the room and look for a Jewish person to get into heated debate with. Tomy Schoenfeld did not ONLY tell Massad that he had served in the Israeli army to illicit a response of "Well if you served in the military, then why don't you tell us how many Palestinians have you killed?" I don't understand why the context of the question was left out. I don't want to go so far as to say these students brought it upon themselves. That is unfair and wrong, what they did bring upon themselves is a sharp response from most likely an equally sharp question, an answer that was probably meant to make them think about their beliefs.

"Criticizing professors does not violate their academic freedom or stifle debate. It only adds to it. Professors can think and say and write whatever they wish. But they do not have the right to be free from criticism." -Bari Weiss

You're right Bari, they aren't free from criticism. What is appalling though is that sheltered Columbia students think they ARE free from criticism, that they came voice dissenting opinions and expect professors to baby them and say, "You know what, I’ve studied this for 2 decades and lived directly in the heart of the conflict, you know... you have a good point". This entire issue is blown greatly out of proportion. I wish Lee Bollinger spent more time doing other things than writing me emails so I feel like I'm not being alienated.