The Right Coast

March 31, 2005
Columbia University's Ward Churchills
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Columbia University's glossy alumni magazine, none too imaginatively titled "Columbia", is sent to all of us glossy and not-so-glossy Columbia alumni. The winter 2005 number carries a cover picture of Madeline Albright, and a fawning interview with her inside. Each and every one of Albright's interview answers is a denunciation of President Bush and the Iraq war: "it's a mess"; "a war of choice, not of necessity"; "we have to stop digging the hole deeper - we're still digging"; "we're less safe now"; "the people who ultimately surrounded current President Bush had the idea of attacking Iraq all along - the reasons for this are still relatively unclear, but...they piggybacked their plan onto September 11". The usual, more-than-faintly-paranoid talking points, I suppose, of the New Model Democratic Party.

More interesting, in a sense, is "Columbia"'s admiring profile of Salo Baron, professor of Jewish history at Columbia from 1930 till his retirement in 1963 and author of a famous multi-volume Social and Religious History of the Jews.

Columbia may have reason, just now, to emphasise to its alumni -- quite a few of them Jewish -- that Columbia is, or was, hospitable to scholars who are, or were, unapologetically committed Jews.

Because the magazine also carries a queasy little item, entitled "Academic Freedom for All", which alludes to the public charges swirling round Columbia of systematic intimidation and bullying of Jewish students by the stridently anti-Israel Middle East Studies faculty at the school. "Columbia" duly reports that an "ad hoc faculty committee" has been established to "look into concerns about faculty conduct in their role as teachers".

("Columbia" calls the David Project, whose documentary film sparked the controversy, a "pro-Israel advocacy group", which it is not: "We do not endorse a political agenda", says the Project, "beyond Israel's right to exist peacefully among its Arab neighbors". Well, perhaps that does make it a "pro-Israel advocacy group" by Columbia's standards...)

In fact, Columbia's "ad hoc committee" is heavily stacked in favour of the anti-Israel professors and against the Jewish students. Nat Hentoff, the veteran civil libertarian writer, points out (in the Village Voice) that two of the committee members signed "divestment" petitions against Israel:
The two signers of the divestment petition have, of course, the right of conscience to use that method of criticizing Israel. What is significant, however, in their being selected for this special investigating committee is that while they were among 106 faculty members who put their names on that divestment petition, 360-plus faculty members opposed that petition in writing. How come President Bollinger appointed not a single one of those 360-plus to the committee? Or any others from Columbia's 3,224 full-time faculty?
Another committee member "compares Israel's occupation of the West Bank to the Nazi occupation of eastern Europe". The committee is chaired by Ira Katznelson, a leftist warhorse. And so it goes.

Yet even so "reliable" a committee as this is apparently too much for many Columbia faculty members, and there are reports that a (leftist) "faculty rebellion" is brewing.

The moral, for me at least, is that whenever I'm moved to contribute money to higher education, I do it by way of the excellent American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Contributing through ACTA, I can be sure I will be helping serious and non-propagandistic academic programs that are worthy of support. And I can be sure I won't be supporting either the likes of Columbia's in-the-bag "ad hoc committee", or the still loonier "faculty rebellion" against it.

UPDATE: The latest from Columbia's "ad hoc committee" innvestigation. Sheesh. And much more here from PowerLine, suggesting that "Columbia is flirting with police state type tactics in order to defend the pro-Palestinian police state members of its faculty."