Update: Noted liberal columnist Nat Hentoff wrote an excellent article about the bias that the investigating committee had.
Columbia University, after a months-long investigation, has determined that only a small fraction of complaints from Jewish students against anti-Israel professors constituted intimidation.
The faculty committee appointed by Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, to investigate a series of student allegations against professors in the Middle Eastern studies department issued a report yesterday largely clearing the accused scholars of blame. At the same time, committee members described a polarized classroom environment in which pro-Israel students disturbed lectures and seminars with inappropriate interruptions.
In an effort to manage favorable coverage of its investigation into the complaints, the university disclosed a summary of the committee's report only to the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper, and the New York Times. Those newspapers, sources indicated to The New York Sun last night, made an agreement with the central administration that they would not speak to the students who made the complaints against the professors.
One of the incidents not mentioned by the report involves assistant professor Joseph Massad, who allegedly told a class that it was Israelis - not Germans or Palestinians - who shot to death the Israeli Olympic athletes in the 1972 Munich Massacre, according to one of Mr. Massad's former students.
Mr. Massad's alleged interpretation of events is sharply contradicted by historians, who say the 11 Olympic athletes were murdered by their Palestinian hostage-takers in a botched rescue operation conducted by German authorities. Historians have debated whether some of the athletes died in the crossfire between German police and the kidnappers, but the notion that the athletes were killed by Israeli gunfire has not been given credence.
The committee gently criticized Mr. Massad in its report for purportedly threatening to expel a female Jewish student, Deena Shanker, from his classroom in 2002 when she asked him whether the Israeli military warned Palestinian Arab civilians of the West Bank before launching military strikes there. "That provoked him to start screaming, 'If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against the Palestinians then you could leave the class,'" Ms. Shanker told the Sun last fall.
Mr. Massad has denied threatening the student, whose account of the incident has been backed by at least one another student, and said he treats his students fairly and with respect.
The committee said Mr. Massad had no real intention of expelling Ms. Shanker from the class, but he lost his temper and "exceeded commonly accepted bounds by conveying that her question merited harsh public criticism."
The committee, however, did not come to a conclusion on guilt in a separate incident involving Mr. Massad. In an incident that occurred in spring 2002, Mr. Massad is alleged to have refused to answer a question posted by a student, Tomy Schoenfeld, at an on-campus lecture until the student, an Israeli army veteran, told the professor how many Palestinians he killed.
The committee reported that although another student corroborated the incident, "It is conceivable that Professor Massad did not know that Mr. Schoenfeld was a student," and said the incident seemed to "fall into a challenging grey zone."
The committee did not investigate issues of professorial bias in the classroom, stating that it "judged that our charge did not encompass the examination of such matters."
On the issue of anti-Semitism, the committee concluded: "We found no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic. Professor Massad, for one, has been categorical in his classes concerning the unacceptability of anti-semitic views."
The committee made no mention of an article that an Iranian professor at Columbia, Hamid Dabashi wrote for an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, last fall in which he wrote that Israelis suffer from "a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture."
In an admonishment to students, the committee stated, "There is a thin line between participating fully and enthusiastically in a discussion, and intervening in a fashion which significantly disrupts the class."
The panel also essentially cleared the professors who on April 17, 2002, canceled classes on the day of an anti-Israel rally on campus and encouraged students to attend the demonstration.