Columbia University President Lee Bolligner issued a statement to the Spectator, contending that Columbia has “strong policies against discrimination,” and that it handles “allegations of discrimination of any kind very seriously.” But he was quick to refute Marcus’s attempt to draw Professor Massad into the controversy. “It is important to note that the individual complaint appears to relate to academic advising at Barnard College and in no way involves Professor Joseph Massad,” Bollinger claimed. “Based on these facts, therefore, it is extremely unfair for professor Massad to be cited in a matter in which he played no part whatsoever.” Whether or not the OCR agrees with that contention remains to be seen.
Officials at Barnard College are reportedly reviewing the incident as well. “We do not tolerate discrimination by any member of the college community, so we are carefully exploring and reviewing the claims made about this alleged incident,” wrote Joanne Kwong, vice president for communications. “As this is a pending investigation, it would be inappropriate and premature to comment any further at this time.”
Judith Jacobson, associate professor of the Clinical Mailman School of Public Health, and co-founder of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a group of American academics dedicated to to fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias on college campuses, was the person who alerted Marcus to the alleged incident. Neither Jacobson nor Marcus would identify the student involved, but Marcus contended the she is supportive of the investigation. Jacobson, who believes the student chose not to enroll in Massad’s class, was “distressed” by the alleged incident. “Frankly, I was shocked,” said Jacobson. “I mean, suppose it were a black student who was steered away from taking a course because he or she was black. It’s just one of these things that you get more and more concerned about when you think about it,” she added.
Some Jewish Columbia students remain skeptical of the allegations. Shira Borzak, BC ’12 characterized her experience at Columbia as “overwhelmingly positive.” Michael Abramson, CC ’13 insisted the allegation amounted to an “isolated incident.” Jordana Kaminetsky, BC ’12 and president of Hillel, a club for Jewish students, issued a joint statement with Daniel Bonner, CC ’13 and president of Yavneh/Hillel.
The duo noted that Columbia has “professors who see things differently than we do in the context of Israel and the quest for balance in the classroom continues.” But they added that Jewish students feel “supported in the Columbia and Barnard academic community…and we are very grateful for it.”
On the other hand, Eric Schorr, GS/JTS ‘12 and president of the pro-Israel group LionPAC is taking a wait-and-see approach. He urged his fellow students to avoid “decontextualizing and conflating” this incident, yet he also believes “there needs to be a deeper conversation about issues that may in fact be taking place on campus.” And Susan Tuchman, the director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, noted that concerns about anti-Semitism at CU have “been on the radar screen of many people.”
Alleged discrimination is now on the radar screen at the OCS as well. And Kenneth Marcus who, in addition to his stint at U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, headed the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, considers this version of steering as “a somewhat novel theory,” but one that “fits exactly.” He is looking forward to the investigation and expressed the hope that the university would be willing, if necessary, to negotiate a voluntary settlement with OCS. “We would want to see Columbia take firm actions to ensure not only that the steering problem is addressed, but more importantly that Jewish students are not facing a hostile environment in Middle East studies classes,” he told Tablet Magazine.
His take on Professor Massad? “We would like for Columbia to look into what’s going on, especially in Professor Massad’s class, and reconsider whether the investigation they did a few years ago is really adequate,” he said. “If it turns out as a result of the investigation that there’s a hostile environment for Jewish students in any Columbia classes, then the instructors need to be dealt with.”
The investigation was opened on September 19th. Stay tuned.
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