Friday, March 25, 2005

It's Not Anti-intellectualism, Stupid

The New York Sun reports:
[A] former provost of [Columbia University], Jonathan Cole, who in a speech on Tuesday night before a restive gathering of professors and students strongly suggested that [President] blinker wasn't doing enough to defend faculty members from accusations that they have intimidated Jewish students.

Speaking for almost an hour and drawing applause from the audience, which included some of the scholars under investigation, Mr. Cole said in no uncertain terms that Columbia is under attack by what he described as outside political forces.

When the content of a professor's views is under attack, Mr. Cole said, "leaders of research universities must come to the professor's defense."

He said the pressures bearing down on the university reminded him of the climate that existed on American campuses a half-century ago during the McCarthy era.

"We are witnessing a rising tide of anti-intellectualism," Mr. Cole said, calling the present situation at the university "another era of intolerance and repression."...

In recent months, Mr. Bollinger has had several meetings in his office with leaders of the Jewish community - some of whom have demanded that Mr. Bollinger seriously investigate the student complaints - to assuage their concerns.

Last night, with the public spotlight on his next moves and with a number of Columbia trustees in the audience, Mr. Bollinger delivered an exegesis on the scope, meaning, and history of academic freedom.

Mr. Bollinger said it was "preposterous to characterize Columbia as anti-Semitic" and said the university would not "punish professors or students for the speech or ideas they express as part of public debate about public issues."

He also said the university "should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty above all other values" or accept "transgressions" among faculty members "without consequences."

Saying the classroom must not be turned into a "political convention," Mr. Bollinger said, "We should not accept the argument that we as teachers can do what we want because students are of sufficient good sense to know bias and indoctrination when they see it."

The students who have aired complaints claim that some professors in the department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture suppress opinion sympathetic of Israel and inappropriately substitute political activism for teaching.

An assistant professor of modern Arab politics, Joseph Massad, is accused of threatening to expel a student from his classroom because she defended Israel's military actions. Mr. Massad denies the charge. Mr. Massad is undergoing his fifth-year review. According to a source, a committee within the Middle East studies department evaluating Mr. Massad has recommended that he continue teaching in the department.

Mr. Cole on Tuesday night cast Mr. Massad as an exemplary teacher who is under no obligation to give equal weight to student opinions expressed during class. Just as a Jewish history professor doesn't have to take seriously a student who denies the Holocaust, Mr. Massad is not required to give equal time to an argument denying the 1982 Shatila refugee camp massacre in Lebanon, he said.

"The American research university is deigned to be unsettling," Mr. Cole said. "The university must have and always welcome dissenting voices."...

Mr. Cole's speech was arranged by Columbia's Center for Comparative Literature and Society and was followed by a presentation delivered by anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani, who argued that the "classroom is being politicized from the outside."...

Philosopher Akeel Bilgrami, a member of the audience, raised his hand and said it must be exposed that "a handful of students are responsible for the university's crisis," referring to the group of undergraduate students who have come forward with complaints. Mr. Bilgrami is a signer of a 2002 petition urging the university to boycott companies selling arms and military hardware to Israel.

The director of the center and the event's moderator, Gayatri Spivak, told the audience that an electronic recording of the event was prohibited. Asked by an audience member why no recording devices could be used, she said Mr. Cole requested that his speech not be recorded and that his decision was justified because of the way the press has manipulated her own words.

While the two panelists, Messrs. Cole and Mamdani, railed against intrusion by trustees and donors into academic governance, Ms. Spivak called for outside pressure on Columbia for it to hire more female faculty members. She called gender inequality a "real problem, whereas this is made up," referring to the complaints against the Middle East scholars.

So, outside pressure is bad if it's aimed at leftists but good if it supports leftists. Such is leftist logic.

As for "anti-intellectualism," I call it disgust. Disgust that universities have gone far beyond any pretense of seeking truth. Universities today -- by and large -- merely seek to advance an anti-capitalist, anti-free speech, anti-American agenda. If that upsets donors and trustees and causes them to bring pressure to bear on universities, I say hurrah! Donors and trustee have speech rights, too. And they should use them.

Those who fund universities -- donors and taxpayers -- have a legitimate interest in ensuring that universities use their money wisely.

Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech