Letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger · 16 November 2004

November 16, 2004

Dr. Lee Bollinger
Office of the President
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027

Dear President Bollinger,

My name is Sara Dogan and I am the National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom, an organization dedicated to promoting academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and civility in scholarly discourse at American universities. We currently have chapters on over 135 campuses nationwide, including at Columbia University.

I am writing because I am concerned about the lack of intellectual diversity at Columbia, particularly in the humanities and in the area of Middle Eastern studies. In the past, you have shown yourself to be deeply concerned about these issues, and I commend you for taking steps to organize an "academic freedom committee" to explore the issues surrounding partisan speech on campus. You stated last spring to the Columbia Spectator that "Should there be instances when people feel…repeatedly intimidated for political reasons…we should make it known that you can go speak to a dean or an advisor."

In the last few weeks, allegations have surfaced that Jewish students on campus have been subjected to threats and intimidation by pro-Palestinian professors in Columbia's Middle East studies department. Student Ariel Beery quoted Professor Joseph Massad as telling students, "The Palestinian is the new Jew and the Jew is the new Nazi," and Columbia alumna Lindsay Shrier revealed that she was told by Professor George Saliba that "You have no claim to the land of Israel. You have no voice in this debate. You have green eyes. You're not a Semite. I have brown eyes. I am a Semite." In response, you stated that you took such allegations "very seriously" and that academic freedom does not extend to "protecting behavior in the classroom that threatens or intimidates students who express their viewpoints."

This week, the Columbia Spectator spoke up in behalf of intellectual diversity in an editorial titled, "A call for Conservatism" noting that several departments at Columbia lacked "ideological diversity," and that this was detrimental to the education of all students as well as to the intellectual enterprise.

Given the scope of the allegations that have surfaced and this outcry from a mainstream student publication, we urge you to adopt an explicit policy statement on intellectual diversity and academic freedom reminding faculty and students alike that intellectual diversity is a primary educational value and the university is not to be used as a partisan political platform. The Academic Bill of Rights, written by David Horowitz, our Chairman and your alumnus, succinctly captures the essence of the doctrine of academic freedom and we submit it here for your consideration.

I also want to take this opportunity to correct some misconceptions about the Academic Bill of Rights that were previously aired publicly by a member of your administration. In a statement to the Columbia Spectator last spring, your provost, Alan Brinkley, criticized the Academic Bill of Rights, stating that:

" It is fine, even desirable, to present conflicting views in the classroom, but we do not impose any particular pedagogical style on our faculty and should not. Nor should we impose 'intellectual diversity' on campus ... I would very strongly oppose enacting any such 'bill of rights'--even one with which I wholly agreed--into law, thus creating the opportunity for/obligation of the government to enforce it."

As you will see from the enclosed document, the Academic Bill of Rights makes no pretense of forcing a particular teaching style on faculty. It merely states-as you have yourself-that intimidation of students due to their political, intellectual or religious views is unacceptable classroom conduct and that professors should seek to curtail partisan remarks where they are not relevant to the curriculum, in order to prevent such intimidation. Furthermore, Students for Academic Freedom supports legislation only as a last resort, where it is necessary to preserve academic freedom, and has never supported legislation pertaining to private universities such as Columbia, but only to public universities which are funded at taxpayer expense and thus must maintain a stricter standard of non-partisanship.

We recognize that as a private university, Columbia has only the burden of its own principles to compel its acceptance of a policy on academic freedom. We hope you will live up to the high standard you have set for yourself by adopting the Academic Bill of Rights.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom


P.S. Our chairman, David Horowitz, will be visiting the New York area on November 23 and would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues if you are available. To schedule a meeting, please contact Elizabeth Ruiz at 800-752-6562, extension 202 or at Elizabeth@cspc.org.