Response to the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee Report1

    Joseph Massad
    April 4, 2005

    The Ad Hoc Grievance Committee Report suffers from major logical
    flaws, undefended conclusions, inconsistencies, and clear bias in favor
    of the witch-hunt that has targeted me for over three years. Despite
    these major limitations, the report acknowledges that there has been an
    organized attempt by internal and external forces to intimidate faculty at
    Columbia and that I have been the central target of this attempt.  In the
    following, I will point out the most glaring flaws in the report to illustrate
    that not only was the committee illegitimate, but that it has also produced
    a report that is not defended by argument, facts, or proof.

    I should reiterate that I do not recognize the legitimacy of the Ad Hoc
    Grievance Committee established by the Columbia administration, as I
    consider it an instrument in the ongoing campaign to suppress academic
    freedom on this campus. This is so because the charge of the
    committee ignored the central question of the intimidation of faculty by
    other faculty, by students, by administrators, and by forces from outside
    the university. I told this to the members of the committee when I met
    with them on March 14th and clarified to them that I had acquiesced in
    appearing before them out of a combined sense of obligation and
    intimidation. It is this sense that motivates my response to the report that
    the committee released on March 28.

    Pedagogy in Context

    Let me begin with section IV of the report titled “Pedagogy in Context.”  
    Despite the limitations placed on the committee by its official charge, the
    committee’s report was forced to acknowledge that I have been the
    target of a political campaign by actors inside and outside the university,
    as well as by registered and unregistered students inside and outside
    my classroom. It affirms that during the Spring of 2002, I was spied upon
    by at least one other professor on campus, that my class was disrupted
    by registered students (non-auditors) and unregistered auditors, and
    that individuals and organizations outside the university targeted me, my
    class, and my teaching.  Furthermore, the report not only confirms that
    in my classes, and specifically in the Spring 2002 course on Palestinian
    and Israeli Politics and Societies, I allowed all questions to be asked,
    but, in fact, implicitly assigns blame to me for being too open during the
    Spring 2002:  

    "there is ample evidence of [Massad’s] willingness -- as part of a
    deliberate pedagogical strategy -- to permit anyone who wished to do so
    to comment or raise a question during his lectures. For many students
    this approach itself became problematic because it allowed a small but
    vociferous group of fellow students to disrupt lectures by their incessant
    questions and comments." (Section IV)

    The report also claims that as a result of this situation, the atmosphere
    in the classroom, as described by some students, was “tense”: “Some
    students referred to ‘emotional outbursts,’ another to the atmosphere
    being ‘combative.’”  Yet despite these limitations and provocations
    against the professor, the report states that “A significant number of
    students found Professor Massad to be an excellent and inspiring
    teacher, and several described his class as the best they took at
    Columbia.”2   Moreover, the report further affirms that instead of being
    provoked to respond to this campaign inappropriately or irresponsibly,
    that I seem to have taken my professorial tasks professionally and
    responsibly:

    "Outside the classroom, there can be little doubt of Professor Massad's
    dedication to, and respectful attitude towards, his students whatever
    their confessional or ethnic background or their political outlook. He
    made himself available to them in office hours and afterwards. One
    student, critical of other aspects of his pedagogy, praised his 'warmth,
    dynamism and candor' and his unusual accessibility and friendliness.
    One of the group of students who questioned him regularly and critically
    in class told us of their friendly relations outside class where their
    discussions often continued."

    As for limitations that I insisted on in my classroom, the report confirms
    one: “Professor Massad…has been categorical in his classes
    concerning the unacceptability of anti-semitic views.”4    The report also
    affirms that the committee did not find that any of my students were
    “penalized for their views by receiving lower grades.”5  The report does
    not find any other limitations that I imposed on my students. It is in this
    context that the report examines the claim made by Deena Shanker,
    which is alleged to have taken place during the Spring 2002 class on
    Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies.3

    Student Claims

    The report engages Deena Shanker’s claim in a way that renders it into
    a moving target. The committee first reports Deena Shanker’s testimony
    in which she claims that I told her “If you're going to deny the atrocities
    being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my
    classroom!”6  Shanker has two witnesses, one is a registered student,
    and one whom she claims was a visitor for the day, a claim that has not
    been verified by anybody except for Shanker who is the only witness
    that this person was visiting my class, just as he is her witness that the
    incident she describes took place! As for the registered student, he
    provided testimony that differs significantly from that provided by
    Shanker. He alleges that I “raised” my “voice considerably and said that
    ‘I will not stand by and let you sit in my classroom and deny Israeli
    atrocities.’”7  Note that Shanker’s claim that I instructed her to “get out of
    my classroom” is not corroborated but rather replaced by a different
    claim altogether.  The fact that I deny that the incident ever took place
    and that my testimony is corroborated by three students, two graduate
    Teaching Assistants and one registered undergraduate student, while
    mentioned in the report, is treated as immaterial to the report’s
    conclusion. Also immaterial to the report’s conclusion is the report’s
    finding that Shanker did not register this complaint in her anonymous
    evaluation of the course, nor reported it to any one in authority nor
    spoke of it to me, her professor.

    The report, despite noting the campaign against me during the Spring of
    2002 from inside the classroom and outside it, from inside the university
    and outside it, and despite its finding that I had conducted myself in a
    responsible professorial way with students who would incessantly disrupt
    and interrupt my class, surprisingly moves to conjure up a fantastic
    scenario wherein it “finds it credible that Professor Massad became
    angered at a question that he understood to countenance Israeli
    conduct of which he disapproved, and that he responded heatedly.”8  
    This the report explains as consisting of an allegedly “rhetorical
    response…conveying that [Shanker’s] question merited harsh public
    criticism.”9  Thus, what the report finds credible is that I became
    “angered” and “responded heatedly” with “harsh public criticism.” Notice
    that the charge is a moving target. It started with the claim that I
    threatened to expel Deena Shanker from my class, to my threatening
    not to “stand by” while Shanker denies Israeli atrocities, to the final form
    of the charge, namely that I responded “heatedly” to Shanker with
    “harsh public criticism.” It is this last charge that the report found
    “credible.”

    The Committee makes no attempt to relate Shanker's allegations to two
    of its own findings: first, that those testifying before the Committee
    agreed that I conducted my class in an inclusive manner, both in terms
    of allowing everyone to ask questions and that I set no limitations on the
    questions that could be asked. How then was the allegation that I sought
    to exclude, whether directly or through a heated exchange, a student
    who disagreed with me found credible? And, second, that I and my class
    were already the target of an organized attempt at espionage and
    intimidation when Shanker claimed to recover her memory suddenly
    because of hearsay by another student interviewed in “Columbia
    Unbecoming.”

    Let me move now to the report’s attempt to establish facts. The report
    never claims that it established Shanker’s claim as true beyond
    reasonable doubt, rather that it found it “credible.”  What this suggests
    is that at best the evidence was not persuasive enough to establish the
    claim as a solid incontrovertible fact but rather as “credible.”  Still, the
    report never explains the basis on which the committee found Shanker’s
    claim and her witnesses more “credible” than my denial and that of my
    witnesses. Floyd Abrams, the advisor to the committee, responded to my
    public query by telling the Chronicle of Higher Education “That's what
    juries do all the time.”10  Mr. Abrams seems to elide the fact that the ad
    hoc committee is not a court and that unlike the ad hoc committee, a
    real court and a real jury listen to real testimony, not from volunteers,
    but from all who were determined to be present when an incident
    occurred, and that the witnesses are subjected to cross-examination.
    These important elements, which escaped the attention of our esteemed
    lawyer, did not apply to the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee, as it is not a
    court of law, evidenced by its failure to accord me due process.  Indeed,
    the committee’s conclusion of the credibility of Shanker’s claim stands
    undefended by facts, logic, or argumentation, all of which are absent in
    relation to this finding.

    In contrast with the committee’s conclusion that at worst it found it
    “credible” that I responded to Shanker “heatedly” with “harsh public
    criticism,” President Bollinger reached an altogether different
    conclusion.  In a radio interview on April 1st 2005 with NPR’s Brian
    Lehrer, Bollinger responded to Lehrer’s statement that the committee
    found it probably true that Massad “yelled at a Jewish student to get out
    of his classroom,” by affirming that the described incident “did in fact
    happen” (emphasis added). Bollinger not only changes the report’s
    finding that the claim of a “heated” response and “harsh public criticism”
    is “credible” but transforms it into a new claim, namely, that I instructed
    Shanker to “get out” of my class room, and that this claim is a “fact.”

    As for the Tomy Schoenfeld’s claim, the Committee affirms that it
    occurred at an unspecified time (“in the late Fall or early Spring terms of
    the 2001-2002 academic year”), and at an unspecified place (“in a
    building adjacent to campus on 113th or 114th street”), at an event with
    an unspecified title and unknown sponsor.11  Schoenfeld claims that at
    this alleged event I asked him “How may Palestinians have you killed.”
    He brought with him one witness who, like him, also could not recall the
    time, place, or title of the event at which this alleged incident took place.
    According to the report,

    “Mr. Schoenfeld told the committee that he had not spoken to a dean or
    advisor about the incident. By contrast, an assistant dean of student
    affairs in the School of General Studies recalls that Mr. Schoenfeld
    spoke with her about the incident shortly after it occurred. Although he
    seemed upset, she remembers that at the time he did not think this
    episode warranted further action.”12

    Although the report mentions that I have denied that this incident ever
    took place, that I have never met or seen Mr. Schoenfeld, the report
    concludes that “In light of the confirmation of the event by another
    student and the contemporaneous reporting to a dean, the committee
    finds it credible that an exchange of this nature did occur at a location
    adjacent to campus.”13  Let me emphasize that what the committee
    found “credible” is not that I allegedly asked Schoenfeld “how many
    Palestinians have you killed,” rather that an “exchange of this nature”
    occurred. What that means, the report does not clarify. It would seem
    that based on this finding, anyone who was a student in any department
    at Columbia University in the last six years can come forward to this
    committee claiming an imaginary exchange with me at some event
    whose date, place, sponsor, and title need not be disclosed, and the
    committee will find their claim at least partly “credible.” There is therefore
    a glaring illogic governing the committee’s finding in this instance, given
    the facts available to it. Moreover, I should reemphasize that given the
    organized political campaign against me, which the report
    acknowledges, it is mystifying why the report fails to make any
    connection between this campaign and the nature and timing of the
    claims made by Shanker and Schoenfeld.

    Grievance Claims

    Now having established these two claims against me as being “credible,”
    the committee moves to analyze why this situation occurred and what
    remedies are needed. The committee declares that:

    "Almost none of the issues enumerated in the preceding pages found
    their way into the normal channels for addressing student concerns
    about curriculum and instruction, particularly complaints about individual
    faculty and specific courses. The establishment of this committee was a
    response to the failure to address such concerns clearly, promptly, and
    consistently. These failures reflected both the negligent or misguided
    behavior of individuals and widespread systemic confusion about
    responsibility and authority. As a result of these failures, outside
    advocacy groups devoted to purposes tangential to those of the
    University were able to intervene to take up complaints expressed by
    some students, further confusing the location of responsibility and
    authority for addressing student concerns about instruction at Columbia."


    This is indeed a surprising conclusion. Since the report tells us that
    neither Deena Shanker nor Tomy Schoenfeld (nor even Lindsay Shrier,
    for that matter, who had complained to the committee about Professor
    George Saliba) sought to register their complaints against me with any
    university channel, how could the university be faulted for not
    addressing their grievances? As there were no other grievances of merit
    against me, or Professor Saliba, according to the report, or against any
    other professor for that matter, to what failure of university grievance
    procedure is the committee referring? This is especially puzzling as the
    report states that “Many of the matters brought before us did not, in our
    opinion, constitute the basis for formal grievances but were issues that
    warranted sympathetic hearing and an appropriate university response.”
    14  Which matters exactly then were reported to existing grievance
    channels that failed to address them? On that, the report remains silent.

    Conclusion

    The report issued by the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee is indeed a weak
    report that is flawed in its very essence. Not only does it not provide a
    logical progression of its arguments to reach a conclusion, it simply
    states conclusions that are undefended in the body of the report. This
    applies as much to its finding claims by Shanker and Schoenfeld
    “credible” as to it identifying the university grievance procedure as
    having failed, which in turn pushed complaining students to outside
    parties. The report fails completely to establish facts or to persuade by
    reasoned argument. Its conclusions are simply baseless, demonstrating
    a lack of courage and a lack of principled commitment to academic
    freedom.

    The only possible logic that might have contributed to the findings
    reported by the committee is the logic of pressure exercised by the
    administration and outside groups on the committee to declare specific
    findings. Such pressures are hardly separable from the national
    campaign targeting academic freedom on various campuses across the
    country. It was these pressures to which the administration had initially
    acquiesced when it established the Ad Hoc Committee as part of the
    inquisition of the faculty. Since as I demonstrated above, the report’s
    conclusions follow no logic or consistent argument, one is left with a
    sense of bewilderment as to why the committee would find
    unsubstantiated student claims more “credible” than the testimony of
    professors. It is here where the political element was perhaps greatest in
    influencing the findings of the committee, wherein it decided to throw the
    witch hunters a morsel to placate them.   
     
    Even though the report acknowledges that there has been an ongoing
    organized effort at intimidation, by forces both external and internal to
    the university, of Middle East faculty at Columbia, especially me, and
    that this has been going on for years, the committee fails to see how its
    very establishment and the manner in which it established its findings
    makes it part of this campaign of intimidation. The objective of this
    campaign is to silence all dissenting scholarly voices, indeed to silence
    scholarship per se on the Palestine/Israel conflict. As scholarship on the
    conflict has largely uncovered the scale of the atrocities and historical
    wrongs that Israel and the Zionist movement have visited and continue
    to visit on the Palestinian people, the witch hunters won’t have any of it.
    It is high time that Columbia faculty stood up to this internal and external
    campaign that seeks to suppress our academic freedom and to destroy
    the institution of the university. If we fail to act now, the repercussions
    will indeed be grave for all of us.


    1 This response will be posted on www.censoringthought.org and on my
    web page at www.columbia.edu/cu/mealac/faculty/massad/

    2 All citations in this section are from Section IV of the report.

    3 Section IV.

    4 Section III, C.

    5 Section III, D.

    6 Section III, 1.

    7 Ibid.

    8 Ibid.

    9 Ibid.

    10 Jennifer Jacobson, “Columbia U. Report Criticizes Professor’s
    Classroom Conduct But Finds No Pattern of Anti-Semitism,” Chronicle of
    Higher Education, 1 April 2005.

    11 Section III, 2.

    12 Ibid.

    13 Ibid.

    14 Section VI, 5.


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