Columbia Prez: Professors Should Not Use Podium as Ideological Platform
Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger argued in a speech last night that academic freedom is limited.
Faced with complaints that Columbia University has tolerated anti-Semitism and intimidation in its Middle East studies classes, Columbia’s president said last night that academic freedom has some limits when it comes to the classroom and the broader educational experience. “We should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty members above every other value,” the president, Lee C. Bollinger, said in a speech to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Professors, he said, have a responsibility “to resist the allure of certitude, the temptation to use the podium as an ideological platform, to indoctrinate a captive audience, to play favorites with the like-minded and silence the others.” Arguing that the health and vigor of universities rests on their scholarly professionalism, Mr. Bollinger said that when there are lapses, they should not be “accepted without consequences.”
His remarks came as Columbia awaits the report of an internal committee set up to investigate charges by some pro-Israeli students that they had been intimidated in classes by pro-Palestinian professors in the department of Middle Eastern and Asian languages and cultures and outside the classroom as well. They also said that this occurred for several years and that Columbia had not taken their charges seriously. Their complaints were made public in October in a videotape produced by a pro-Israeli group based in Boston. The video prompted criticism outside the university and within, as well as countercharges from other students and professors who said that such intimidation had not taken place. Some of the professors accused of anti-Semitism say they have been swamped with hate mail. Although Mr. Bollinger did not comment last night on what the report is likely to say, he said it was “simply preposterous to characterize Columbia as anti-Semitic or as having a hostile climate for Jewish students and faculty.”
Still, he seemed to signal that if the committee found that professors had not been behaving professionally, the university must take it seriously, although he did not spell out what he might do. “We should not say that academic freedom means that there is no review within the university, no accountability, for the ‘content’ of our classes or our scholarship,” he said. “There is a review, it does have consequences, and it does consider content.” Mr. Bollinger said that he was not preventing professors from expressing their opinions in the classroom, but that there were boundaries. “The question is not whether a professor advocates a view,” he said, “but whether the overall design of the class, and course, is to explore the full range of the complexity of the subject.”
While I don’t disagree that professors have an obligation to cover the competing theories relevant to a given course of study, it’s entirely unclear to me how this would be enforced. Surely, university administrators with zero subject-matter competence are not the ones to do it.
Columbia Leader Speaks on Academic Freedom (Guardian-AP)
Professors have a responsibility to resist “the temptation to use the podium as an ideological platform,” Columbia University’s president said, days before the anticipated release of a report investigating charges from Jewish students accusing pro-Palestinian professors intimidating them in classes.
He also said the academic community should be the one to decide when problems occur. “We must and will be the ones to do it. Not outside actors, not politicians, not pressure groups, not the media. Ours is and must remain a system of self-government.”
So, he believes in academic freedom in terms of insulation from non-academics but not in terms of actual academic freedom for professors? Most odd.