by Shlomo Shamir | Ha'aretz | 26 November 2004
NEW YORK - Columbia University president Lee Bollinger plans "specific steps" soon in response to allegations that professors and lecturers at the Ivy League university made vitriolic and malicious comments against Israel in classes.
Bollinger made the pledge in a Wednesday phone call to Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman. Bollinger didn't detail the character of the steps, but emphasized "the matter will be handled immediately."
New York's Columbia University was recently embarrassed by reports that Middle Eastern professors are exploiting their academic standing to express extreme political views on Israel, using slanderous and defamatory statements.
The allegations against the professors, including their names and photographs, were published at the beginning of the week in an investigative report by mass-circulation newspaper the New York Daily News.
Jewish sources in New York reported Thursday that major Jewish donors to the university were considering severing ties with the prestigious institution in response to the "corrupt behavior" by academic staff. In particular, the sources mentioned Jewish graduates of the university active in alumni organizations.
They said that Bollinger had recently received irate requests from alumni protesting the behavior and explaining they expected an appropriate response from the university to what they called "malicious comments" against Israel.
The university president recently proposed the establishment of a special chair for Israeli Studies, with the view of separating it from Middle East Studies. The proposal was interpreted by the Jewish community as an appeasement gesture after the wave of protest against the professors' behavior.
Foxman told Haaretz on Thursday that he his meeting with Bollinger had left him with the impression that "he is aware of the problem and understands its seriousness."
Foxman called the Columbia events "particularly grave as the institution is located in New York, which has a large Jewish population, and Jewish students are exposed to insults from professors."
Foxman emphasized that "if Columbia handles the problem decisively, it will be a strong message to other U.S. campuses where similar phenomena occur."