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NYCLU Calls Columbia Committee Report Inadequate

The New York Civil Liberties Union calls a report by the Ad Hoc Committee reviewing an academic freedom controversy at Columbia University inadequate for its failure to place the controversy at Columbia into a broader political context and for its failure to address adequately the harassment of certain professors within the Middle East and Asian Language and Culture (MEALAC) Department.

In a letter to President Lee C. Bollinger, the NYCLU observed that “[w]ithin the past few years conservative advocacy groups have intensified their opposition to what they regard as the liberal bias in the academy and have attempted, through a variety of strategies, to pressure universities to alter the content of their curricula and the composition of their faculties in ways that will increase student access to more conservative views.” Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU said “the controversy at Columbia can best be understood as a discrete example of this much larger problem but the Committee’s report failed to address this broader problem and failed to connect this problem to the Columbia situation.”

The NYCLU letter further emphasized “the importance of an academic environment where discourse is robust and unfettered; and where scholars decide for themselves what they shall teach and write; and where the appropriate response to bad ideas is not coerced silence but ‘more speech’ to refute and correct the unwisdom of erroneous positions.”

According to the NYCLU, the Committee report recognized the importance of these principles and identified several serious situations where these principles were compromised by the harassment of certain professors within the MEALAC Department. Such harassment included the sending of hate mail to professors that expressed unpopular and provocative views, attempts to disrupt their classes and an organized effort to create a dossier with respect to one of the professors. But, according to the NYCLU Legal Director, Arthur Eisenberg, the report “failed to discuss these serious situations in the detail and with the attention that they deserved.”

Finally, the letter praised the Committee’s call for civility on campus and for its attempt to bring together all members of the Columbia community. In that regard, the letter called upon the President to meet not only with the students who have been critical of professors within Columbia’s MEALAC Department but also with students who offer a different perspective as well as members of the faculty who are concerned about these matters.

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