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Monday, September 08, 2003

Concelament Continues at Columbia

from Sandstorm: Martin Kramer on the Middle East
"An outrageous Israeli, Martin Kramer, uses his website to attack everybody who says anything he doesn't like." That's Edward Said speaking, in an interview in a new collection entitled (predictably) Culture and Resistance. I would take it as a compliment, if I didn't already know how easily Professor Said is outraged. But it's a valuable testimonial nonetheless, and one worth quoting as Sandstorm marks its first anniversary.

Said offers this sample of my outrageous conduct: For example, [Kramer] has described Columbia as "the Bir Zeit (university) on the Hudson," because there are two Palestinians teaching here. Two Palestinians teaching in a faculty of 8,000 people! If you have two Palestinians, it makes you a kind of terrorist hideout. This is part of the atmosphere of intimidation that is McCarthyite.

I'm delighted to learn from this passage (and other sources) that my "Bir Zeit-on-Hudson" label has stuck to Columbia. Columbia warrants it not because Palestinians dominate the teaching of the modern Middle East there (they do), but because of the total absence of other perspectives, and Columbia's apparent lack of interest in promoting a diversity of approaches. I never called Columbia a terrorist hideout, nor have I described any of its faculty as apologists for terrorism. I do accuse them of creating, on their campus and especially in the Middle East department, an atmosphere of intimidation that really is McCarthyite.

Said's interview also jogged my memory: his reference to me includes a footnote harking back to a Sandstorm entry from last November. It was then that newspapers first reported that Rashid Khalidi, a University of Chicago historian, had been invited to Columbia to occupy the newly-established Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies. It was also reported that Columbia would protect the anonymity of the chair's donor(s). In my entry, I insisted that the university had an obligation to reveal the identity of the donor(s).

Here we are, ten months later, and there has been no disclosure. A couple of donors, approached by a journalist, have acknowledged making contributions. But the vast majority of donors—and there are apparently almost twenty—have remained anonymous, and Columbia has not published any names.

As it happens, I have seen what purports to be a list of the donors. I'm not at liberty to publish it, and in any case I see no reason to relieve Columbia of its responsibility. But I don't think it would violate a trust if I were to characterize the list. It includes individuals and foundations, Arab and non-Arab, known as supporters of the Palestinian cause—no surprise there. There is a corporate presence, which is a bit of a surprise. And on the list that I have seen, there is a foreign government, which I find positively alarming.

Why alarming? Rashid Khalidi, the new incumbent of the Said Chair, has also been named the director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, which will receive about $1 million in federal subsidies over the next three years. Under any circumstances, a university's concealment of a gift from a foreign source strikes me as unethical. Under these circumstances, Columbia's failure to disclose is unconscionable. It's also worth noting that if a foreign gift is large enough ($250,000), it must be disclosed to the U.S. Department of Education in a timely manner, according to Section 1011f. of the Higher Education Act ("Disclosure of Foreign Gifts"). In New York State, there is a similar disclosure law that kicks in at $100,000, although according to a recent account, "there is little, if any, compliance with existing law." Ah, universities.

All of which leads me back to my original demand. Now that the incumbent of the Said Chair is administering a federally-funded National Resource Center, with control over taxpayers' funds, his own funding is a matter of the public interest. Columbia must make known the donors, or at the very least identify any foreign government, entity or person that contributed to the endowment of the Edward Said Chair. If Columbia continues to refuse to make such information public, the Department of Education should initiate action to secure it, and then make it available to the rest of us.

I also urge the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), at its annual conference in November, to pass a general resolution calling upon all universities to reveal the sources of endowments in our field. The remaining credibility of Middle Eastern studies is at stake. If Columbia's practices spread throughout the field, it is only a matter of time before a major scandal erupts, linking scholars to tainted money. MESA should stand unequivocally on the side of public disclosure—even if Khalidi is a former MESA president, and even if the current MESA president is a Columbia dean.

Columbia addendum. Khalidi is not the first controversial appointment of a Palestinian at Columbia. In 1936, Columbia named George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening, to a visiting slot, so that he might "help us to formulate our plans for the continuation of our work in Oriental languages and literatures." Different times: Jewish alumni got the invitation retracted. I tell the story in an article that went up on this site over the summer: Ambition, Arabism and George Antonius.