Joseph Massad, Academic Freedom

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Dear President Bollinger,


We, professors, scholars, teachers and students at universities world-wide are shocked by the slanderous campaign long launched in the New York media against our colleague Assistant Professor Joseph Massad. Conducted at a time when, following September 11, basic academic and political freedoms have been increasingly weakened, when individuals speaking up and voicing their dissent have been personally threatened and when Middle East Studies have come under attack, this campaign is fed by false and baseless accusations on the part of self-appointed individuals and organizations who claim for themselves a legitimacy or a representativity they never gained. More importantly, it participates in a massive accumulation of means of intimidation and harassment aimed at teachers and intellectuals, and at young scholars whose professional future is even more fragile due to their unprotected status as non-tenured faculty. These means include the use of threats by donors of financial retributions against the university, calls for the dismissal of an academic colleague based solely on political rumors and, most alarmingly, the intervention of a member of Congress with ambitions for higher office. The attacks come from sources who have no role to play in making assessments about academic matters such as professional standing or tenure decisions.


These attacks, moreover, grossly misrepresent Professor Massad's teaching and scholarship. Hence, it is essential that a sharp distinction be made between the caricature that is being drawn of Professor Massad as anti-Semitic, and Professor Massad, the public intellectual, who has courageously written in Arabic and in English against anti-Semitism and anti-Semites. The attacks on Professor Massad's teaching rely, at best, on a few unsubstantiated students' complaints, unscrupulously solicited and deployed by politically motivated actors. They ignore his distinguished teaching record and the significant support he enjoys from the vast majority of students who have, in fact, taken his classes.


The means used by these attacks endanger nothing less than the very basics of academic freedom, the protection of intellectual integrity, and the protection of the classroom as a site of engaged reflection and unsettling debate. What such campaigns aim at is to frighten, and ultimately silence, the courageous voices of public intellectuals, and those of committed teachers and professors, who seek to publish and speak freely. They threaten the very ideal of a university as a place of open and vigorous intellectual exchanges. They threaten the very ideals upheld by Professor Massad and by the faculty of Columbia University. It is these ideals and these commitments, this intellectual work that needs to be protected. We call on President Bollinger to rise to the occasion and issue a categorical statement in defense of Professor Massad and against this! campaign of defamation, to ensure that teachers and professors be allowed to teach without intimidation from within or without the university.