Hamid Dabashi Affair, Round 4: Columbia U administration brushed aside a faculty complaint

Updated: Apr 14


Professor Hamid Dabashi's recent hateful Facebook rant prompted another Columbia University faculty member Dr. Paul A. Kurlansky to complain to Columbia University's President Lee Bollinger.


Dr. Kurlansky is the Associate Professor of Surgery at College of Physicians and Surgeons, Director of Research, Recruitment and CQI at Columbia HeartSource and Associate Director at the Center for Innovation and Outcomes Research.


Professor Hamid Dabashi is a Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature in the Middle Eastern, South Asican and African Studies (MESAAS) department.


This is part of our ongoing series #ProfessorsOfHate. For other blogs regarding Professor Dabashi, please see the synopsis post.


April 8, 2019

President Bollinger--if this is the Columbia idea of diversity and tolerance then this institution has no validity nor future as an educational institution--we should be ashamed.

In the April 8th email to President Bollinger, Dr. Kurlansky wrote referring to the contemporaneous article "Columbia University Professor Compares Israel to Islamic State in Hateful FB Rant" published in The Tower, "President Bollinger--if this is the Columbia idea of diversity and tolerance then this institution has no validity nor future as an educational institution--we should be ashamed."


May 5, 2019

On May 5th Provost John H. Coatsworth and Executive VP, University Life Suzanne B. Goldberg responded to professor Kurlansky. The letter referred to a twelve-year old statement by President Bollinger in his opposition to academic boycott of Israel and then stated, "As a faculty member you know that academic freedom and freedom of expression are the bedrock of our University. Especially in these times, we must remain steadfast in these commitments, even in the face of speech that any of us might find objectionable."


The administration's letter appears to be a boilerplate response, similar to the one received in response to the complaint by Alums for Campus Fairness.


May 10, 2019

Most certainly Columbia should be a forum for the free expression of ideas, but I must wonder if he [Debashi] referred to African Americans or members of LGBT community as 'hyenas', which he regularly reserves for the Jews, if the University would find this an appropriate expression of free speech.
Why is the man who exceeds all bounds of social probity and intellectual honesty granted the honor of professorship at Columbia?

On May 10th Dr. Kurlansky pressed the case further in a formal letter to President Bollinger, Provost Coatsworth and EVP Goldberg. Among other things, Dr. Kurlansky inquires, "Most certainly Columbia should be a forum for the free expression of ideas, but I must wonder if he [Debashi] referred to African Americans or members of LGBT community as 'hyenas', which he regularly reserves for the Jews, if the University would find this an appropriate expression of free speech."


Dr. Kurlansky goes on to point out various counterfactual assertions made or supported by professor Dabashi and then asks, "Yet, where is the accountability for historical accuracy?? If a self-proclaimed scientist denied the role of DNA in protein synthesis, he would certainly be entitled to express his opinion--but would he be granted a full professorship in molecular biology at one of the most august universities of our civilization?? Why is the man who exceeds all bounds of social probity and intellectual honesty granted the honor of professorship at Columbia?"


Then Dr. Kurlansky makes the most important point, "It is the persistent University support for such activity, which is not only unnerving to the entire Jewish community--both within and outside of the university, but toxic to the very academic freedom for which the University purports to stand. ...until and unless the University is willing to address the indecent, unbecoming, academically vapid and toxic speech and behavior of Professor Dabashi and others like him, then the University's goals for diversity and academic freedom can never be achieved."


June 4, 2019

The silence of the University in the face of the hateful and toxic onslaught of "professor" Dabashi is deafening.
Perhaps Columbia cannot change history, but it certainly can decide what role it will play. Will it have the courage of its stated convictions and create an atmosphere of tolerance that can foster diversity, or will it continue to tolerate toxic hateful and contemptible speech and behavior--based on academically repulsive distortion of historical fact and gross racism?

Not having received a response from the administration to the May 10th letter, Dr. Kurlansky made another attempt to explain by email the concerns that Jews on campus have with the hateful rhetoric of Professor Dabashi, "I note that you have elected not to respond to my letter of May 10 (attached), which was sent in response to Vice President Goldberg's letter of May 9 (also attached). Perhaps because the University has no response. Or perhaps because you wish that the issue would just somehow go away. Or perhaps some of both. However, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that if a University Professor had referred to African Americans (or Muslims for that matter) as "hyenas" it would likely have been the last words he uttered as a Columbia Professor--and appropriately so! Yet somehow when this language is reserved for Jews, it passes muster. The silence of the University in the face of the hateful and toxic onslaught of "professor" Dabashi is deafening."


Professor Kurlansky exhorted Columbia administration to rise up to the challenge that it has most spectacularly failed to do, "Perhaps Columbia cannot change history, but it certainly can decide what role it will play. Will it have the courage of its stated convictions and create an atmosphere of tolerance that can foster diversity, or will it continue to tolerate toxic hateful and contemptible speech and behavior--based on academically repulsive distortion of historical fact and gross racism?"


There has been no further response from Columbia. Should this change, an update will be published.


Our experience has been that responses from Columbia administration regarding antisemitic utterances from its faculty seem to follow the same basic pattern. Initially, the administration responds with a boilerplate letter that ignores any specific mention or criticism of the antisemitic statements and eschews condemnation of the antisemites who utter them. Instead, the response letters are constructed using the following elements

  1. An introductory and historically inaccurate statement that Columbia University is a paragon of virtue and tolerance in general,

  2. Outdated reference to a twelve year old statement by President Bollinger in opposition to the academic boycott of Israel,

  3. Admonition about the importance of academic freedom and freedom of speech and the imperative to be their guardian,

  4. And finally the deflection of responsibility by claiming a generic and irrelevant commitment to Jewish studies and preening about the great Jewish life at Columbia, such as the Hillel building donated by Robert Kraft or the existence of joint programs with Jewish Theological Seminary.

Then, upon being pressed further, the administration resorts to stonewalling and silence.

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