Columbia set to crash

The New York Post features an article by Jacob Gershman on the Joseph Massad tenure case at Columbia. I highly recommend it. Gershman covered this story for the now-defunct New York Sun, and he knows all the ins and outs.

Gershman reports that Massad’s file has already passed muster with President Lee Bollinger, and will be presented to Columbia’s Board of Trustees for a final decision in about a week. Bollinger “buckled,” Gershman writes, rather than face down a determined faculty clique. “The Massad tenure battle,” he adds, “is about the failure of leadership of Bollinger—whose job it is to safeguard Columbia’s academic integrity.” Bottom line:

Columbia’s trustees must decide: Do they attempt to clean up after Bollinger and stop this absurdity—or do they confer academic legitimacy on Massad’s ideas and agenda? Hesitant to insert themselves in an academic matter, the trustees would be wise to consider the consequences of silence.

For Massad, of course, Columbia’s trustees are just a rubber stamp. This is why he’s been telling his friends he’s been tenured, even though tenure is only conferred by the Board of Trustees. Rubber-stamping may be the usual role of the Columbia’s trustees in tenure decisions. But I’m also sure that whoever invented the system also imagined that one day there might arise an exceptional case, compelling the trustees to veto a recommendation. If not, why require their approval at all? If so, Massad is that once-in-a-generation case.

“I know that trusteeship is now contrived as being as passive as possible,” adds Marty Peretz on his blog The Spine, but then asks: “Is the professoriat as a whole so wise as never to be questioned at all? I daresay not. And I know something about universities. At Columbia increasingly, departments and schools in the social sciences behave in the process of hiring like gangs admitting new members.” Peretz goes on to compare Columbia unfavorably to “any and all of the universities in the State of Israel,” not one of which “is so intellectually and politically inbred as is Columbia University.”

Joseph Massad is the most deformed offspring of this incestuous inbreeding, the ultimate mutant in the Columbia freak show. Three years ago, when Juan Cole was up for a position at Yale, I wrote that “I would be surprised, and even shocked, if Yale appointed Juan Cole.” I never would have said that about Massad at Columbia. Indeed, I once described Massad as “the flower of Columbia University,” a thoroughly Columbia creation. Columbia gave him his doctorate, Columbia University Press published it, and Columbia gave him his tenure-track job. Massad himself recognized that Columbia couldn’t disown him without somehow disowning itself. As he put it in 2005:

An attack on my scholarship therefore is not only an attack on me and on MEALAC [his department at Columbia] but on Columbia’s political science department [which graduated him], [and] on prestigious academic presses, including Columbia University Press [which published his thesis]… an opinion expressed by Martin Kramer who also condemns Middle East Studies at Columbia.

I wrote in reply: “Massad couldn’t be more right. All those who have accredited, acclaimed, and published him have scraped bottom, and that applies especially to Columbia University.”

Incredibly, Columbia’s faculty came close to denying Massad tenure. He received only a 3-2 vote in his favor from his ad hoc tenure committee. A split vote is not a sufficient recommendation, and Provost Alan Brinkley could have put an end to the farce then. But when Massad’s faculty gang brothers threatened to riot, the administration quickly capitulated and authorized an unusual second review. At the time, Marty Peretz wrote: “Even Lee Bollinger won’t be dumb enough to reverse.” Well, Bollinger has reversed, but it isn’t because he lacks intelligence. It is a deficit of courage. Way back in 2005, Dan Miron, the long-suffering Hebrew lit professor in the Middle East department, predicted that Massad would get tenure: “Columbia is not courageous enough to say ‘no’ to this person and face a whole choir of people who would say, ‘Aha, you caved in.'”

So is Miron about to be vindicated? Is “Columbia not courageous enough”? The question now boils down to this: does any courage reside in the Board of Trustees? Or have they been carefully inbred as well, for passivity and acquiescence? We shall see.