Public calls for dismissal of Professor Joseph Massad & Columbia University to suppress academic freedom

Dr. Lee Bollinger  


Columbia University  

New York, NY 10027  

Dear Dr. Bollinger,  

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and its  Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern regarding numerous public calls for Columbia University to suppress or infringe upon academic freedom.  Recently these pressures have extended to demands for the dismissal of a professor in  the Department of Middle East and Asian Language and Culture (MEALAC). We  are heartened that the university administration has insisted on upholding the  fundamental right of free expression in the university community. In this you have  our unconditional support, and our encouragement to persevere.  

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) comprises 2600  academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association  publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to  ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in  the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa.  

The latest salvo against academic freedom at Columbia has come in reports of a film by a Boston-based organization containing allegations against Professor Joseph Massad. According to these allegations, Dr. Massad had expressed views of Israel that were tantamount to anti-Semitism, and had intimidated students who did not share his views. The film has not, as of this writing, been available for public viewing. Its  allegations have nonetheless received prominent notice in several New York-area  tabloids, assisted by a letter to you, dated October 21, from Representative Anthony  D. Weiner, a Brooklyn Congressman, publicly calling on you to “fire” Dr. Massad.  Rep. Weiner’s letter also invoked earlier campaigns against Columbia’s appointment of Professor Rashid I. Khalidi to an endowed chair, and the appointment of former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson as Professor in the Practice of Public Affairs.  

In the most thorough journalistic account of the controversy over Dr. Massad, in the November 2 issue of The Jewish Week, staff writer Liel Leibovitz interviewed four of  the seven students who reportedly appear in the film, and several dozens others who  have attended MEALAC classes over the last five years. According to the article,  those who took classes with Dr. Massad, including Jewish and Israeli students, were  strikingly positive about their experience. 

We understand that you have asked the Provost of the university to look into the matter. This is certainly an appropriate step if there are any genuine grounds for concern regarding  these allegations. Such a response, however, because it has been made public, may also  suggest that the university is open to politicized pressure from the outside to silence debate  and dissent on Columbia University’s campus. We therefore urge you to take every  appropriate opportunity to reassert that Columbia University will continue to uphold the fundamental values of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas, and that the  campaign of defamation against Dr. Massad will find no resonance within your  administration. We assure you of our full support in this endeavor.  


Laurie Brand 

President, Middle East Studies Association  

Joe Stork  

Human Rights Watch, Middle East  

Lisa Anderson 

Columbia University  

Sheila Carapico  

University of Richmond  

Kaveh Ehsani  

University of Illinois at Chicago  

Gregory Gause  

University of Vermont 

Azzedine Layachi  

St. John’s University  

A. R. Norton  

Boston University  

Marsha Pripstein Posusney Bryant College  

Donald Reid 

Georgia State University 

Glenn Robinson  

Naval Postgraduate School 


Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, Member of Congress

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