Respect academic freedom: Columbia College cancels class because of 5 Broken Cameras

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Petition Background

This petition is in protest of Columbia College’s decision, following a student complaint about “bias,” to cancel one of the two sections of a course about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The course is well grounded in fact and presents a diverse overview of Israeli/Palestinian history, including interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians.  The class receives overwhelmingly positive evaluations by students, and many report having to wait to get in to the class.  After registration opened last November, however, Columbia College removed its second section of the course only hours after it was posted. 

After Professor Chehade’s in-class screening of the Oscar-nominated film 5 Broken Cameras, which depicts life under and popular resistance to Israeli military occupation, a student complained about “bias.”  Dr. Steven Corey, the chair of the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences, then held a meeting with Professor Chehade informing him that he should address the subject matter in a more “balanced” way.    

Showing a movie depicting popular resistance to Israeli occupation does not constitute bias, and retaliating against a professor for engaging students about pressing social issues is a blatant violation of academic freedom.  Furthermore, professors are not obligated to present an opposing view to every opinion or fact presented in class. Columbia College’s own academic freedom policies protect professors against such interference.  The cancellation also restricts Columbia students from participating in learning and discussion about Israel-Palestine, a topic for which they have demonstrated a clear interest.       

Help defend academic freedom by signing this petition telling Columbia College to reinstate and maintain the course offerings of Professor Chehade’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class. 

 

To:       Dr. Louise Love, Provost, Columbia College

            Dr. Deborah Holdstein, Dean, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences

            Dr. Steven Corey, Chair, Dept. of Humanities, History, & Social  Sciences

We, the undersigned, wish to express our grave concern about Columbia College’s retaliation against Professor Iymen Chehade for the content of his course, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. 

The circumstances suggest that the college’s decision was not based on legitimate academic considerations, but rather avoidance of controversy and the desire to keep Columbia courses from straying from the mainstream discourse.              

This attempt to stifle the discussion of Israel and Palestine is a violation of academic freedom and a disservice to the academic community and  to Columbia’s students.   As such, we, the undersigned, urge the administration at Columbia College to uphold its commitment to academic freedom and to its students by reinstating and maintaining the course offerings of Professor Chehade’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course.

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3 comments

  1. Like it or not, the Israeli oppression that is happening in Palestine is part of history, and should be presented as an international fact. This class should not be considered “biased” when both the Palestinian and Israeli sides are presented. As noted in this petition, there are both Israeli and Palestinian interviews. I believe the class should include all views and should continue to be taught because any class should be considered with respect to academic freedom. There is no bias when the class is taught through respect to all aspects of the subject matter. Furthermore, students always have the opportunity and freedom not to take the class. They are not coerced to take this class if they find this subject matter is offensive to them, and is presented as an elective and not a required course. How is this curriculum any different from taking a course in, say, Philosophy, where the class has to study the philosophical viewpoints of major philosophers of which they may/may not be in agreement with? Or a class that teaches diversity and acceptance of gays/lesbians/transgender preferences when some students may have a differing opinion? Wouldn’t those courses also be considered “biased” because certain students don’t share the viewpoints of the instructors/academic objectives of the course? Our country is founded on freedom and democracy. Please don’t deny academic freedom in this subject matter. Please reinstate this course to present an enriching, factual account of historical and current events that are occurring in the Middle East.

  2. Either “5 Broken Cameras” tells the truth or it doesn’t. The film tells the truth, so there should be absolutely zero controversy. Education isn’t about balance, it is about the truth. This action by Columbia University is nothing but pathetic. Invite the student, or the Dean who pulled the plug, to have a discussion on radio Eva. Because at Columbia University there is a problem that needs resolution.
    Thanks.

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