Saturday, August 27, 2005

An Anti-Endorsement for Mayor of New York

Last fall, one of the current candidates for the Democratic ticket sought to raise his profile by getting in on a breaking scandal, and early.

Within a few days of the semi-public release of the David Project's documentary of "student abuse," Columbia Unbecoming, and within only two days of coverage by New York's new daily tabloid, The Sun, the name of New York City Congressman* Anthony Weiner came on my radar for the first time.

He wrote a rather open letter to President Bollinger of Columbia University on October 25th, 2004, urging the immediate dismissal of untenured Professor Joseph Massad. According to The Sun's reporting of Weiner's letter, if the university did not fire the professor (on the basis of a documentary filled with unproved allegations, produced by a politicized group), Columbia would "enhance the public perception that it is condones anti-Semitism."

This is a long, sad, and somewhat humiliating story for everyone close to it; at the end of the internal committee's investigation, one incident emerged as being genuinely problematic out of the many alleged. For an example of some even-handed reporting on the story, see this long Nation article from March 2005 or this narrative Columbia Spectator article from May 2005. In the end-of-year Spectator article, just take a look at the time-line and remember how early, in the scheme of things, Weiner was willing to call for Massad's firing. There were serious questions of academic freedom, academic witch-hunts, internal grievance procedures, student freedom of speech, etc., that all needed very careful weighing in the aftermath of the Columbia Unbecoming bombshell.

When Representative Weiner submitted his two cents' worth--that a professor should be fired on the basis of completely unverified, political claims--almost nobody had even seen the documentary on which his opinion was based. His office added to a fire that nobody in the university quite understood yet. He was demogoguing, pure and simple, and he showed himself to be both a political opportunist and a reactive opponent to the spirit of academic freedom and rational discussion--as well as the principle of innocent until proven guilty!

I urge anyone voting in the NYC Democratic Mayoral Primary who considers him or herself a supporter of the principle of academic freedom NOT to vote for Anthony Weiner.

*Clarification: Weiner is the U.S. Congressman for the New York districts of Brooklyn and the Bronx.


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