The Barnard Orthodox Jewish student who was allegedly “steered” from taking Joseph Massad’s class because of the professor’s anti-Israel views, has given her first interview. The article for Tablet, written by David Fine, CC’13, reveals that the student wanted to take the class with Massad, despite his reputation, but was still “steered” away by her major advisor, Barnard Professor Rachel McDermott.
“I went to her to speak about the major and talk to her about classes that I was looking at,” the student, who asked not to be named, said of a January, 2011 meeting in which she sought advice from McDermott, the longtime chair of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department at Barnard. “I mentioned a course taught by Joseph Massad.”
“Oh, he’s very anti-Israel,” McDermott responded, according to the student. “And I said, ‘That’s fine, I’ve heard anti-Israel things before, and I’m fine if it’s a culture clash.'”
But McDermott insisted Massad’s course would make the student “uncomfortable,” the student said in the interview. In the end, the student, then a sophomore, took the Jewish history class instead.
If the student’s story is true, it appears that she was steered away from taking the class not because she disagreed with the professor on an academic or political level, but because of her religious and ethnic identity. The situation seems to have more in common with an advisor telling a student “don’t take this class because you’re black and the professor hates blacks” (which is illegal) than with an advisor telling a student, “don’t take this class because you don’t like math and the professor uses a lot of math,” (which is fine).
The article also explains exactly how the January steering incident culminated in an official inquiry by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, who confirmed to Tablet that they’re currently “investigating a complaint alleging Columbia University discriminated against a student of Jewish ancestry/ethnicity on the basis of national origin.”
…she [the student] wasn’t much surprised by McDermott’s advice until last May. That month, she met Peter Haas, a professor of Jewish studies at Case Western University and president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a network of pro-Israel academics and professors, and told him about what happened. Another member of the pro-Israel professors’ network, Judith Jacobson, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s School of Public Health, followed up by calling the student. Jacobson wanted to know if the student was interested in talking to Kenneth L. Marcus, the group’s legal adviser. The student agreed.
McDermott stepped down as chair of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department in September. She has declined to comment for Bwog or any other media organization.