Department of Education Dismisses Fall “Steering” Complaint
Written by Bwog Staff
Recall last October’s allegation that the chair of Barnard’s Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, Rachel McDermott, “steered” a Jewish Barnard student away from taking one of Columbia Professor Joseph Massad‘s classes lest his reportedly pro-Palestinian slant make her “uncomfortable.” The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) began an investigation in response to a complaint from Kenneth Marcus of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, who is connected to both the OCR and the US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR). In 2006 USCCR investigated Columbia for antisemitism, and maintains a page devoted to receive antisemitism complaints.
Earlier this week, OCR dropped the investigation. In a letter to President of Barnard Debora Spar, the OCR noted that neither the complainant, nor the student, nor the OCR could find evidence contradicting McDermott’s denial of steering.
According to Alyssa Vine, Associate Director of Media Relations at Barnard, “We have received notice that OCR dismissed the complaint as of January 11, 2011. It determined that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the claim, and will take no further action.”
In response to OCR’s findings, McDermott stated, “I am grateful for the overwhelming support I have received from my colleagues, especially those in the Religion and MESAAS Departments, as well as current and former students and many others within the Barnard and Columbia community and beyond.”
DSpar responded, “Professor McDermott is beloved by her students and a highly regarded member of the Barnard community. We were happy to cooperate fully with the Office of Civil Rights and were pleased—though not surprised—to receive this favorable determination.”
In an interview last fall, The Current interviewed Alan Dershowitz, discussing how legal maneuverings such as this steering complaint might “close off the debate” and limit academic freedom.