Jun

12

From Syria to SIPA

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A lot has been written about Sheherezade “Sherry” Jaafari, who’s scheduled to start classes at SIPA this fall.

In an email to a J-school professor, ABC journalist Barbara Walters said she “is brilliant, beautiful, [and] speaks five languages.” On the other hand, Haya Dweidary, the only Syrian student in SIPA’s class of 2012, told the Daily Beast “she’s not qualified” for admission to SIPA and that she is “a supporter of the [Syrian] regime to this moment. And this is a regime that has killed more than 15,000 civilians.” British newspaper The Telegraph claims that she’s referred to as “Syria’s Kim Kardashian.” And outraged Syrian opposition activists describe her as a “direct advisor to the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad” whose admission to SIPA will taint Columbia’s reputation.

Sherry is the 22-year-old daughter of Syria’s ambassador to the UN and former press aide to Assad, who’s massacred thousands of his own citizens. As one of his most trusted press people, she arranged all the interviews he did with the media, including last month’s hard-hitting interview with Walters. After the interview, she was fired from her job in Assad’s regime and asked Walters for help getting into SIPA. Walters emailed an ethics professor in the J-school, who wrote back that admissions would give Sherry “special attention.”

She did get in, though SIPA insists Walters’ endorsement had nothing to do it. Nonetheless, Syrian activists are outraged that Columbia admitted someone who assisted a regime that’s killed tens of thousands of its own citizens. An online petition demanding SIPA rescind her admission has been signed by over 600 people.

Weirdly, this isn’t the first time Columbia’s gotten in the middle of Syrian politics. Last year, supporters of Assad supporters spammed an unofficial Columbia facebook page after Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi wrote a was quoted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article criticizing Assad’s regime.

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19 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Isn't the point of the school to discuss international and public affairs? Why would we want to accept 100% of students that agree with American politics? What kind of UN would we have if only pro US countries participated? The point of the school is to have international dialogue. We need to grow and learn and hear all sides of every argument. Hearing one opinion and propoganda would be more detrimental to the school.

    • Anonymous

      My understanding of the matter is that the issue is not that Jaafari disagrees with American politics or is associated with the Assad camp, but that Walters' (now very public) endorsement of her suggests that if Columbia values the opinion of Walters, who is an ardent supporter of the Assad family/regime, then Columbia by proxy also supports Assad. (Similar to how Ahmadinejad speaking here immediately raised the question in the press of whether the university supported his regime.)

      • Anonymous

        No, walters gave her, and her only, a recommendation. Not even a letter, but an email. She said she was brilliant, polished, and spoke five languages and is already working in international politics, news, and relations, pretty impressive for a 22 year old. Walters was impressed by her. She is proabaly more qualified and international than the majority of the students accepted.

      • Alum

        Walters recommended Jafaari and she got in. It does not follow that Walters' recommendation is *why* she got in.

        Columbia's admissions offices get recommendations from the rich, famous and/or powerful all the time. Usually the author has little if any real knowledge of the applicant. Admissions officers aren't swayed by such generic letters, no matter who they're from. Walters had a bit more knowledge of Jafaari, but not much. Her endorsement, even with Prof. Wald's help, wouldn't make all that much difference in the admissions process.

        On the other hand, how many 22-year-old applicants out there work directly for heads of state and arrange their interviews with world-renowned journalists? Jafaari is probably a very smart and hard-working woman, with high-level experience directly relevant to her program at SIPA. That means she probably got in on her own merits, and would have even if Walters had declined to help.

        I'm not impressed by accusations that she "supports" the Syrian government. She had a civilian government job. There's no reason to think she had any influence on policy or tactics. If she believes the government is doing right by its people, then of course I disagree. But that has nothing to do with whether she should be admitted.

        • Anonymous

          I didn't mean to imply that Jaafari wasn't qualified on her own merits (I have no idea whether or not she is.) And I'm sure that the admissions office does get recommendations from the rich/powerful all the time. The difference in this situation is that this particular recommendation became public knowledge, which reflects poorly on all parties involved (Jaafari, Walters, and the university.)

          I have no idea who supports whom or who is qualified for what. I was only saying, in reply to the first commenter, that it LOOKS really bad for everyone. If Jaafari had simply quietly gotten in to SIPA (recommendation or not), most likely no one would have known nor cared that she used to work for Assad. But now that it's a big deal in the media - because of Walters' involvement - everyone will be questioning the connections.

          I'm not saying I agree with this - again, I really don't know who is qualified for what - just that it has the potential to be a media clusterfuck.

    • Really?

      Are you honestly invoking "difference of opinion" in the context of an accessory to a genocide? (not asserting she necessarily is that, but that's obviously one claim that's out there that you seem aware of)

  2. Anonymous

    Hell, they'd probably accept Ahmadinejad if given the chance.

  3. Correction

    Point of information: Dabashi did not write that op-ed. He was only quoted. You should change the wording in your report.

  4. LOLZ

    "All else goes well and after I get a haircut, I will be beautiful again. " - Professor Wald

  5. so...

    this is only controversial enough for 11 comments...

  6. Anonymous  

    Doesn't anyone think it is amusing that she's Syria's Kim Kardashian and her name is Sheherezade?

    I mean, the stories she had to weave together for the great Shahryar SIPA... or the great Shahryar Barbara Walters... I can totally understand why she's not dead yet after this!

  7. Who is

    Barbara Walters? Oh...the old hag on The View?

  8. Anonymous

    Too many words...

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