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Columbia Faculty convene historic meeting on academic freedom in Palestine

Written by admin  •  Thursday, 23.04.2009, 17:28
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Press Release

The Faculty of Arts & Sciences (FAS) of Columbia University will meet this Thursday, April 23 at 12pm in 428 Pupin Hall to discuss academic freedom in Palestine. In recent years, Columbia University has acted in numerous ways to support and defend academic institutions in Israel, but there has been a conspicuous silence regarding Palestine. At this historic meeting, convened on faculty initiative, the case will be made for action by the university on behalf of academic freedom and rights to education in Palestine.

Israel’s recent three-week war against Gaza included not only the bombing of Palestinian schools and colleges, with great loss of life, but the widespread destruction of the material and social fabric on which academic life depends. The continuing blockade of Gaza, and the imposing of barriers, checkpoints, and closures around and within the West Bank make academic life unworkable. Palestinian scholars offered fellowships abroad or invited to international conferences have been denied exit visas.

Two months ago, in the wake of Israel’s attack on Gaza, a group of senior members of the faculty drafted a statement on academic freedom in Palestine. To draw attention to the intolerable situation faced by scholars and academic institutions under Israeli occupation, the statement was addressed as a letter to President Bollinger. This unprecedented meeting of the FAS grows out of that letter (seewww.academicfreedomcolumbia.org). Signed by 134 faculty members, the letter asks the president to express in public his support for academic freedom for Palestinians and his opposition to actions by Israel that deny this right to them.

This Thursday, the faculty as a whole will consider the question of whether President Bollinger should speak to such issues on behalf of the university, as he has in the past, and also an alternative, one that asserts faculty governance.

A proposal will be offered at the meeting for engaging Columbia in the support of Palestinian academic institutions, scholars and students.

Proposal: The appointment of an Advisory Committee on Academic Freedom in Palestine. The committee’s mandate would be to learn about and report on the detailed circumstances, needs and possibilities of Palestinian educators and students with an eye to possible initiatives by Columbia University to address these. The committee would advise on such immediate matters as the denial of exit visas to Fulbright awardees and other students accepted in Columbia programs, and on similar problems facing scholars invited to conferences. Contacts with counterpart institutions in Gaza and the West Bank would be explored for possibilities of cooperation and exchange, including the extension of internet library connections, access to digitalized collections, and electronic classroom links for instructional ties between New York and Palestinian institutions.

For more information, please contact:

Brinkley Messick, Anthropology, bmm23@columbia.edu, 917-715-6217
or Gil Anidjar, MEALAC/Religion, ga152@columbia.edu

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