Response to the Faculty Ad Hoc Committee Report

March 31, 2005

To the Columbia Community:

As you know, a faculty Ad Hoc Grievance Committee has been looking into various claims by students of intimidation or discrimination in the classroom on the basis of the viewpoints they expressed. Silencing students for expressing reasonable and relevant viewpoints is certainly unacceptable classroom behavior, not only to those immediately affected but also to all other students who, at that moment or over time, may have felt inhibited to speak or been deprived of a fuller discussion of the subject. Hence, the Committee was asked to identify the facts underlying these students' concerns, so that the University could then address them judiciously and in accord with our scholarly and educational norms. The Committee has completed its charge and submitted its report -- a single report -- which is now being made public.

This is a very thoughtful and comprehensive review that deserves our full attention. First, of course, I want to express our gratitude to the Committee -- Professors Ira Katznelson, Jean E. Howard, Mark Mazower, Lisa Anderson, and Farah Griffin -- and to Floyd Abrams, who served as a special advisor to the Committee. The Committee's work and report help sustain our trust in the absolutely critical norm of peer review, which calls upon those of us in the community of scholars to put aside personal and political views and conduct objective evaluations of scholarship and teaching under accepted academic standards. I want to thank all those who participated in the process. It is important to recognize the willingness of students to come before this committee. I appreciate, as well, the many members of the Columbia community -- the students and faculty -- who have tried throughout these many months to find effective ways to discuss the issues arising out of this controversy, free of the stridency and hyperbole that have marred some debates. I have met with many of them, and I have been both grateful and impressed.

This was not by any measure an ordinary assignment for the institution. The neglect over time of our grievance procedures has had many unfortunate consequences, and one is the resulting burden on students of complaints unheard. An institutional failure to provide means of addressing such concerns, as well as those of members of the faculty, has had a cascading effect. I deeply regret these problems persisted and were not remedied earlier.

Today, we should let the report speak for itself. There are, however, many things to do, and it is important that we move promptly. In fact, while the Committee has been deliberating, the University has already begun to formulate responses to issues that were manifest. Within the next two weeks, we will announce specific actions that address recommendations in the report. Some solutions are clear: We are developing new grievance procedures for students and faculty to help ensure that concerns are addressed in a clear, fair, and expeditious manner. We will also devise means to facilitate community-wide discussions of difficult and controversial issues of the day -- the kinds of problems universities are meant to explore. Other plans will be laid out in time.

I would like to say once again how grateful we are to the Committee and to those who participated in the process. Our hopes for Columbia -- and our bedrock commitment to academic freedom -- depend upon all of us assuming the responsibilities of the community, as they have done for us here.


Lee C. Bollinger