The Shmooze

Feds Probe Columbia for Illegal ‘Steering’

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia Commons

The Columbia Spectator has reported that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint made against Columbia University on behalf a Jewish Barnard College student. The student was allegedly “steered” away from taking a course with a professor who is known for being critical of Israel and who has been accused of anti-Semitism. “Steering” is considered a form of illegal discrimination and a violation of civil rights.

The complaint was filed with the OCR by Kenneth Marcus, the director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research after he was informed of the incident by Mailman School of Public Health professor Judith Jacobson, who had heard about it from a third party. The student, whose name has not been revealed, is reportedly supportive of the actions that have been taken on her behalf.

The complaint alleges that last January, Professor Rachel McDermott, then-chair of Barnard’s Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures department, discouraged the student from taking a class with Joseph Massad, associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia.

“Steering” has historically been associated with real estate agents’ steering prospective homeowners and renters of a particular race or ethnicity away from specific neighborhoods.“I certainly never saw something like this in education,” said Marcus, who dealt with “steering” cases when he was previously employed as the head of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It’s a novel theory as applied to universities.”

Columbia President Lee Bollinger stated that allegations of discrimination are taken very seriously at the university. However, he thought it was unfair for Prof. Massad to be named in the complaint, given that the alleged “steering” was done in the course of academic advising at Barnard, in which Massad had no part.

Some Jewish Columbia and Barnard students interviewed by the Spectator felt the issue was overblown, and that Jewish students feel very welcome and supported on campus. Others believed that the alleged “steering” was a sign of serious problems. They thought that the fact that there could be classes that Jewish students should stay away from pointed to the “prospect of unequal treatment or hostile environment toward Jewish students,” as Marcus put it.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Columbia Spectator, Rachel McDermott, Lee Bollinger, Kenneth Marcus, Judith Jacobson, Joseph Massad, Columbia University, Barnard College



Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.