Columbia College cancels professor’s class for showing Oscar nominated film 5 Broken Cameras
By Ray Hanania
In another example of anti-Arab bias, a Columbia College student complaint that a teacher, Professor Iymen Chehade, was teaching “bias” has resulted in the college canceling a segment of the professor’s class on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The tactic of using accusations of bias at Columbia College, which has a history of anti-Arab bias, has been used before when a student alleged that a Palestinian teacher was “anti-Jewish.” That teacher was fired from her job without the college ever investigating the charges and critics accused the school at the time of condoning obvious anti-Arab bigotry driven by pro-Israel extremists who dominate the campus and maintain close influential ties with many of the college’s professor’s and administration.
The latest example comes in the wake of anti-Arab bias at Northeastern University in Boston where the pro-Israel administration ordered the university chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine after its members distributed a flyer at a dormitory that mockingly claimed the students would be evicted for no reason. The flyer was intended to make a social statement about how Israel intentionally steals the land and property of Christian and Muslims living in the brutal and oppressive Israeli military occupation. It even included a disclaimer at the bottom of the flyer that read “This is not a real eviction notice” with a Twitter hashtag #BostonMockEviction.
But the bigotry at Columbia College, which has a sizable Arab student population but an even larger American Jewish population, is real. The professor involved in the anti-Arab crackdown by the administration was offering both sides of the conflict was accused of bias because, an anonymous student alleged, he showed a film about the conflict last year that presented a pro-Palestinian perspective on Israel violence, terrorism and settler extremism, a student explained. The film in question, ironically, is the 2012 Academy Award nominated documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict called “5 Broken Cameras” directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi.
A letter in his defense from the Illinois Chapter — American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to Louise Love, Columbia’s Provost, detailed Professor Chehade’s role at Columbia College.
“Iymen Chehade is a part-time faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago. He has earned an M.A. in History and Education and a B.A. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has taught in the Department of Humanities, History and Social Science since 2007. He initially taught Middle Eastern History: From Muhammad to 1800 through spring semester 2011. Professor Chehade also teaches a course title The Israeli/Palestine Conflict. He has taught nine sections of this course since Fall 2010 and is currently teaching one section of the class in spring semester 2014.”
Although the 95-minute documentary did not win an Oscar, it was celebrated for its forthright expression on the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The 2012 film chronicles the non-violent Palestinian resistance against the Israeli construction of the Wall in the village of Bil’in in the Israeli Occupied West Bank of Palestine that has been under Israel’s control since Israel invaded the Jordanian controlled Palestinian area in June 1967. Even more ironic is that many Palestinians had criticized the film because Burnat and Davidi had worked together to make the documentary.
A petition was posted online urging students and members of the public to speak out against the bigotry at Columbia College.
“This petition is in protest of Columbia College’s decision, following a student complaint about “bias,” to cancel one of the two sections of a course about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The course is well grounded in fact and presents a diverse overview of Israeli/Palestinian history, including interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians. The class receives overwhelmingly positive evaluations by students, and many report having to wait to get in to the class. After registration opened last November, however, Columbia College removed its second section of the course only hours after it was posted.
“After Professor Chehade’s in-class screening of the Oscar-nominated film 5 Broken Cameras, which depicts life under and popular resistance to Israeli military occupation, a student complained about “bias.” Dr. Steven Corey, the chair of the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences, then held a meeting with Professor Chehade informing him that he should address the subject matter in a more “balanced” way.
“Showing a movie depicting popular resistance to Israeli occupation does not constitute bias, and retaliating against a professor for engaging students about pressing social issues is a blatant violation of academic freedom. Furthermore, professors are not obligated to present an opposing view to every opinion or fact presented in class. Columbia College’s own academic freedom policies protect professors against such interference. The cancelation also restricts Columbia students from participating in learning and discussion about Israel-Palestine, a topic for which they have demonstrated a clear interest.
“Help defend academic freedom by signing this petition telling Columbia College to reinstate and maintain the course offerings of Professor Chehade’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class.”
The AAUP statement, dated March 25, 2014, applauded what appeared to be the Provost’s efforts to deny bias, but re-asserted that Professor Chehade’s academic freedom was violated. The AAUP statement demands:
“In your March 19, 2014 e-mail you supported the continued use of the 5 Broken Cameras and described Professor Chehade’s course as “thought provoking and exciting.” Yet we believe your laudable support of Professor Chehade’s academic freedom did not reflect prior actions dating back to October 2013. We take you at your word that this is presently your position on
this unfortunate matter and, therefore, ask you to consider implementing the following two recommendations.
“First: Columbia College should offer, if sustained by adequate enrollment, Instructor Chehade two sections of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict in fall semester 2014. Student interest has been robust and given the public scrutiny surrounding this case will likely increase looking forward.
“Second: We urge that the policy of handling student complaints undergo a strategic reassessment. The current system as revealed in this case is clearly broken and conducive to academic freedom violations. The lack of transparency in which a professor cannot challenge his accuser, much less know the identity is an affront to due process and a shocking display of
arbitrary treatment of a faculty member. We made suggestions to improve the process including an initial conference between a student complainant and the instructor.”
Asked if he believed his instruction segment would be reinstated and if the violation of his rights was over, Chehade told The Arab Daily News, “It’s definitely not over.”
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He is the managing editor of the Arab Daily News www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)