Confusion at Columbia

“Where’s Giff?” was the question heard most frequently in the press section at Sunday’s conference at Columbia University, elaborately titled, “The Middle East & Academic Integrity on the American Campus,” which was attended by the Observer’s real estate correspondent Michael Calderone.

According to the event’s erroneous program, Speaker Miller was listed as a speaker set to address the conference after a video-taped lecture from Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz. As the tape ended, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff — highly critical of President Bollinger’s response — walked up to the lectern in front of about 250 attendees.

Two hours passed, and conference organizers were befuddled. According to his spokesperson, Giff was invited to the event, but never confirmed that he would speak. Around 5 p.m., Manny Behar, hired last spring as Giff’s liaison to the Jewish community, read a statement on behalf of him that addressed academic freedom and a proposal for an independent investigation into anti-Semitism among the faculty signed by 35 of 51 City Council members. Here are excerpts from the statement:

“We at the City Council are very concerned about reports that that is not what is happening here at Columbia…

“But what we got back from President Bollinger was a letter that rejected our proposal for an independent investigation out of hand and that didn’t even address the other issues we raised.

“We will no accept that as the final answer.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Councilman David Weprin spoke to the crowd.

“Nestled in the middle of the country’s largest and most diverse city—the city of New York—Columbia University has for a long time lived in fluctuating, ambivalent relation to the world outside…..”

“Why, then, in this pluralistic city, flushed with so many different cultures, do we still find room for hate?”