I LOVED Barnard. It was everything a college should be, with intellectually stimulating classes, dynamic professors, an active student life, a diverse student population, small and personal administrators (who knew me by name), an amazing Judo club (didn't know that about me, did ya'?) and, of course, a vibrant Jewish community.
Was it perfect? No. Did I experience anti-semitism? Yes. Did I have to "fight" for Israel? Absolutely.
But I grew there in every dimension: Jewishly, religiously, intellectually, etc. I was an activist and I was going to change the world! And I wasn't going to do it alone, because at Barnard & Columbia I met people who were going to change the world with me! Together we could do anything!
Well, a few years have passed since then. My love and appreciation for my college hasn't dwindled, but I've become a bit more critical. Since my daughters were little, I dreamed of sending them to Barnard. But recent events have changed my heart. Not once, despite a number of distressing incidents, has Barnard taken a serious stand against anti-semitism or anti-Zionism.
I am extremely disturbed by Barnard's recent decision to grant tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj. El-Haj denies the existence of ancient Israelite kingdoms in an attempt to delegitimize the modern State of Israel. She dismisses historical and archeological evidence. Her research is not credible and her conclusions are politically motivated.
I am disappointed by the many professors who were silent throughout her tenure process. In an article in the Columbia Spectator, Prof. Alan Segal, who finally spoke out, articulately expresses the academic justification for denying her tenure. But his protests are too little, too late.
If Columbia University approves her tenure, the academic integrity of both Barnard and Columbia will be diminished.
It was against this background, that I planned a reunion for Barnard alumnae in Israel.
Dean Dorothy Denburg (Barnard class of 1970), who was my dean during my first and second years at Barnard, came to Israel on a short personal visit. She graciously made time in her schedule to meet with alumnae, and we were thrilled to host her.
We had a week to plan a reunion and we did it! My friend and fellow alumna, N, gathered a team of volunteers. Together we contacted hundreds of alumnae throughout Israel. The response was incredible. Many alumnae knew the dean from when they were at college. And everyone was excited about reuniting with college friends and meeting other alumnae.
Not surprisingly, a number of alumnae saw this as an opportunity to express opposition to El-Haj's tenure.
I was torn. I wanted this to be a positive event. Yet I didn't want to ignore this pressing issue, especially since El-Haj's tenure hasn't yet been approved by Columbia.
I spoke with Dean Denburg, who agreed that she would address this issue, in addition to sharing with us the many wonderful changes that have happened, and are happening, at Barnard.
The evening went beautifully. We kept to our schedule and there was plenty of opportunity to socialize and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere.
Dean Denburg spoke about many facets of Barnard, the new curriculum, the new buildings, etc. I was swept up by her enthusiasm for the college I love so much.
Somehow, the issue of El-Haj was addressed, and yet not addressed.
As we stood for our group photo, I could tell that there were alumnae who were dissatisfied.
After the photo, I asked everyone to wait a minute so that Paula Stern, who has devoted the last year to publicizing the campaign against granting tenure to El-Haj, could say a few words. But I had opened Pandora's Box and another alumna jumped in.
I had tried to balance the evening, to allow for this important topic to be raised while ensuring that the overall tone of the evening would remain positive. But I felt the warm atmosphere slipping through my fingers as the alumna passionately addressed the group, even as people were walking away.
The evening was drawing to a close and most alumnae clearly wanted to spend the last few minutes socializing. Thankfully, I was able to redirect everyone to the delicious dessert. The brief moment of chaos & discomfort faded into the background. Yet I didn’t want this issue to fade into the background.
I am dissatisfied that the tenure case wasn't presented properly. Alumnae, many of whom are unfamiliar with the issues, were not presented with a clear picture of what is going on. Alumnae need to be informed, in order to get more involved at this crucial time. We need to make our voices heard by Barnard and Columbia; to let them know that we are not just offended -- we are outraged by this travesty.
This isn't about "politics", this is about Barnard and the direction our college is taking both academically and morally.
I love Barnard. But I could not imagine sending my daughters to an institution that considers political correctness a higher value than intellectual honesty and academic integrity. I will always treasure the education I received at Barnard. I hope that one day Barnard will regain that standard of excellence.
Because building new buildings is important, but building a just and true society is an imperative.
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,