Columbia University (CU)

Columbia University (CU)


In recent years, Columbia University has been beset by a succession of high-profile scandals. Most notoriously, in March of 2003, assistant professor Nicholas DeGenova provoked national outrage when he wished for “a million Mogadishus” at an anti-war teach-in on the Columbia campus and told Columbia students that “U.S. patriotism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy,” and that “[t]he only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military.”

The following year, Columbia’s name would again become identified with academic extremism, when the David Project, a pro-Israel group, produced a documentary titled “Columbia Unbecoming,” which featured several students and former students in Columbia’s department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) recounting incidents of political sermonizing, personal harassment and general intolerance they experienced at the hands of Columbia faculty. According to the students, professors used their courses to vent their political venom against Israel and “Zionism,” treating Israeli-Arab relations as a closed subject rather than as an academic question, in the process fostering a culture of academic intimidation.

Disdain for intellectual diversity expressed itself more thuggishly in October of 2006 at Columbia when the founder of an anti-illegal immigration group, the Minuteman Project, was driven off the stage of the school’s Roone auditorium and prevented from speaking by a mob of student demonstrators. Recalling the campus excesses of the 1960s, when Columbia’s student protesters had to be evicted from Low Library by armed police, the students first shouted the speaker, Jim Gilchrist, down, then slandered him as a “racist,” and finally mobbed the stage, shutting down the event. One student protester articulated the group’s anti-intellectual, anti-democratic attitude, saying of anyone who shared Gilchrist’s views – that immigrants to the United States should be admitted through a legal process: “They have no right to be able to speak here.”

While it may be tempting to view these as isolated incidents, they did not occur in vacuum. These non-academic, politically determined agendas have made their way into the heart of the liberal arts curriculum at Columbia. Entire departments and numerous courses have ceased to observe a scholarly discipline. Controversial points of view are no longer analyzed and dissected but are instilled as a received doctrine instead. One-sided reading lists buttress the equally one-sided lectures of professors who behave like political activists instead of academics. Both traditional academic disciplines, like anthropology (DeGenova’s field) and inter-disciplinary subjects like African American studies have been conscripted into the service of Marxism and its ideological variants. In far too many subjects and courses at Columbia, indoctrination has taken the place of education.

To achieve this result, faculty activists have had to violate (and administrators have had to ignore) the explicit obligations of professors to act as educators and not political activists, which are codified in Columbia’s “Statement on Professional Ethics and Faculty Obligations and Guidelines for Review of Professional Misconduct.” This document states that while faculty members have the freedom to decide what they teach, so too do they have a “correlative obligation of responsible self-discipline.” More precisely:

Every effort must…be made to be accurate, to be objective, to demonstrate appropriate restraint, and to show respect for the opinions of others. Faculty members may not enroll or refuse to enroll students on the basis of those students’ beliefs, or otherwise discriminate arbitrarily or capriciously among them of students and awards of grade and credit must be based on academic performance professionally judged, not on matters extraneous to that performance; grades and other evaluations shall be provided to the University promptly as required for each student, for each class.

These obligations find additional support in Columbia’s Code of Academic Freedom and Tenure, which stipulates that professors are granted the academic freedom “in the classroom in discussing their subjects,” but that concurrently “they should bear in mind the special obligations arising from their position in the academic community.”

As an inquiry into Columbia’s curriculum reveals, many professors – along with many departments and affiliated programs — fail to maintain an academic discipline and instead promote political and ideological agendas which have little to do with the educational mission or the professional expertise that Columbia is supposed to provide. Many courses require students to read texts that present but one side of controversial and contentious matters. Still others require students to become political activists and condition their grades on the extent to which they embrace approved political views.

School of Journalism

Columbia’s School of Journalism has long been regarded as the leading institution for training in the field. But some of the courses offered are concerned less with acquainting students with the fundamentals of the journalistic craft than encouraging them to embrace the political convictions of the professors. Among these courses, “Human Rights Reporting” is the most obviously corrupted by politics. Indeed, a description of the course is far more evocative of a newspaper editorial than an academic instruction in the fundamentals of reporting. It reads in part:

America’s new anti-terror war has spawned an array of setbacks for human rights. In the United States these range from the roundup and detention of Middle Eastern men after 9/11 to the erosion of civil liberties and privacy rights. Overseas, the example of the U.S. crackdown has been eagerly adopted by Russia, China and Israel in their battles against local uprisings; Washington will have little moral leverage if it wants to criticize their human rights practices. In the name of enforcing order worldwide, the United States also now claims exemption from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court….

Students will examine and report on international rights abuses, and problems in the New York City region. These may include subjects such as immigrants seeking refugee status, migrants held indefinitely without trial on “secret evidence,” police tactics, racial profiling, prison overcrowding, the death penalty, sweatshop labor, the moral responsibility of multinational business for human rights, recovery from atrocities through therapy, and the difficulty that artists and writers grapple with in representing human tragedies.

Obviously, the aim of this course is not to teach students how to report on issues of human rights, but rather what to think about them: It is based, quite explicitly, on the evaluative partisan judgments of the professor — a foundation that would be inappropriate for a course on opinion journalism and is even more so in a course purportedly devoted to objective reporting. Another defect of the course is that the instructor, Peter James Spielmann, is a veteran of the foreign service of the Associated Press. However, there is no evidence that he is an accredited authority on constitutional law, national security policy, foreign policy, criminal justice, economics, or any number of other subjects on which he volunteers his opinions.

While Professor Spielmann is indisputably free to express his views outside the classroom, it is a violation of students’ academic freedom, as well as a profound irony, for him, to make them the organizing themes of a course designed to teach future journalists to think critically and dispassionately about the issues they cover. Moreover, given Professor Spielmann’s partisan approach to the course, it is not clear whether his he regards himself as an academic or a political partisan or whether his intention is to train journalists or activists, a confusion that the course description does nothing to dispel. It states that the “course is designed for students who will work as reporters and editors, and those who may join advocacy organizations or international institutions.” This description itself indicates that the professor sees no meaningful distinctions between advocacy and journalism just as he mistakes an academic calling for a political one.

Department of Anthropology

Among Columbia’s faculty activists who have recently embarrassed the school is anthropology professor Nicholas DeGenova, who provoked a nationwide controversy in 2003 when he used the occasion of an anti-war teach-in at Columbia to call for America’s global defeat in the war on terror and to proclaim, inter alia, that “U.S. imperialism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy.” Professor DeGenova is naturally entitled to hold such views. But his status as a professional educator on Columbia’s faculty obligate him to design and conduct his classes in a manner that is fair, objective and scholarly and not to subordinate their purposes to serve his personal political convictions.

An examination of these courses shows, however, that Professor DeGenova has shirked his professional obligations, using them to promote his extremist views about the United States.
Professor DeGenova’s course “Latino History and Culture” (LATS W1600) illustrates this tendency. At minimum, a respectable academic survey of these subjects would be expected to consider a wide range of intellectual perspectives, on the understanding that there is no single narrative into which historical and cultural questions can be made to fit. Professor DeGenova takes the opposite approach. As portrayed in his course, Latino history and culture has been primarily shaped by the twin forces of American imperialism and its anti-white racism.

This theme runs through every book assigned for the course. In Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, author Juan Gonzalez sets out to “trace the seamless bond between Anglo dominance of Latin America . . . and the modern flood of the region’s people to the United States.” (Critically, Gonzales is neither a scholar of Latin America nor a historian of immigration. He is a political columnist and activist who helped co-found the Young Lords, a radical Puerto Rican group, in the late 1960s.)

With a similar poverty of nuance, Ramón A. Gutiérrez’s When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, a book referenced repeatedly in the course, assails the “flag-waving apostles of American democracy” for conquering New Mexico in the mid 19th century and condemns the “rising American empire” of the “Anglos” for initiating an “intense cycle of cultural conflict” that is “very much alive in New Mexico to this day.” Claims such as these are virtually indistinguishable from those put forward in Ronald Takaki’s book, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America
Preface, which tendentiously identifies “racism” against non-white minorities, imperialism and capitalist repression as the distinguishing features of the United States in the nineteenth century.

Reginald Horsman, in Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism, describes American self-conception as flowing from the racist certitude that “a superior American race was destined to shape the destiny of much of the world.” Students are also required to read a chapter from Howard Zinn’s polemical book, A People’s History of the United States, wherein Zinn, a self-described “progressive-radical,” depicts American military interventions throughout history as the “natural development from the twin drives of capitalism and nationalism,” and reduces the impulses underpinning American foreign policy to an “ideology of expansion,” “racism,” “paternalism” and financial greed.

The notion that United States is fundamentally an imperialist nation and Latinos its main victims is further stressed in Rodolfo Acuña’s tellingly titled, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, as well as speeches by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and the so-called “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán,” a manifesto of the radical Chicano separatist group MEChA, all of which students are required to read. But while the course relies heavily on such polemical works, it nowhere includes contrary historical interpretations, nor does it afford students the opportunity to arrive at their own conclusions about the subjects it examines. The result is that while the course is a comprehensive introduction to the politics of Professor DeGenova and the more radical interpreters of Latino History, it is neither an objective course nor, in any professional sense, an academic one.

Nor is this the only example of Professor DeGenova’s politically-inspired teaching methods. Another example, also offered through the anthropology department, is his course “The Metaphysics of AntiTerroism” (G6606). Although Columbia has not made a description of this course publicly available, a revealing summary of its contents has been provided by Professor Degenova himself. In a July, 2006, article titled “Migrant ‘Illegality’ and the Metaphysics of Antiterrorism: ‘Immigrants’ Rights’ in the Aftermath of the Homeland Security State,” written for the Social Science Research Council, Professor DeGenova explained that the term “metaphysics of anti-terrorism” referred to his political conviction that the United States government has illegally accrued counterterrorism powers that it is using to unjustly persecute “undocumented” immigrants and non-whites — in short, that the U.S. government is authoritarian and its policies conceptually racist. As Professor DeGenova wrote:

In the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, nonetheless, migrant “illegality” and deportability have been dramatically reconfigured by the implementation of draconian police powers domestically that I call the Homeland Security State. The practical ramifications of the virtually instantaneous hegemony of a metaphysics of antiterrorism for all migrations and migrant transnationalism are already profound… Those prospective “new programs” that might require mass detentions, predictably, are shrouded in an ominous ambiguity. But “detentions,” which is to say, indefinite imprisonment without formal charges or any semblance of due process or law, have indeed been the hallmark of the Homeland Security State….In an antiterrorism regime that has assiduously relegated its suspected internal enemies–namely, Arab and other Muslim migrants utterly innocent of anything remotely resembling “terrorism”–to the abject condition of rightslessness in indefinite detentions, undocumented migrants need not be branded as actual “terrorists.”

The above assertions, although highly disputable, are perfectly legitimate as the substance of a polemical article. But for Columbia University to allow them, as the school evidently has, to serve as the basis of an academic course is to profoundly confuse academic scholarship with partisan political propaganda.

While Professor DeGenova’s courses may be the most obvious instances of politics masquerading as academic coursework, the department of anthropology has other examples. A course called “Critical Theories of Space, Time and Encounter” (ANTH G6190) has no obvious connection to the discipline of anthropology. It is given over entirely to the assorted claims made by Marxism, feminism, and other ideologies whose uncritical promotion is incompatible with academic/scholarly criteria:

In the service of better understanding what Michel de Certeau has called “the practice of everyday life,” this course explores a range of theoretical approaches to questions of space, time, and encounter. Reading specific productions of meaning-what we might understand as a major aim of ethnography-is to identify geographical and temporal coordinates. We will consider how social theorists, of Marxism, historical geography, poststructuralism and feminism have attempted to bring together those concerns associated more formally with either history of anthropology. And we will examine how certain social formations based on movement through space and time, like migrancy and cosmopolitan, and their affiliations with new technologies of representation, pose special dilemmas for ethnographic projects.

In the course “Critical Theories of Space, Time and Encounter,” (ANTH G6190) students are presented with the following focus: “We will consider how social theorists, of Marxism, historical geography, poststructuralism and feminism have attempted to bring together those concerns associated more formally with either history of anthropology.” Reading assignments for this course include the works of leftist writers such as Paul Virilio, Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, and of course Karl Marx — this despite the obvious fact that they are polemicists and activists, not scholars of anthropology.

Similarly, the course “Labor and Exchange, Measurement and Value,” (ANTH G6129y) engages in a decidedly Marxist interpretation of “economy and society,” as seen “through the lens” of Marx’s Capital. (One of only two books used in the course.) Apart from the dubious propriety of uncritically teaching Marxist economics, let alone in an anthropology course, it is unclear what academic credentials qualify the course’s professor, Paul Kockelman, to do so. As a linguistic and psychological anthropologist, Professor Kockelman can claim no special expertise on the subject of economics. The fact that he is nonetheless free to engage in scarcely camouflaged political advocacy is then another indication of the extent of academic corruption within the department. A by-no-means exhaustive list of this corruption would also have to include the course “Gender and Power,” (ANTH W4628). The course centers on nothing so unfashionable as scholarship, but rather limits its scope to “Major issues and debates in contemporary feminist anthropology.”

Teachers College Peace Education Center

Political rather than academic criteria frame the curriculum for the Teachers College Peace Education Center, an adjunct of Columbia’s Teachers College. As the center’s mission statement makes plain its purpose is to train students to look upon teaching as a way to promote various political ideals, from environmentalism to anti-war activism and the attendant pacifist precept that military solutions are under no circumstances a legitimate means of conflict resolution.

Distilling these agendas into its core mission, the center’s website declares its goal of furthering “the development of the field of peace education, particularly in recognition of the unprecedented need to address issues of security, war and peace, human rights and social justice, sustainable development and ecological balance.” The underlying principles of peace education are enumerated as “non-violence, human rights, social, economic, political and ecological justice.” Elsewhere, the center reveals that its teaching methods are rooted in “a philosophy of education grounded in the role of education in social change” (i.e., political activism). Citing the influence on its curriculum of educational theorist Maxine Greene who argues that political activism was a proper role for an educator — the center states that “[o]ne of its primary purposes” is “to capacitate learners to take action in the larger society.” In simpler terms, the center is more concerned to turn out committed political activists than able teachers.

Courses offered through the center provide expansive support for this proposition. A course called “Human and Social Dimensions of Peace,” (ITSF 4603) forthrightly explains that it seeks to teach “peace education” and to strive for “substantive social change.” The emphasis on activism is in itself contrary to the educational purpose of a university course. It is a further affront to academic standards that the only “social change” advocated in the course is, in effect, a shorthand for the causes of the political Left.

In the first section of this course, students are required to review the website of The Peoples Decade for Human Rights Education, a left-wing group whose mission is to “advance pedagogies for human rights education relevant to people’s daily lives in the context of their struggles for social and economic justice and democracy.” No attempt to supplement this with an alternative point of view is made. Another section of the course, titled “Mass Imprisonment in America,” requires students to read an article by left-wing journalist Eric Schlosser titled “The Prison-Industrial Complex.” Rather than analyzing other views on the criminal justice system, students must scrutinize the websites of activist groups like Books Not Bars, an radical campaign that seeks to close down California’s juvenile detonation centers.

Still another section of the course is called “The Politics and Material Practices of Occupation” and amounts to a political attack on the state of Israel. Specifically, students are encouraged to adopt the view that Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian land — a subjective term that finds little support in international agreements — is the principal cause of the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Students are also required to read a book called A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, which argues that Israeli architecture is actually a form of “territorial control” and that Israeli settlements are “devices for the surveillance and the exercise of power.” Students are also required to visit the websites of Peace Now, a left-wing group that is routinely critical of Israel’s defense policies, as well as the anti-Israel website of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department. The clear impression left by the course is that the social dimensions of peace are synonymous with opposition to Israeli and American policy.

It is not the only course that intentionally crosses the line between pedagogy and political advocacy. The course description for “Fundamental Concepts of Peace Education.” (ITSF 4613) states:

We will … note how peace education works both within the formal educational system and through non-formal channels in association of community-based associations and NGOs. In the schools, education for peace includes programs such as diversity education, peace and justice education, conflict resolution, civic and democratic education, and violence-prevention education. These programs have been influenced by progressive educational movements such as critical pedagogy and transformative learning. We will study these movements as well for they influence the pedagogical nature of peace education. (Emphasis added.)

In order that students will make the prescribed connection between the political commitments urged by the course and their future careers as teachers, students are assigned projects that require them to view education as essentially a political vocation. Thus students are asked “to reflect on a certain concrete situation using a peace education lens. For example, a previous student wrote about her school where she works as a teacher, critically reflecting on the institution from a peace education perspective and drawing from the peace education theories used in the class.”

For inspiration, students are assigned solely those books that regard “peace education” as synonymous with left-wing political activism. A representative text is Peace Education, by Ian Harris and Mary Lee Morrison. Declaring that their motivation is to change “human consciousness,” the authors write that peace education is based on the “philosophy [of] nonviolence” and dogmatically assert that war is not a “legitimate” way of solving problems. “Peace education tries to inoculate students against the evil effects of violence by teaching them the skills to manage conflicts nonviolently and by motivating them to choose peace when faced with conflict.”

That conflicts do not invariably lend themselves to peaceful solutions, and that the goal of education is not to promote their own distinctive political ideologies, are issues the authors elect not to address. They concentrate instead on isolating the root causes of violence, which they believe are “structurally violent societies that deny [poor people] economic and social security” and “state systems that invest in “police forces and armed forces rather than quality education and social justice.” In the course of lamenting the rise of “corporate capitalism and its impact upon human communities,” the authors reveal that their goal is to “see that resources are controlled equitably.” Polemical, heedless of contrary perspectives, and inspired by the radical theory that education is properly seen as a corollary of political activism, the book crystallizes the fundamental flaws of the center.

African American Studies

Political activism and one-sided instruction are also the dominant characteristics of the African Studies department. For example, the course “Introduction to African American Studies” (AFAS C1001) makes no attempt to conceal the fact that one of its goals is to promote “social change” — that is, political activism: “This introductory course in the African-American experience is largely constructed around the voices and language used by black people themselves. The course is organized chronologically, with an emphasis on the ideas of black social thought, political protest and efforts to initiate social change.”

The course description also suggests that the course portrays the history of black Americans, even contemporary black history, as a struggle against oppression. Thus, the themes the course purports to explore include “ways for the black community to survive discrimination and oppression” and how “black people have managed to sustain themselves in the face of almost constant adversity.” Moreover, according to the course description, “what brings together nearly all representatives of the black experience are the common efforts to achieve the same goals: the elimination of racism, the realization of democratic rights and greater social fairness within a racially pluralistic society, and achievement of cultural integrity of the black community.”

The claim that American society continues to discriminate against blacks is an opinion, rather than a fact, and an academic course should be expected, at the very least, to provide contrary perspectives on the black experience. The course does not do so. Instead, it is based primarily on the writings of the more radical black thinkers, who hold to just this view of the United States. For instance, a text frequently used throughout the course is Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform and Renewal: An African-American Anthology, is an anthology of writings edited by the course’s professor, Manning Marable. Marable is a member of the “central committee” of a Communist splinter group called the Committees on Correspondence. The latter half of his anthology is devoted almost exclusively to the writings of radical activists. Among them are essays by “black Bolshevists,“ including one by communist poet Claude McKay paying tribute to the “freedom” and the support for “the Negro” in Soviet Russia. Other communist writers include Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson, as well as former Black Panther Party members Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, and Huey Newton. In obvious sympathy with these writers, the book omits all mention of the Black Panther Party’s racist platform and its record of crimininality, including drug trafficking, rape, extortion and murder, explaining instead that the party’s “armed confrontations with police and the free educational and the health-care programs they sponsored for poor communities conferred upon the Panthers an almost legendary status.” Likewise, an introduction to an essay by Mumia Abu Amal describes the death-row inmate and convicted cop-killer as “America’s most celebrated and controversial prisoner on death row.” Beyond such blatantly polemical works, students are encouraged to watch films and visit the websites of anti-prison activists. These include films like Critical Resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex, made by the far-Left Video Activist Network, and websites like, which rail against the “prison industrial complex.”

Having absorbed — without the benefit of differing scholarly perspectives — the course’s underlying claim that Black Americans remain victims in modern-day America, students are required to apply this knowledge to becoming political activists. This is the transparent aim of the “service-learning” component of this course. In order to better understand the “theory you are exposed to in the classroom and throughout the assigned texts,” students are required to volunteer with four pre-approved organizations that work with the black community. Through this work, students can “understand your social responsibility.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Because, in the ideological schema imposed of the course, Black communities are “oppressed,” students are informed that by volunteering they will be “empowering those who have no voice.” Apparently, the fact that a leading presidential contender, Barack Obama is Black, as is the Secretary of State, does not reflect the contrary. Accordingly, students can volunteer with the Harlem Education Activities Fund, where they can take part in the so-called “Social Identity Program.” Alternatively, students may volunteer with Harlem Fifty, an organization that works with young Black men who have spent time in prison for criminal activity. The idea behind this experience, according to the course description, is to train students to see Black Americans not as individuals responsible for their own actions but as victims of unjust policies.

An integral part of the volunteer project is the creation of an open space in which Columbia students and Harlem Fifty’s young Black men can discuss the impact of the African American experience in the United States. They are the effects of many of the policies inflicted on African American communities, and together, you will be able why and how this has come about.

Once the volunteer project is completed, students are required to write a “reflection paper” relating the political themes promoted in the course to their community activism. “Crucial to writing a successful reflection paper is the ability to connect theory and practice,” the course description notes. So as to arrive at predetermined political conclusions, students are asked to consider a series of purposely leading questions. The following are some examples:

  • Where you able to find any connection between the history of African Americans in the United States and what the students or trainees you worked with currently experience in their daily lives?
  • How have your experiences in the community helped you learn about structural racism today?
  • In what way did you encounter structural racism at your organizations or with the people you worked?
  • What change is needed for the groups of people you worked with?
  • How can this change be accomplished: with individual action or collective action–within the system or challenging the system?
  • What privilege did others bring? What systems are the sources of such privilege? How are you or others disempowered by your/their lack of such privilege?
  • Whether there is in fact “structural racism” should be a question not an assumption or point of departure for an academic course. By grading students on the basis of political criteria, the course establishes arbitrary standards that have no place in an academic setting. That the course promotes one-sided political views is objectionable enough. That students’ grades depend on the extent to which they embrace its political line is a travesty of the educational enterprise.

Professor Marable combines political activism and classroom instruction in another course he teachers in the African Studies department, “Critical Approaches to African American Studies” (G4510y). The course description reveals Professor Marable’s view that the principal goal of African American Studies is to train students for political activism: Black Studies is “prescriptive,” presenting theoretical and programmatic models designed to empower black people in the real world. By its very nature, it requires a “praxis” – the unity of critical analysis and social action, the production of new ideas, not merely designed to interpret the world, but change it.

This course description is repeated almost verbatim from Professor Marable’s introduction to Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience, a book that is also required reading for this course. In it, Professor Marable writes there is “a practical connection between scholarship and struggle, between social analysis and social transformation.” Marable further describes African American Studies as a “means to dismantle powerful racist intellectual categories and white supremacy itself,” and states that “black studies must…be an oppositional critique of the existing power arrangements and relations that are responsible for the systemic exploitation of black people.”

Professor Marable’s motivations are political not academic. Accordingly, he does not assign readings that challenge his radical critique of American society, as an academic professional would, but provides students with a menu of texts that reinforce his ideological prejudices and promote their agendas. These texts include his polemic Living Black History: How Reimagining the African-American Past Can Remake America’s Racial Future. In this book, Professor Marable rejects the historical “master narrative” that American society has extended certain rights and benefits to its black citizens. On the contrary, according to Professor Marable, American society is “historically organized around structural racism.” Marable calls for “popular resistance to the new racial domain” that in his view “oppresses’ blacks in modern America.

One can detect the indelible stamp of political advocacy in many other courses in the department. The course “Black Intellectuals Seminar: Pan-Africanism and Internationalism, 1900-1975” (AFAS C3936) is billed not as an academic survey of pan-African ideology but as a recruitment to this very cause. “The overall aim of the course is for students to gain structured, critical, but appreciative knowledge of and insights into the variety of Pan-African ideas and intellectuals,” explains the course description. That the aim of a properly academic course is not to encourage students to think in specific ways about the subjects under discussion is nowhere mentioned, and other courses demonstrate equivalent ignorance on this score.

The course “Topics in the Black Experience Seminar: The Novels & Career of Toni Morrison,” (AFAS C3930/003) is not a critical survey of the author’s work, as one might expect in an academic course, but a blatant exercise in hagiography: In the course description, Morrison is declaratively described as “the greatest African-American writer of the 20th century whose place in the American literary canon is “above many white American male authors.”

This profile first appeared as the article, “Columbia University’s Political Agendas,” by Jacob Laksin (December 1, 2006).

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