Columbia’s Hillel Is Wrong: Lecturing Can Lead To Learning, Just Ask Any Professor

Letter to the Editor

Published December 08, 2010, issue of December 17, 2010.
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I find totally unacceptable the justification by the Columbia Hillel director for forcing the Hillel-affiliated student group to withdraw its sponsorship of a campus lecture by John Ging, director of UNRWA’s Gaza operations (“Columbia Student Group Drops Sponsorship of Gaza Talk Under Pressure,” November 26).

“A format that is simply standing up at a podium, lecturing for an hour, and answering questions if there is time, is not conducive or compatible to a learning experience in which students can have real exchange of ideas,” said Simon Klarfeld, executive director of Columbia/Barnard Hillel.

As a professor of history, I have done precisely that for 40 years and continue to do it. I have even done it at Columbia, where I earned by bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D and have taught and lectured. I am most disturbed to find that my entire career of teaching suddenly stands invalidated.

I am a Jew who deeply believes in and defends the right and necessity of Israel to exist. It is because of, and not in spite of, these beliefs that I share the views that Ging expressed in his interview with the Forward.

Are we to expect, too, that henceforth, whenever a speaker comes to Columbia who endorses the point of view of the right-wing coalition that now governs Israel, Hillel will be at pains to ensure that he or she be accompanied by a “moderator” who will provide balance by expressing opposition to Israeli government policy and thereby ensure a “real exchange of ideas”? I think the question answers itself.

Irwin Wall
New York, N.Y.

The writer is a professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Riverside


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