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Monday, December 9, 2002
Columbia Alumni letter re: Tom Paulin

Columbia Alumni letter re: Tom Paulin

Dear President Bollinger,

One might have thought Columbia's perpetually troubled English Department
had already brought enough shame upon the university. First came the Edward
Said saga: membership in an international terror organization; fabrication
of the facts of his life to fit the myth of Palestinian dispossession;
throwing stones at Israelis from the border of Lebanon. Then followed the
Gayatri Spivak performance in Leeds in June of this year, celebrating both
the suicide hijackings of 9/11 and the daily suicide bombings in Israel as
(in her inimitable prose) "purposive self-annihilation, a confrontation
between oneself and oneself, the extreme end of autoeroticism..."

But now the English Department may be on the verge of offering a permanent
appointment to a racist hoodlum (in a line descending from Ezra Pound to
Leroi Jones-Amiri Baraka) who makes Said and Spivak look morally sensitive
and intellectually tactful. This, of course, is the notorious Tom Paulin,
the Irish poet apparently seeking to relocate from England to NY.

Mr. Paulin, long known as a stalwart of the IRA school of poetics, has more
recently turned his attention to Israel. According to the London Daily
Telegraph ("Oxford poet 'wants US Jews shot'", 13 April 2002), Mr. Paulin
told an interviewer for Al-Ahram that he abhorred "Brooklyn-born" Jewish
"settlers" and believed "they should be shot dead." He added, for good
measure, that he had quit the Labor Party because Tony Blair presides over
"a Zionist government" and that he for his part "never believed that Israel
had the right to exist at all." Columbia's James Shapiro, English professor
and one of Paulin's ardent defenders, has told the COLUMBIA SPECTATOR (20
November 2002)) that these remarks "did not step over the line." Apparently
Professor Shapiro's moral dividing line is like the receding horizon: he
walks towards it, but can never reach it.

Has incitement to murder now become one of the qualifications for
appointment in a department that once employed John Erskine, Mark Van Doren,
F.W. Dupee, and Lionel Trilling? As alumni of Columbia, we hope not. Do we,
as Orwell famously asked, have the right to expect common decency even of a
(minor) poet? We hope yes.

Sincerely yours,

Edward Alexander (BA, '57)
Jerold S. Auerbach (PhD, '65)
Stephen M. Rittenberg (BA,'57, MD, '63)
Sol Z. Rosen (LLB, 1960)
Albert Silbowitz (BA, '62)

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