The email arrived on the last Friday afternoon of the spring term shortly before 5:00 p.m. Anastasia Coleman, Fordham’s Director of Institutional Equity and Compliance, and its Title IX Coordinator, wanted to meet with me. “It has been alleged,” she wrote, “that you may have acted in an inappropriate way and possibly discriminated against another person at the University.”
I was stunned. My wife, kids and friends have been warning me for years that, in these prudish times, my outrageous sense of humor and intellectual irreverence (my last book is about bestiality) could get me in trouble. I imagined myself brought before an academic disciplinary tribunal from Francine Prose’s Blue Angel, where all my past transgressions would be marshaled to prove that I don’t belong in the classroom. My mind raced, recalling the many slips of the tongue I had in three decades of teaching. I perspired profusely and felt the onset of a stomach bug. What would I tell my mother?
“Did it have anything to do with a student?” I shot back anxiously, hoping to get a sense of my predicament before the director left for the weekend. I was lucky. Coleman responded immediately. “This does not involve students and is about your behavior regarding American Studies.”
What a relief. But it was also very odd. The decision of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities in December 2013 had upset me. I wrote emails, circulated articles, and was pleased that my university president quickly declared his opposition to the measure. I joined a national steering committee that set out to fight the boycott and participated in the drafting of a few statements. As an American historian who delivered in 1987 his first paper at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association and served on the executive committee of Fordham’s American Studies program, I wanted Fordham’s program to sever official ties with the national organization until it rescinded the measure. Other programs have taken this courageous symbolic step, and I thought it proper for the Jesuit university of New York to take the moral stand against what most scholars of anti-Semitism consider anti-Semitic bigotry.
It was this stand that led Fordham’s Title IX officer to launch the proceedings. During an emotional meeting convened to discuss the appropriate response to the measure, I stated that should Fordham’s program fail to distance itself from the boycott, I will resign from the program and fight against it until it took a firm stand against bigotry. The program’s director, Michelle McGee, in turn filed a complaint against me with the Title IX office, charging that I threatened to destroy the program. (As if I could? And what does this have to do with Title IX?) This spurious complaint (the meeting’s minutes demonstrated that I did not make such a threat) ushered me into a bruising summer that taught me much about my colleagues, the university, and the price I must be willing to pay for taking on the rising tide of anti-Zionism on American campuses.