Middle East studies in the News
Debate grows over Khalidi candidacy
by Chanakya Sethi
The potential appointment of a professor embroiled in the controversy over Middle Eastern studies at Columbia has polarized some members of Princeton's Jewish community.
On Friday morning, Wilson School professor and Center for Jewish Life (CJL) board member Stanley Katz wrote a sharply critical email to Arlene Pedovitch '80, the CJL interim director, about her public comments regarding Rashid Khalidi.
Khalidi, director of Columbia's Middle East Institute and a prominent historian, is being considered for Princeton's new Robert Niehaus '78 chair in contemporary Middle East studies.
"In the first place, I don't think the CJL has or should have a position on an academic appointment in this university," said Katz, a former CJL board president. The message (full text), which was leaked to The New York Sun and quoted in a story Tuesday, was also addressed to Hank Farber GS '77, the current CJL board chair.
Last week, Pedovitch told The Daily Princetonian that alumni had complained to her about Khalidi's possible appointment, concerned about "hiring an individual who has a political agenda rather than a scholarly approach to history."
In his message, Katz wrote: "The difficulty, as even the benighted [Columbia president] Lee Bollinger has figured out, is with professors who do not distinguish their political agendas from their scholarship. Rashid has not done that in my view, and to suggest that he has, as Arlene is quoted as doing, is either inaccurate or politically motivated or both."
"If CJL wants to turn Princeton into Columbia, I want nothing more to do with it," he added.
Katz's message, as well as Pedovitch's response to it, was given to the 'Prince' by the Sun. Katz, Pedovitch and Farber denied releasing the messages to the press, and they declined to comment further or to confirm that the messages were accurate as reported by the Sun.
Earlier this month, Columbia released a 24-page report concerning allegations of anti-Semitism on its campus. Though Khalidi was not the subject of the report, he has been associated with the professors who were being investigated, and he has been a centerpiece of the politicized battle over Middle Eastern studies at Columbia. He is often portrayed by critics as a staunch pro-Palestinian advocate.
Khalidi could not be reached for comment.
Last week, history department chair Jeremy Adelman confirmed the University is considering hiring Khalidi for the Niehaus chair.
President Tilghman affirmed Adelman's assertion on Wednesday that the University does not pay attention to politics in deciding whom to hire, though she said the administration listens to alumni concerns.
She also called for distinguishing between claims of anti-Semitism and a pro-Palestinian perspective. "These are not the same things, and we would treat them very differently as an issue for our faculty," she said. "Political views are simply not relevant to our deliberations on faculty appointment and promotion, but overt racial, ethnic or religious discrimination and harassment is not tolerated."
In her comments last week, Pedovitch also implied that the University's fundraising efforts could be hurt if Khalidi were appointed. Recently-elected U-Councilor Jonathan Elist '07, who planned to organize a petition against Khalidi, said he expected Jewish student enrollment would drop if the appointment went ahead.
The public comments by Pedovitch and Elist have sparked a vigorous debate among Jewish members of the campus community. While some support the statements made by Pedovitch and Elist, others argue that it is not the place of the CJL to involve itself in academic affairs.
The issue has drawn such concern that Farber is holding a lunch meeting on May 3 for Center members to discuss it.
"The recent discussions on the board and in the Prince, have made it clear that there need to be further communication between the board, particularly the faculty on the board, and students," Pedovitch wrote to the invited members in an email.
In her response to Katz, Pedovitch said she made the comments after the issue was discussed at the CJL's last board meeting. She also stood by her statements.
"I and many, many others do feel that such an appointment makes a political statement by Princeton University and that this statement will [affect] Jewish enrollment at Princeton," she wrote in her message to Katz. "I don't know if you realize that on a daily basis, the largest and primary users of the CJL are the more observant community. These are the students who consistently are concerned about anti-Israel rhetoric that is a feature on many campuses."
But in his email to Pedovitch and Farber, Katz defended the right of a scholar to have strong political views.
"I don't know how well-versed in Rashid's scholarship Arlene is, but I think the statement is totally inaccurate as to his scholarship," Katz wrote. "As to his 'political agenda,' of course — and why not?"
"Many of us have political agendas and it is good for the democracy that we do," he wrote.
"I think that CJL has an obligation to make clear that it respects academic judgments and that it can distinguish between politics and academics," Katz continued, calling on Farber to issue a statement "before this situation gets out of hand."
Later on Friday, the day when Katz sent his original email to Pedovitch and Farber, Farber submitted a letter to the 'Prince.'
"The consideration of Rashid Khalidi for a faculty appointment at Princeton has raised concerns among some members of the University community regarding his political beliefs," Farber wrote. "My view is that these concerns are misplaced."
"The process for making academic appointments at Princeton is a very serious and thoughtful process that rigorously evaluates the scholarly contributions of candidates," Farber wrote. "There is no legitimate place in this process for a vetting of a candidate's political views unless these views inappropriately affect his or her teaching or scholarly work."
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