Middle East studies in the News
"Barnard Faces Criticism over Tenure of Professor" [Letter to the Editor]
by Phil Orenstein
As a blogger who participated in the opposition to the tenure bid of Barnard College assistant professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, I write in response to Middle Eastern Studies Association academic freedom committee chair Laurie Brand's assertion that protests coming from outside the walls of academia are "just preposterous" [New York, "Barnard Faces Criticism Over Tenure of Professor," September 12, 2007].
There is good reason for "outsiders" to be vigilantly involved with the frivolities behind the hallowed walls and closed-door tenure committees. The imminent tenure grant for this professor is a perfect example of how academic standards of verifiable fact and peer-reviewed research are being trumped by biased political ideologies.
The sum of Ms. El-Haj's scholarly work and the basis of the tenure decision is her book "Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society," which is based on her premise that the historical connection of the Jews to the land of Israel is a "pure political fabrication" and charges Israeli archeologists with manufacturing evidence to legitimize the "modern nation's origin myth."
She exhibits a post-modern disdain for such empirical facts as the archeological evidence of ancient Israelite kingdoms as the perpetuation of a myth to serve the interests of the dominant powers.
Much to the dismay of academic insiders, many more alumni, donors, and concerned outsiders are getting involved, including more than 2,000 signatories to an online petition initiated by a Barnard alumnus against Ms. El-Haj's tenure.
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