Middle East studies in the News
Professors Protest Massad's Tenure
Fourteen Columbia professors protested the tenure of Middle East and Asian Language and Cultures professor Joseph Massad in a July letter, and plans may be in the works for the unhappy faculty members to take up the matter in person with newly-minted Provost Claude Steele.
Of the professors who signed the letter, most were faculty members from University graduate institutions, although a few were from the undergraduate Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Several professors who signed the letter were contacted, but were either unavailable or declined to comment.
Massad was reportedly granted tenure this summer. Though his research has generally been well-received, the choice set off sparks in the blogosphere, since Massad faced allegations of intimidating Jewish students several years back. Massad's first bid for tenure in 2007 was reportedly turned down, though it appears he was tenured this summer in an unusual second round of reviews. He had been out of the country on leave for much of the past year.
The letter dates back to July 23, and appears to be a direct reaction to an op-ed piece printed in the New York Post this summer. Jacob Gershman published an article condemning the confirmation of Massad's tenure bid—a decision he and other sources claimed was a done deal, though the University continues to decline to comment on the matter.
The note, addressed to Steele, and copied to University President Lee Bollinger, claims that Massad's tenure approval—after his previous bid was reportedly denied—violated University procedural policy. The professors wrote they doubted the evidence of "substantial scholarly growth" that is required of faculty seeking tenure after being previously denied. They also said that Massad was in violation of the University's Code of Academic Freedom and Tenure, which states that "full time officers of instruction in some grades of appointment are limited to a maximum of eight counted years of full-time continuous service, unless they are granted tenure."
Massad, they point out, was appointed to the Columbia faculty in 1999, and his initial tenure review took place in 2007. Whether it was his seventh or eighth year as a faculty member, under the rules, Massad's last year on staff should have been in the '07-'08 academic year without an option to extend his employment, even if he was on leave during that extension. Faculty were also unhappy with reports that there were may have been irregularities in the tenure process—details lifted from the Post article—though they acknowledge that the veracity of these allegations is unclear. "In the electronic era, secrecy is difficult, and it may never have been easy," the letter reads. "Certainly, the Trustees charged with endorsing the tenure decision were entitled to truthful and responsive answers to their questions about the process." "If the irregularities we enumerate above occurred but are not unique to this case, we are even more concerned because then they are part of a series of precedents that may return to haunt us in the years to come," the professors added.
Faculty seeking tenure submit a portfolio of work for review amongst the committee, and in the rare case that a member comes up for a second round of review, the tenure candidate must demonstrate evidence of "substantial scholarly growth"—presumably submitting a new work of research, such as a new book. It is unknown what works Massad submitted for either his first or second tenure bid. It has been speculated that his 2007 book "Desiring Arabs" about sexuality in the Arab world, was included in the materials for his second tenure review. The letter, though, pointed to a statement made by Massad in 2005 to an ad hoc committee, where he spoke of his extensive work in sexuality and queer theory, as well as his upcoming book—presumably "Desiring Arabs." The letters' authors argued that the book, or some version of it, had to have been included in the first round of sealed materials. They also said they could not find any obvious record of any significant research past that book on either the Columbia Web page of his publications or on his Wikipedia page since 2007.
Prior to "Desiring Arabs," Massad put out two other works—"Colonial Effects" published in 2001, and "The Persistence of the Palestinian Question" in 2006. It is possible that these may have been included in the materials submitted for Massad's first tenure review, and that work from his research with sexuality was less comprehensive or complete than the full "Desiring Arabs" book—that is, if this were the primary work submitted for a second round of tenure review, as has been speculated. The progression from what may have been a preliminary manuscript to the full book may have been the evidence of scholarly growth that the committee sought. "Desiring Arabs" won the 2008 Lionel Trilling Award, which is decided by Columbia students.
Steele responded in a letter dated September 10, where he said he would welcome the opportunity to meet with the professors. Though he admitted that he still needed to learn about Columbia's tenure system works, he added, "while we should have high expectations of candidates, they should be evaluated upon the basis of academic criteria without consideration to their political opinions, nor should we allow personal preferences and biases to influence our decisions."
Alexa Davis contributed reporting to this article.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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