Middle East studies in the News
Binghamton University Killing: Al-Zahrani Asked about a Transfer 30 Minutes before Stabbing [incl. Richard Antoun]
by Evan Drellich
Less than 30 minutes before he allegedly stabbed Binghamton University professor Richard Antoun to death on Friday, Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani approached professor Joshua Price to complain of financial troubles and inquire about transferring into the doctoral program that Price directs.
Al-Zahrani, a 46-year-old post-graduate student in the anthropology department, had met with Price once or twice before, Price said, the first time on the afternoon of Nov. 10.
Al-Zahrani asked Price at that time whether he could transfer into the Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture program that Price directs and receive financial aid.
At 1:15 p.m. Friday, Price had just finished writing an email to colleague Bill Haver regarding Al-Zahrani's situation. Haver, currently the PIC director of graduate studies, was the program's overall director before Price took over this year.
The email, obtained by the Press & Sun-Bulletin, read: "desperate grad student from anthropology. he's about to be evicted and he seemed visibly nervous. he described his intellectual project, ... and he's interested in transferring to pic possibly, but he seemed most eager to get a ta'ship (teaching assistantship, a paid position)."
After finishing and sending the email, Price said he walked out of his office to find Al-Zahrani unexpectedly waiting for him.
"I closed down the computer and left the office and encountered Abdulsalam right after that, right outside my office," Price said. "On my way down to the lobby, as I was on my way out of the building. I invited him to accompany me down to the lobby in the elevator."
Price said he told Al-Zahrani he was checking on his request to transfer and couldn't give him an answer just then. Price then parted company with Al-Zahrani and went off to meet some of his students for lunch.
While Price ate, Haver sent him a reply email, at 1:32 p.m., telling Price that university rules allow midyear transfers, but confirming Price's belief that the possibility of offering a scholarship was almost nil.
Less than 30 minutes after Price's ride down the elevator with Al-Zahrani -- and barely 10 minutes after Haver's email reply -- professor Antoun was fatally stabbed.
His office was in a building less than 100 feet away.
Searching for money
Those who knew his situation said Al-Zahrani needed money.
He had complained about his finances to the two post-graduate students he shared a Binghamton apartment with since the day he moved in three weeks earlier.
To continue his thesis, Al-Zahrani wanted to study Middle Eastern culture outside of Binghamton, but he had not been able to secure funding, according to director of anthropology graduate studies Andrew Merriweather.
Antoun, a 77-year-old professor emeritus, was connected to Al-Zahrani as a member of the three-person panel that would ultimately evaluate Al-Zahrani's dissertation.
As a professor emeritus, Antoun continued to conduct research and held an office on campus. He did not teach many classes, nor could he be the chair of Al-Zahrani's dissertation committee, because of his emeritus status.
He was chosen for the panel, Merriweather said, because of his expertise in Middle Eastern culture.
Al-Zahrani had been at BU in his current studies for two or three years, Merriweather said. His project -- "Sacred Voice, Profane Sight: The Senses, Cosmology, and Epistemology in Early Arabic Culture" -- had been approved, but he was years away from his thesis defense, Merriweather said.
According to Merriweather, Al-Zahrani wanted to study in Detroit, which has a long-established and very large Islamic community.
"I think he just got to a point where he couldn't afford to do it on his own dime," Merriweather said.
Three days prior to Antoun's death, one of Al-Zahrani's apartment-mates told Price, and later a university psychologist, that Al-Zahrani had threatened him and was acting irrationally.
Souleymane Sakho, who is enrolled in the PIC program that Price directs, met with Price on Tuesday and told him about a series of confrontations between him and Al-Zahrani.
During the first week they lived together, Sakho -- known as "Jules" -- said Al-Zahrani drew a knife on him and asked him if we as afraid of death.
Price heard Sakho's story and arranged for him to meet with a psychologist at the University Counseling Center later that afternoon. Price said he was concerned for Sakho, but he felt any further help would best come from trained professionals.
At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sakho said he met with staff psychologist Donald Glauber.
"I explained to him the story, (Glauber) told me that I have to avoid the guy because the guy is a bit old and he's alone, he may have some psychological problems and he has some anxieties," Sakho said.
In a subsequent e-mail, Sakho stated Glauber told him there was nothing to worry about because Al-Zahrani had promised to move out in January and the police and landlord were already informed.
Glauber and J. Thomas Cousins, the clinical director of the counseling center, declined comment at their homes Sunday.
"As a member of the university staff, I am not authorized to speak to the press about this," Glauber said. "It's a terrible tragedy, no question about it."
"You think, OK, what were the warning signs?" Price said. "I don't want to evaluate (the counseling staff), I don't know whether they made any intervention besides logging the fact that they gave advice to Jules."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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