MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on Lebanon

June 8, 2016

Dr. Fadlo Khuri
President, American University of Beirut
Fax: +961-1-744474 or +961-1-744466
president@aub.edu.lb

Dear President Khuri,

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to register our concerns regarding the recent cancellation by the university administration of a search for director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at the American University of Beirut (AUB). The cancellation of such a search by administrative fiat is a serious violation of the academic freedom of the AUB faculty as they exercise their autonomous judgment in order to determine the candidates they deem best fit to contribute to the university community.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

In 2015, CASAR ran a search for a new director, led by its interim director, visiting Professor Lisa Hajjar of the University of California, Santa Barbara, along with a committee that included five AUB Professors of different ranks. In mid-March 2016 the search committee submitted its recommendations to Dean Patrick McGreevy that the position be offered to Dr. Steven Salaita, who holds the Edward Said Chair of American Studies at AUB (2015-16). On March 29, Dean McGreevy took the CASAR director recommendation to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Advisory Committee. As English would be the most appropriate disciplinary home for Salaita, the chair of the English Department intended to put the matter of an appointment to a vote at the next meeting.

On March 30, the university unexpectedly cancelled the search, claiming there had been “procedural irregularities,” namely, that junior faculty and visiting professors were not permitted to serve on search committees. As chapter 2, section 3.10.b of the University Faculty Manual states, “evaluation of candidates for appointment shall be restricted to the voting faculty members of equal or higher ranks than those of the faculty members being considered,” which would seem to invalidate the service of the committee of assistant professors, and Professor Hajjar, who is a visiting professor. However, Section 5, article 3, of the AUB Bylaws of the Faculties indicates, “the dean can appoint faculty members of appropriate professorial rank from other departments/tracks to serve on extended departmental committees.” In other words, it was permissible according to university regulations for assistant professors to serve on the committee. Furthermore, not only does this also mean that it was permissible for Professor Hajjar to lead the search committee, but given her position as acting director of CASAR, it was absolutely essential. While university regulations stipulate that visiting professors may not vote on such appointments, there was no procedural violation here given that the chair of a search committee does not have voting privileges. Indeed, Professor Hajjar did not cast a vote.

Even more problematic than this tendentious misreading of procedure by the administration were the slanderous allegations made about the professional integrity of Professor Hajjar, both in public and in private, insinuating that she had used “intimidation” in order to discourage certain candidates from applying. On April 18, President Khuri affirmed that the search had been “suspended” following complaints from undisclosed “faculty members” that it failed to adhere to “AUB’s pre-existing policies on recruitment and academic appointment.” Rather than providing an official statement or producing evidence of procedural misconduct, though, the university administration announced the launch of an “internal audit.”

On May 30, Philip Khoury, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Walid Chammah, Chair of the Audit Committee, sent an email to the university community re-stating, “there were numerous significant violations of University policies and procedures in connection with the search, and that resulted in a process that was not up to University standards of fairness and transparency.” In conclusion, therefore, “the Board of Trustees fully supports the Administration's termination of the search and its re-initiation in a manner consistent with the University's policies and procedures.” At this point, however, no report of the committee’s findings has been provided to the AUB faculty involved or to the general public.

An “internal audit” is a mechanism to investigate financial malfeasance such as fraud or embezzlement within the university, not to adjudicate matters of faculty governance. Even according to the regulations of an internal audit, however, the subject of the audit is consulted in the matter, and permitted to see a a copy of the report before the investigation is closed. None of these procedures were followed, and such procedural irregularities on the part of the university administration must be viewed as an abuse of administrative power. Moreover, the findings of the audit committee have not been made available to the members of the faculty or the general public. There was no opportunity for members of the search committee, the faculty of CASAR or the general public to respond to the draft report of the audit because as of now no report has been produced. The concluding claims made in the statement by the committee are therefore unsubstantiated.

MESA is deeply concerned that you and some members of the university administration are now attempting to validate the unilateral cancellation of this international search by finding an ex post facto justification. We therefore call on the AUB administration to provide clear and specific evidence of the alleged procedural violations which was used to justify the cancellation of the search. Absent such evidence, the administration’s actions both violate the academic freedom of the AUB community and set a dangerous precedent for the abrogation of faculty governance. If the administration is unable to produce a compelling justification for its actions, based on the university’s bylaws, then we call upon the president of the university to reverse his decision and allow the search committee to carry out its mandate and proceed with its recommendation for the directorship of CASAR.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We await your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                               
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

Response From AUB President Khuri

June 13, 2016

Beth Baron
President, Middle East Studies Association of North America
Professor, City University of New York

Amy Newhall
Executive Director, Middle East Studies Association of North America
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

Dear Dr. Baron and Dr. Newhall,

I am in receipt of your letter dated June 8, 2016 in which the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) express concern about the cancellation of the job search for the Director of the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Although MESA has no right to insert itself into AU B's internal affairs, I write to provide a response as you have seen fit to publish your letter on the MESA website, in which you make the ultimatum either to publish the findings of the internal independent report into the matter or reverse our decision to stop the search at issue. I find it troubling that your letter does not disclose or acknowledge that Dr. Lisa Hajjar, who led the search, is a MESA board member and a member of its CAF, whose purported principles your approach belies. Yet the allegations and arguments in your letter closely mirror those that visiting professor Dr. Hajjar has made public via social media and other channels. You should also be aware that the constituency which has the most at stake in this matter-AU B's faculty-has expressed its own views on the CASAR Director search, individually and through representative organizations. As both AU B's Board of Trustees and I have explained directly to the AUB community, the allegations made have no merit nor do they warrant the point-by-point response which you call for in your letter.

Let me be clear that the report concerns personnel issues which would be inappropriate to publish under AUB's anonymous safe reporting policy. However, I can reaffirm the statement of Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Philip Khoury and Audit Committee Chairman Mr. Walid Chammah on May 30, 2016, that the violations of policy and procedure uncovered by the investigation were numerous and significant, justifying the cancellation of the search and its re-initiation consistent with our policies.

The University's actions serve to support the academic values which your organization says it seeks to protect. It is therefore astonishing you should claim that AUB would have both "violate[d] the academic freedom" of our community and "set a dangerous precedent for the abrogation of faculty governance" if we do not comply with your stated ultimatum. Regarding the substance of your letter, you appear to acknowledge that under chapter 2, section 3.10.b of AU B's Faculty Manual, it was inappropriate for two members of the search committee to participate in evaluating the candidates for the CASAR Director position. On its face, the policy you point to as excusing this violation is inapplicable. It refers to the dean appointing faculty members of "appropriate rank" {in this case, AUB faculty at the rank of associate or full professor) "from other departments" to serve on a "departmental committee," which is not what occurred here.

You also implicitly criticize AU B's Audit Committee for using AU B's auditor to conduct an investigation in response to a report made under AUB's "safe reporting" policy. This policy-like similar policies at many universities-is designed to ensure that members of the AUB community feel comfortable in reporting issues, including perceived violations of AUB policy, without fear of retaliation and with an assurance that the matter will be kept as confidential as possible. The "internal audit" procedures you cite in your letter are again factually inapplicable to the circumstances here.

The findings of the independent internal audit have been endorsed by the Board of Trustees Audit Committee and have been accepted by the University Senate, the Board of Deans and various faculty bodies. Nor has there been any significant opposition to the outcome of the investigation among students, staff, alumni or the wider academic community which shares the weighty responsibility for ensuring academic freedom globally. Indeed, Dr. Steven Salaita, who was placed at the center of this difficult situation, has publicly moved on and accepted a one-year extension of his visiting professorship as Edward Said Chair of American Studies.

The wide acceptance of the auditor's report is likely because AUB faculty members were excluded from the search process, and not all members of the CASAR Executive Committee were informed adequately about applications received. Also there was insufficient distribution of information regarding the necessary "job talk," resulting in disenfranchisement of the wider group of faculty and students entitled to be involved in the process. These violations of our procedures were, by themselves, sufficient grounds to cancel and restart the process in a properly inclusive manner.

One of the vital responsibilities of a university administration is to ensure the proper application of the policies and procedures, which are instituted to protect the academic freedom of its faculty. Your allegation of a "tendentious misreading of procedure" is wrong. Your straining to find an ambiguity in our by-laws is contradicted by years of clear and unambiguous policy regarding the non-eligibility of visiting and junior faculty in evaluating candidates for appointment. This flaw in itself would serve to delegitimize any result produced by the process. Far from being an "abuse of administrative power," as you allege, the decision to cancel and restart the process will have the effect of restoring the power of our faculty to engage in a deliberative and inclusive process.

Finally, it is disturbing that you have chosen to utter accusations against AU B's administration for stating publicly that the University's procedures were not followed. None of AUB's statements claim that Dr. Hajjar engaged in "intimidation," nor do they otherwise state more than the fact that AU B's recruiting and appointment policies were violated. In its role as a self-proclaimed advocate for academic freedom, MESA should understand why it is critically important for a university to ensure that its recruitment and appointment procedures are followed and to investigate potential violations. MESA can and should have no objection to AUB commencing a new search for the CASAR Director position that is open, transparent, compliant with its policies, and has the confidence of the entire AUB community.

This response should lay to rest the concerns you and your association have about the AUB administration's actions. My colleagues and I remain deeply concerned that MESA and its CAF should have jumped to the conclusions outlined in your letter. Many of us, including our administration and University Senators, have noted that MESA's charter explicitly states that it is a scholarly and not a political organization. We believe that you have violated that charter by attempting to interfere in the affairs of a private, independent, and distinguished university. As you have published your letter on your Intervention website, we request that you append our response and share it among your membership. We are confident that if you do, many of the accomplished scholars within your organization will realize that AUB, the oldest, and most independent university in the MENA region, continues to hold academic freedom, including joint governance and freedom of speech, as a guiding force behind its mission and vision.

Yours,

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD
President

cc:

Dr. Mohamed Harajli, Interim Provost, American University of Beirut
Dr. Philip Khoury, Chair, Board of Trustees, American University of Beirut
Mr. Walid Chammah, Chair, Audit Committee, American University of Beirut
H.E. Mr. Elias BouSaab, Minister of Education, Government of Lebanon

 

March 4, 2003

His Excellency Samir Jisr
Minister of Justice
Palace of Justice
Sami Solh St
Beirut
Republic of Lebanon

Your Excellency:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom. We wish to convey to you our great concern regarding your ministry’s investigation and interrogation of Dr. Adonis Akra, a professor of philosophy at the Lebanese University in Tripoli and author of a recent book describing his fifteen-day detention by the authorities in August 2001.

[MESA is...]

According to information we have received, on February 11, 2003, Professor Akra was detained by the Investigations Department in the Ministry of Justice for about seven hours and compelled to cancel a February 15 event promoting his book. The authorities also reportedly interrogated his publisher, Bashir Daouq, and closed down his publishing company, Dar al-Tali’a.

Professor Akra is reportedly a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, which advocates an end to Syria’s military presence and political hegemony in Lebanon. He was among some two hundred journalists, engineers, lawyers, and others arrested and jailed in early August 2001 in a crackdown by Lebanese security forces against persons the authorities said were insulting Syria and destabilizing Lebanon.
Professor Akra’s book, When My Name Became “16”, reportedly is a day-by-day account of his fifteen-day detention, first in a cell at the Defense Ministry, and subsequently in a hospital where he was treated for cardiac problems. He told the Lebanese press that his interrogators accused him of “tarnishing the army, the authorities, the judiciary, and relations with Syria,” charges that he denies.

It appears that Professor Akra is being harassed and punished solely for attempting to exercise his right to freedom of expression. We urge you to halt all such actions against Professor Akra, rescind the closure order against Dar al-Tali’a, and cease efforts to interfere with the distribution of his book.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,

Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director
 
cc:
His Excellency Farid Abboud, Ambassador of Lebanon to the United States



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