Response From AUB President Khuri to June 9 Letter

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

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