Report 1: April 25, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 12.08.17 AM

#StudentsforSalaita are struggling against violations of academic freedom at AUB. To reiterate our previous concerns and a brief timeline of relevant events (link), on March 30th, 2016, President Fadlo Khuri unilaterally cancelled the search committee after its recommendation of Dr. Steven Salaita for the Director position at CASAR. When AUB students were made aware of the situation two weeks later, we started a petition (link) on April 13th, 2016 demanding the reversal of this decision. At a town hall on the same day, Khuri alluded to the petition, offering the rather feeble clarification, “We can’t hire people just because they are [students’] favorite teacher”. The petition received over 1,000 signatures in less than two days and created a student movement for academic justice at AUB.

On April 14, 2016, The Office of the President responded to the petition with a “Message from President Khuri,” an e-mail sent to the entire AUB community that at best can be thought of as a dismissal of student concerns, and at worst, a fabrication containing numerous outright lies. Rather ironically, Khuri’s misleading email characterized our objections as “malicious distortions,” despite the errors in his own account and in the process at large, as detailed below. (Rumor has it that the response wasn’t even authored by President Khuri, but instead by Dr. Nadia El Cheikh, a favorite next-in-line for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences position.) In response, we at #StudentsforSalaita circulated a press release within the hour, asserting that Khuri had used unsubstantiated procedural irregularities as a cover for political motivations.

The two striking aspects of this cancellations at this point were that that 1. the AUB community knows of no official investigation into the so-called “procedural irregularities” 2. nor has a detailed explanation of these irregularities been made available to the search committee. It seems that Khuri’s reliance on gossip in place of an internal investigation to justify cancelling the search committee and his refusal to immediately initiate a new search committee support #StudentforSalaita’s claim that this was indeed a politically motivated decision. #StudentsforSalaita were compelled to carry out our own investigation and discovered that all three of Khuri’s vague ‘procedural violations’ could be countered by a quick reference to the Hiring Guidelines and Faculty Bylaws (link).

In light of our findings, #StudentsforSalaita held a reverse town hall on April 20th, inviting President Fadlo Khuri to talk to the community at large and affording him the opportunity to explain the absurd invocation of “procedural irregularities.” We hoped for a bit of transparency on a Wednesday evening and imagined, even, that a bit of tea and the stunning view in Building 37 might break the ice and allow for an open and transparent conversation. Khuri, however, was unable to attend because of his prior commitment to throw pigeons at the annual football game (link).

The following points were publicly discussed at our well-attended reverse town hall:

  • The procedural violations have not been explicitly stated. Neither the current Director of CASAR nor the search committee itself received a memo from the administration explaining in detail what procedures were “violated” during the job search before or after its cancellation. As of the publication of this piece, this remains true.
  • American Senators previously lobbied Khuri to reconsider Salaita’s post at AUB. President Khuri received phone calls from two Illinois senators in the summer of 2015 condemning the hiring of Dr. Steven Salaita as Edward Said Chair at CASAR, singling out his pro-Palestinian views as the reason for their denouncement.
  • Khuri has only minimal understanding of the Humanities and Social Sciences. During a private meeting between CASAR Director Lisa Hajjar, Provost Mohamed Harajli, and President Fadlo Khuri, Khuri revealed that he would rather a new FAS Dean select the new CASAR director and insinuated that he already had someone in mind. When asked whether his preferred candidate for CASAR specialized in American Studies, Khuri replied, “One of those fields.” He echoed this sentiment during his subsequent town hall when he said that the FAS departments are “essentially doing the same thing.”
  • CASAR is not the only target at AUB. Similar transgressions occurred in other humanities and social science departments, resulting in unilateral interventions in the hiring processes. Fear among faculty over job security prevents them from contesting Khuri’s unethical and coercive administration. AUB’s inability to tenure faculty here has a clear impact on the ability for our teachers to advocate for our learning.
  • Khuri shouldn’t have even been talking about this publicly. Khuri’s discussion of the alleged violations in the Message to the AUB community in itself violated the confidentiality clause of Section 3.9 of the Faculty Manual. (link)
  • Khuri may be sacrificing Palestinian intellectual space in order to secure American funding. Khuri’s refusal to promote Salaita may be related to a pending National Institutes of Health donation to AUB. The NIH, which are a part of US Department of Health and Human Services, are the US’ medical research agency.

Any of these points, alone, would raise eyebrows, and in concert they have cast a heavy shadow on Khuri’s new presidency. In response, on the 22nd of April, #StudentsforSalaita coordinated a walk-out for the launch of the FAS 150th Anniversary Celebration during President Fadlo Khuri’s planned “Welcoming Speech.” Khuri, however, left the country the night before, leaving Interim Associate Provost Dr. Nadia El Cheikh to read his speech in his place. #StudentsforSalaita held posters during the speech demanding academic freedom, transparency in governance, and that the recommendation of the CASAR search committee be respected. Faculty members, students and other members of the community have praised us for such public demands of accountability.

#StudentsforSalaita will continue to act in protest until their demands for the reversal of the cancellation and the respect of academic freedom and the humanities be fulfilled.


English Translation of Al Akhbar Article

Fadlo Khuri, President of the American University of Beirut, has barred Professor Steven Salaita, one of the most outspoken academics against Israeli occupation, from taking on the position of Director of the Center for American Studies and Research at AUB.
Salaita succeeded in passing all necessary procedures to be considered for the position, and he was recommended by a search committee headed by current director of CASAR, visiting professor from University of California, Lisa Hajjar. The recommendation was approved by the Dean of FAS Patrick McGreevy and sent on to the AUB provost and President Khuri, until the President abruptly cancelled the work of the search committee.
Khuri’s “official” justification points to “procedural irregularities” within the search committee. These irregularities, according to an email that Khuri sent to AUB faculty and students, are that the head of the search committee for a new Director is a visiting professor, and that the members of the search committee are not all of the same academic rank or of higher rank than the recommended Director.
The students and current Director of CASAR presented an alternate story. Two days ago, a group of students released an online petition asking AUB to respect academic freedom, considering Khuri’s decision to be politically motivated and tied to Salaita’s anti-Israeli views. The students state in a following press release that was published yesterday that Khuri made his decision after receiving external pressures, demanding that Salaita be once again reccommended for Director.
It is worth mentioning that Salaita was fired from an American university due to his views on Israel’s 2008 occupation of Palestine, before he got the position as Edward Said Chair at AUB. The current Director of CASAR confirmed in a phone call with Al Akhbar that the “procedural irregularities that Khuri mentioned in his email weren’t specified and no one told me of them the whole time I was at CASAR,” because there are no policies in the university that prevent a visiting professor from heading a search committee for a new Director of the center, “or else how would they allow me as a visiting professor to be Director of the center itself?” Additionally, Hajjar considers Salaita to be the best candidate for Director of CASAR.
Hajjar mentioned that Faldo’s decision may be due to external pressure, “because I was previously informed from the President himself that he received phone calls from two US senators reprimanding him for allowing Salaita to continue as Edward Said Chair,” wondering if Khuri has recently received any calls.
On another note, Al Akhbar found out that the advisory board of CASAR reacted to the President’s email. The board specified that in previous years the Director of the center was head of the search committee for another Director, and there is no policy that prevents a visiting professor from heading a search committee, affirming their dedication to recommend Salaita for the position.
It is also worth mentioning that AUB policies only point out that reccommending any faculty member should take place from a professor of the same rank or higher, however that is not the case for Director of CASAR. What is also interesting is that the text of policies published on AUB’s website states that the policy was written and approved of on 20-1-2015, however it was republished officially on 31-3-2016 on a Word document, then published as a PDF on AUB’s website morning of 4-4-2016, then edited on the same file on 8-4-2016 at 3:12 AM. So what was the edit that was made to the policy at 3:12 AM? And why was the policy, released over a year ago, only published last April?
Confirmed sources from inside the university point out that the Dean of FAS is known to be careful with following regulations, especially after his years of experience at AUB, so it is very odd for him to “go against policies” or not know of them, especially since Khuri blamed him in his email for allowing Hajjar to continue working in the search committee. Khuri also points out in his email that AUB administration asked him on February 16th* to stop the search committee’s actions. He also says in his email that he had a meeting with Salaita and that they agreed to renew his position as Chair for another year, asking him to run for Director next year. Since the search committee’s recommendation was cancelled, it is most likely that Khuri will assign a faculty member from inside the university or outside of it to be Director this year.

*Translator’s note: The original Al Akhbar article states February 16th, however President Faldo Khuri’s email states:

“Leading up to March 16, 2016, the University leadership received several complaints from faculty members alleging conflicts of interest and misconduct in the selection of the CASAR director and took steps to address the situation.”

(Ar) Hussein Mehdi: “AUB مناهضو الاحتلال لا مكان لهم في”

منع رئيس الجامعة الأميركية في بيروت فضلو خوري الباحث الأميركي ستيفن سلايطا، أحد أبرز الأكاديميين المناهضين للاحتلال الاسرائيلي، من تسلّم منصب مدير مركز الدراسات والأبحاث الأميركية (casar) في الجامعة.

سلايطا نجح في تخطّي كافة إجراءات الترشح لهذا المنصب، وأوصت بتعيينه لجنة البحث التي ترأستها المديرة الحالية للمركز الأستاذة الزائرة من جامعة كاليفورنيا ليزا حجار. ووافق على قرار التعيين عميد كلية العلوم باتريك ماغريفي ورفعه إلى رئيس الجامعة ووكيل شؤونها الأكاديمية، الا أن الرئيس ألغى مفاعيل أعمال هذه اللجنة.
مبرر خوري «الرسمي» يستند إلى وجود «مخالفات إجرائية» في عملية البحث. تتمثّل هذه المخالفات، بحسب رسالة بعث بها خوري عبر البريد الالكتروني الى أهل الجامعة، في كون رئيسة لجنة البحث عن مدير جديد هي أستاذة زائرة في الجامعة، والمخالفة الثانية هي أن بعض أعضاء اللجنة ليسوا جميعاً بالمستوى الأكاديمي نفسه أو بمستوى أعلى من المرشح للمنصب.
الطلاب ومديرة المركز قدموا رواية أخرى. منذ يومين نشر الطلاب عريضة إلكترونية دعوا من خلالها إدارة الجامعة إلى حماية الحرية الأكاديمية، معتبرين أن قرار خوري «سياسي» يرتبط بمواقف سلايطا المناهضة للاحتلال الاسرائيلي. ويقول الطلاب في بيان آخر وزعوه أمس إن خوري اتخذ قراره بعدما تعرض لضغوطات خارجية، مطالبين إياه بالتراجع عنه

….اقرأ/ي المقال


PRESS RELEASE – 14/04/2016



#StudentsForSalaita, a collective of American University of Beirut students, have circulated a petition demanding that “the unanimous recommendation by the CASAR search committee to hire Professor Salaita be respected.” This petition was released after the AUB President Fadlo Khuri barred Professor Steven Salaita from a deserved position based on unsubstantiated accusations of ‘procedural irregularities’. Students are concerned this controversy follows Salaita’s persecution at UIUC, as well as the changing perspectives within the administration on the legitimacy of pro-Palestinian scholars.

Anonymous sources confirm that Khuri has been trying to prevent Salaita’s hire since he applied for the CASAR Edward Said Chair in 2015.  Khuri once again bypassed procedure and interfered when the committee unanimously recommended Salaita as Director of CASAR. In a letter to the AUB Community on April 14, 2016, President Khuri claimed that the search committee was halted after uncovering “procedural violations.” However, he refused to initiate an internal investigation before cancelling Salaita’s recommendation. The newly formed student collective #StudentsforSalaita wrote and circulated a petition in response to Khuri’s intervention, contesting his claims and demanding that the recommendation of the CASAR search committee be respected. The petition has gathered over 800 signatures within a day.

At a student town hall meeting following the release of the petition, Fadlo Khuri said: “We can’t hire people just because they are [students’] favorite teacher.” While Professor Steven Salaita is an excellent teacher, #StudentsForSalaita assert that Khuri’s unilateral cancellation of the job search illustrates the powerful presence of external pressures in the university which come at the cost of academic freedom. One student, speaking on the condition of anonymity, has said, “I don’t see myself successfully completing my thesis at CASAR if Steve is not given the position.” Students are concerned with the way the AUB administration has handled this controversy; rather than supporting erudite scholars’ freedom of speech, AUB has shown that it is no longer a refuge for pro-Palestinian scholars.



Twitter: @Students4Steve




Corey Robin: “Once upon a time, leftists purged from American academe could find a refuge abroad. Not anymore.”

During the Cold War, leftist scholars purged from American academe at least had the opportunity, sometimes, to start again outside the country. That’s how Moses Finley became Sir Moses Finley, the internationally acclaimed classicist at Cambridge. That’s how Chandler Davis, aka Mr. Natalie Zemon Davis, became an internationally acclaimed mathematician at the University of Toronto…

Read more here: