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.”