Has Steven Salaita, once again on the verge of obtaining a permanent position, again been blocked by administrators?
His supporters at the American University of Beirut and in the United States say that's what is going on at AUB.
Salaita has been teaching in a one-year position at AUB in the aftermath of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign retracting a job offer for a tenured position there. Illinois acted amid debate over Salaita's outspoken criticism of Israel, on Twitter and elsewhere. Critics said he demonstrated an incivility that was inappropriate, but his defenders said he was being punished for his political views. In November, the university agreed to pay $875,000 to settle a lawsuit Salaita filed.
At AUB, a petition is circulating among students that says the university's president, Fadlo Khuri, called off a search for a director of the Center for American Studies and Research when a search committee unanimously recommended Salaita for the job.
"Given Professor Salaita’s recent termination from a tenure-track position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his pro-Palestinian political views, we fear that AUB is reproducing the trend of persecuting scholars who condemn the injustices committed in Palestine," the petition says. "This breach of academic freedom cannot be allowed at AUB."
Salaita did not respond to emails seeking comment. Nor did the university. (UPDATE: See the university's response, issued after this article was published, at end of this article, denying the allegations in the petition.)
Lisa Hajjar, Edward Said Chair of American Studies at AUB and chair of the search committee for the director's job, said via email to Inside Higher Ed: "The day after the recommendation of Salaita for the position was discussed at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Advisory Committee, the dean informed the search committee that the president had canceled the search due to procedural irregularities. It is not clear to me which procedures were allegedly violated. I had been working quietly with AUB faculty to see if we could get a reversal of the cancellation, but the situation went public when students made a petition and posted it."
That petition is on one of Salaita's Facebook pages. And some of Salaita's prominent supporters are circulating the petition.
Corey Robin, a visible supporter of Salaita, is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
"During the Cold War, leftist scholars purged from American academe at least had the opportunity, sometimes, to start again outside the country," Robin wrote on his blog. "But now it seems as if even that escape route is being denied to Steven Salaita, who was unanimously recommended by a search committee for a position at the American University of Beirut, only to have the university’s president scuttle the search."
UPDATE: On Thursday morning, the college shared an email message Khuri sent to the campus, responding to the petition. In the email, Khuri said statements about the search being called off due to Salaita's views were "wholly untrue" and were "a malicious distortion of the facts involved in this case."
Khuri went on to say that he acted after university leaders "received several complaints from faculty members alleging conflicts of interest and misconduct" in the search process. "Violations included the presence of visiting faculty with selection and voting rights on the search committee, as well as the presence of lower-ranked faculty members voting for a higher-ranked position. Additionally, there was a conflict implied by the current incumbent chairing a committee to find their own successor."
As to the charges on academic freedom, Khuri wrote: "There is no truth in the anonymous petition’s suggestion that the search was stopped in order to prevent Dr. Salaita from being selected as CASAR director…. The university strongly supports the principles of academic freedom, freedom of speech and the fair, transparent selection of academic positions based on merit alone and free of any hidden political agenda."