Controversial Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Professor Joseph Massad was granted tenure earlier this summer, sources say.
Massad received his doctorate in political science from Columbia in 1998. He has received attention for his views on issues ranging from Israeli identity to American politics in the Middle East. His stances have been met with conflict in the classroom, and aroused zealous support and criticism around campus and beyond the gates.
Columbia University spokespeople repeatedly told Spectator they would not comment on the case, citing their policy of not speaking about ongoing tenure cases. Though a professor's status at any given time is public information—as made clear by the Columbia directory—the University would neither confirm nor deny the outcome of the case. The committee of faculty responsible for reviewing Massad’s tenure petition—none of whom are members of his own department, as University policy dictates—were all either unavailable or declined to comment.
Massad is currently on sabbatical and will return Columbia in September. He could not be reached for comment.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the controversy and secrecy surrounding the case, sources say Massad may have been granted tenure as early as late May or early June.
A Chronicle of Higher Education online blog post this past April sparked renewed discussion about the case after it was reported that members of Massad’s department had learned he would soon be granted tenure.
In June, the New York Post published an op-ed by Jacob Gershman, formerly of the New York Sun, that said Massad had been granted tenure. The piece condemned the decision, though Columbia spokespeople at that time would neither confirm nor deny that Massad had been granted tenure. After multiple attempts for comment, Spectator was led to believe that the Post had misreported Massad's status.
Massad’s review for tenure made headlines in 2007 after it was rumored that his petition had been denied. His newest book Desiring Arabs, was released in June of that year, and was not included in the first round of materials considered by the committee towards his tenure bid.
While the outcome of his first tenure petition was never publicly released, sources say that his first bid was denied and that he was granted tenure based on an appeal of the decision.
A second round of review is rare but not unheard of at Columbia. “A second review may be conducted for a candidate after a negative decision if the Provost determines that the first was marked by procedural irregularities of a magnitude that materially affected its outcome,” according to the University faculty handbook, which is published by the Provost’s office and outlines the way the review process operates.
Outside of “procedural irregularities,” “a candidate is reconsidered only in rare instances when the Provost is satisfied that there is evidence of substantial scholarly growth following the original negative decision,” according to the handbook. In such cases, the nominating department submits a statement with new materials which were not previously reviewed; it is possible that Massad’s Desiring Arabs was among the material submitted for a second review.
In 2005, Massad was thrust into the limelight surrounding an investigation of the MEALAC department after students' reports that they were intimidated in class for expressing support of Israel inspired the David Project’s documentary, Columbia Unbecoming.
The resulting Ad Hoc Grievance Committee Report did not find proof of anti-Semitism, but did call out Massad for inappropriate comments made in class. Massad wrote that the report “suffers from major logical flaws, undefended conclusions, inconsistencies, and clear bias in favor of the witch-hunt that has targeted me for over three years,” according to the MEALAC Web site.
Student reactions to Massad’s tenure were mixed. Aaron Winslow, a second-year Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student and an organizer of the Columbia Palestine Forum—acampaign intended to gather support for Palestinian rights to education and self-determination--called the decision “wonderful news.”
"The attacks upon Professor Massad represent aggressive and unjust infringements upon academic freedoms at Columbia,” Winslow said. “Given the growing interest by Columbia students and faculty in supporting academic freedoms for Palestinian students and academics, the decision to grant Professor Massad tenure is certainly a step in the right direction, as it signals the possibility for a discussion about the occupation of Palestine that is free of the intimidation that has often marred it in the past.”
But pro-Israel political affairs committee LionPAC denounced the decision, citing his history of provocation.
“It is regrettable that basic standards of academic integrity have been compromised in order to grant tenure to an individual who has promulgated both hatred and inflammatory rhetoric,” said Eric Schorr, director of public relations for LionPAC and Columbia/JTS ’12.
Massad is still listed on the Columbia University online directory as an associate professor, though updates often lag. According to the Columbia University online course catalog, Massad is slated to teach two graduate classes and an undergraduate course over the next two semesters.