Supporters of Barnard English professor Bashir Abu-Manneh presented administrators on Monday with over 300 signatures opposing the college’s decision to deny him tenure.
In an email to President Debora Spar, Provost Linda Bell, and English department chair Peter Platt, supporters said that the effective firing of Abu-Manneh would be “an immense loss” to Barnard and argued that it raised questions about the college’s dedication to academic diversity.
In a statement to Spectator, Spar said that the decision not to give Abu-Manneh tenure came after “a highly rigorous and exacting process” by the tenure committee.
“Though all such decisions are final, it does not diminish the impact and influence Prof. Abu-Manneh has obviously had on his students and colleagues,” she said.
One of Abu-Manneh’s former students, Nancy Elshami, BC ’10, wrote a letter to the tenure committee on Abu-Manneh’s behalf. When she learned he had been denied tenure, she was outraged, leading her to start the petition.
“As students and alums, we believe there is a lot to lose with this decision,” Elshami said in an email.
Elshami said that the college would lose a “truly tremendous” professor in Abu-Manneh, who serves as an assistant professor of English and the director of the film studies program.
“On another level I think it has negative implications on how the university serves to foster intellectual diversity and academic freedoms,” she added.
Abu-Manneh is an outspoken supporter of Palestine and has written articles critiquing Israel’s actions in the conflict, leading some signatories to question if his political positions played a role in Barnard’s decision.
Most students and alumni who signed the petition, though, were upset that Barnard refused tenure to a professor whom they admired and respected.
“It calls into question for us the value the university places on excellence in teaching,” Elshami said.
Justine Lyons, BC ’13, took the class “Cultures of Colonialism: Palestine/Israel” with Abu-Manneh in her sophomore year and signed the petition as soon as she saw the link on Facebook.
“I signed it because I believe he’s a great asset to this university and it would be a shame for him not to be given tenure,” Lyons said.
Reviews of Abu-Manneh on CULPA were consistently positive, with some students calling him “the best professor at Barnard.” The site awarded Abu-Manneh a “silver nugget,” a distinction awarded to some of the most positively reviewed professors.
Fatimah Rimawi, BC ’12, had Abu-Manneh as an adviser on her senior thesis. She called his guidance “invaluable.”
“I was really confused how an amazing professor like professor Abu-Manneh could be leaving Barnard,” Rimawi said. “I think this calls into question the transparency of the tenure process.”
“I think that the Barnard administration would expect nothing less of its Barnard students” than to question the college’s motivations, she added.
Though Spar emphasized that the decision is final, Elshami said she hopes “that this example of independent student mobilization can empower other students and compel them to play a part in University politics.”