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Columbia Spectator Staff

He has been described both as the scholarly linchpin of the University of Chicago's Middle Eastern Studies program by Columbia History Professor Richard Bulliet and as person with "unhealthy" views by Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes.


Rashid Khalidi is currently a professor of Middle East History and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago but by the end of the semester he may be the inaugural holder of the anonymously endowed Edward Said chair in Middle Eastern Studies at Columbia.


As Khalidi decides whether to accept Columbia's offer, which was officially made in October, he has raised questions about the presence of politics in academia.


As a proponent of the Palestinian nationalist cause and critic of Israeli and American foreign policy, Khalidi's political views have been the subject of articles in the New York Sun, Chicago-Sun Times, and New York Post in connection with Columbia's offer.


Some of Khalidi's critics question the creation of a chair in University Professor Edward Said's name, saying that the chair confers University recognition of Said's advocacy for the Palestinian cause. Others, like Dr. Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly at Tel Aviv University, believe that the anonymous funding of the chair has its roots in political ideology. Others, like Pipes, think Khalidi's views are extremist.


"I think it's a problem that these universities award people with such extreme and unhealthy views with such prestigious positions," Pipes said.


Kramer added that he believes a position for Khalidi at Columbia will add to an already entrenched viewpoint in Middle Eastern Studies, citing Joseph Massad, Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Assistant Professor, and Nadia Abu-El Haj, Barnard Assistant Professor of Anthropology, as academics who share Khalidi's views.


Despite criticism of Khalidi's politics, many Columbia academics, including those close to negotiations that resulted in Columbia's offer, say that these are disparaging efforts that fail to mask Khalidi's value as a teacher and scholar.


"I can't honestly think of a better person to recruit to Columbia," said Lisa Anderson, Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs.


MEALAC chair Hamid Dabashi said that, contrary to an article in the New York Sun, Columbia's offer to Khalidi is not politically motivated. Dabashi has also been criticized by Pipes on the web site www.campuswatch.org, a web site Pipes founded to monitor what he calls anti-Israel sentiments in academia.


Dabashi said that there is a long process for finalizing the candidate for a chair, which must be approved by, among other bodies, search committees, the provost's office, and the president and board of trustees.


"To assume that all these autonomous organs of the university have conspired together to consider only one candidate at the expense of others for this position is sheer lunacy at best and a malicious insult on the integrity of our university at worst," Dabashi said.


While none doubt that Khalidi is an established professor of Middle Eastern Studies, Bulliet also added that Khalidi is a "rare professor" sensitive to a variety of political views on Arab-Israel politics.


"Professors who are able to be identified with a persuasion and yet who are able to command the respect of those of every persuasion ... those are rare. He was one of those rare professors," said Bulliet, who chaired the history department committee that reviewed Khalidi's scholarly works and recommended that he be given an offer at Columbia.


If Khalidi, who could not be reached for comment, accepts the offer of the Edward Said chair he will be returning to an old home.

Khalidi taught at the Lebanese University and American University in Beirut in the '70s and '80s but came to Columbia for two years in the mid-1980s to hold an interim appointment in the political science department and a subsequent year-long appointment in the history department.


At that point, Bulliet said, he and University Professor Edward Said, independently of each other, tried to convince the University to retain Khalidi, but when the University of Chicago offered him tenure he left in 1987.


Bulliet called Khalidi's departure a lost opportunity for the University. He said the loss became apparent when he co-taught a class with Khalidi and Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, who has since left Columbia, in the comparative history of Arab nationalism and Zionism during Khalidi's brief appointment in the history department.


"I thought that Rashid was unusually skilled in talking to people who have diverse opinions on Arab-Israel matters in a way that was constantly balanced," Bulliet said, "and that's difficult to do."


Now, if Khalidi decides to return to Columbia he will have the added incentive of being the inaugural holder of an endowed chair. The anonymous nature of the chair, however, has prompted Kramer, who once dubbed Columbia the "Bir Zeit of American academe," to call for the disclosure of the identity of the chair's donors.


"Otherwise, kind reader, assume the worst: Palestine's cause has its share of unsavory advocates, and when they don't come forward, there is usually a good reason," Kramer warned in an article on his web site.


The chair, which was first conceived several years ago, is funded by about 30 donors, some of whom are American and Middle Eastern, Anderson said. Bulliet said that the last donor who gave money to make the chair a reality was a non-Palestinian alumnus who wanted to donate to the University after September 11.


"The reason why we haven't released the names of the donors ... [is that] we didn't ask them one way or another whether they cared," Anderson said. She said that the University will soon be speaking with several large donors to see if they will allow their names to be disclosed.


If donors are politically motivated in their donations, they cannot, according to University policy, specify any preference or veto power over the holders of chairs, Anderson said.


Anderson confirmed that Khalidi has been made a counter-offer by the University of Chicago. He will make his decision by the end of the semester.


Bulliet said he hoped Khalidi would re-join the faculty. "The fact that this has gotten invested in Arab-Israel politics is a real tragedy because this is not the way appointments should be judged," he said.

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