Debate over Khalidi candidacy grows

From the archive (legacy material)

Chanakya Sethi | Daily Princetonian | 28 April 2005

The potential appointment of a professor embroiled in the recent controversy over Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University has polarized some members of Princeton’s Jewish community.
Last month, Wilson School professor and Center for Jewish Life (CJL) board member Stanley Katz wrote a sharply critical email to Arlene Pedovitch ’80, the CJL interim director, about her previous public comments regarding Rashid Khalidi.
Khalidi, director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute and a prominent historian, is being considered for Princeton’s new Robert Niehaus ’78 chair in contemporary Middle East studies.
“In the first place, I don’t think the CJL has or should have a position on an academic appointment in this university,” Katz, a former CJL board president, said in his email. The message, which was leaked to The New York Sun and first reported by them April 26, was also addressed to Hank Farber GS ’77, the current CJL board chair.
In an April 22 story, Pedovitch told The Daily Princetonian that alumni had complained to her about Khalidi’s possible appointment, concerned about “hiring an individual who has a political agenda rather than a scholarly approach to history.”
In his message, Katz wrote: “The difficulty, as even the benighted [Columbia president] Lee Bollinger has figured out, is with professors who do not distinguish their political agendas from their scholarship. Rashid has not done that in my view, and to suggest that he has, as Arlene is quoted as doing, is either inaccurate or politically motivated or both.”
“If CJL wants to turn Princeton into Columbia, I want nothing more to do with it,” he added.
Katz’s message, as well as Pedovitch’s response to it, were obtained by the ‘Prince.’ Katz, Pedovitch and Farber all denied releasing the messages to the press, and they declined to comment further or to confirm that the messages obtained were accurate.
Earlier this month, Columbia released a 24-page report concerning allegations of anti-Semitism on its campus. Though Khalidi was not the subject of the report, he has been associated with the professors who were being investigated, and he has been at the center of the politicized battle over Middle Eastern studies at Columbia. He is often portrayed by critics as a staunch pro-Palestinian advocate.
Khalidi has repeatedly declined to comment on his candidacy for the Princeton position.
Jeremy Adelman, chair of the history department — where Khalidi would be a member if he were offered the position — has repeatedly said that a consideration of Khalidi’s politics is not part of the search process.
“We make all of our appointments on the basis of academic merit and scholarship,” Adelman said. “And what people’s political persuasions might be are immaterial.”
“We have conservatives, radicals, all kinds. It’s a big place. And, if we started to be close-minded, we could watch our rankings slide pretty systemically,” he added.
President Tilghman affirmed Adelman’s assertion that the University does not pay attention to politics in deciding whom to hire, though she said the administration listens to alumni concerns.
She also called for distinguishing between claims of anti-Semitism and a pro-Palestinian perspective. “These are not the same things, and we would treat them very differently as an issue for our faculty,” she said. “Political views are simply not relevant to our deliberations on faculty appointment and promotion, but overt racial, ethnic or religious discrimination and harassment is not tolerated.”
In her comments, Pedovitch implied that the University’s fundraising efforts could be hurt if Khalidi were appointed. Recently-elected U-Councilor Jonathan Elist ’07, who planned to organize a petition against Khalidi, said he expected Jewish student enrollment would drop if the appointment went ahead.
The public comments by Pedovitch and Elist have sparked a vigorous debate among Jewish members of the campus community. While some support the statements made by Pedovitch and Elist, others argue that it is not the place of the CJL to involve itself in academic affairs.
In a letter to the ‘Prince,’ CJL Board president Farber, speaking for himself, wrote that, “There is no legitimate place in this process for a vetting of a candidate’s political views unless these views inappropriately affect his or her teaching or scholarly work.”
In her response to Katz, Pedovitch said she made the comments after the issue was discussed at the CJL’s last board meeting. She also stood by her statements.
“I and many, many others do feel that such an appointment makes a political statement by Princeton University and that this statement will [affect] Jewish enrollment at Princeton,” she wrote in her message to Katz.
But Katz defended the right of a scholar to have strong political views.
“I don’t know how well-versed in Rashid’s scholarship Arlene is, but I think the statement is totally inaccurate as to his scholarship,” Katz wrote in his email to Pedovitch and Farber. “As to his ‘political agenda,’ of course — and why not?”
“Many of us have political agendas and it is good for the democracy that we do,” he added.