University scrambles to replace Khalidi

By Tim Michaels

The departure of Rashid Khalidi, one of the University’s most prominent and controversial professors, has caused several changes in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) and the Center for International Studies (CIS).

Khalidi, the former director of the Center for International Studies and professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies, announced last January that he would leave the University and accept the Edward Said chair of Middle East studies at Columbia University. His controversial support of Palestinians in the Middle East conflict often incited fervent debate at the University.

Since Khalidi announced his departure, the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department has been unable to find a permanent replacement. However, Mark Wegner, a visiting assistant professor, has been hired to teach several Middle East history courses for the interim period.

“As we are still underway in finding a replacement for Rashid Khalidi, we hope the search will result in a nominee this spring” said Peter F. Dorman, chair of NELC.

At the CIS, Kathleen Morrison, an associate professor of anthropology, will permanently replace Khalidi as director next year. Susan Gzesh, the director of the University’s Human Rights Program, will serve as acting director for the 2003-2004 year, when Morrison is on leave at Stanford University.

Khalidi was highly active in developing diverse areas of interests at the CIS into several projects, including the Human Rights Program. As interim director, Gzesh hopes to continue to expand on what Khalidi began.

“Rashid was a wonderful historian who was engaged in the contemporary issues of our time,” Gzesh said. “He was an excellent example of an engaged public intellectual who contributed greatly to the internal and external campus debates about the Middle East conflict.”

Khalidi’s views, while controversial at times, were popular in the media, and his outspoken presence expanded the University’s public profile. Although the CIS regrets losing a valuable director, many believe that it was in this respect—as a highly vocal public figure —that Khalidi will be missed most.

“Not only did Rashid contribute to the University as a wonderful, caring teacher, but he was also an incredibly popular and powerful public speaker who inspired students to investigate contemporary issues,” Gzesh said.

Khalidi has taken ardent stances on the Unites States’s role in Iraq and Israel’s policies in the Middle East. He has expressed the view that Israel is an “apartheid system in creation,” and has called Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, “an Arab city” whose occupation by Israeli “foreigners” is “unacceptable,” according to an article published in the New York Post.

Khalidi’s intense views have caused wide criticism from students, but have also received a great deal of support from faculty members. Last year, the website labeled him “anti-Israel,” but nonetheless many believed him to be an invaluable member of the University faculty.

“Professor Khalidi was an exemplary colleague and devoted mentor to his students, and his scholarship in the field of nationalism and identity in modern Islamic states drew a number of students to our department,” Dorman said.

At times, critics confused Khalidi’s strong viewpoints with the sentiments of the entire NELC department. Some say that the department could use a more balanced faculty, with more diverse opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“[The students] know that there are truly eminent outside scholars who could add real intellectual breadth and diversity to our faculty, and they fear quite rightly that such viewpoints may be excluded from the outset,” said Charles Lipson, a professor of political science and the director of the Program for International Politics, Economics, and Security. “I certainly hope not because I believe in the ideals of a liberal university, where different viewpoints and probing debates are welcomed.”

However, NELC reiterates that they should not be viewed as advocating any particular point of view. “Our department’s role remains, I trust, one of encouraging informed discourse and independent thinking among students and faculty, and to the extent that strong-willed individuals often serve as catalysts for controversial subjects, I believe we will miss Rashid very much indeed,” Dorman said.