April 2, 2010

CMES quells fears, submits grant application in spite of recent firing

Students and faculty associated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) were relieved to hear it will continue to receive funding after associate director Rusty Rook (M.A. ‘96) was fired three weeks ago, although concerns remain over CMES’s independence from the University.

Dozens of CMES students and faculty took note when Rook, who was two weeks away from applying for the $2.9 million Department of Education grant that has historically provided the bulk of CMES’s funding, was asked to leave his office. Many were worried that his untimely removal signified weakening University support for the center and that the decision could put CMES in financial jeopardy.

Despite concerns, the grant was submitted with Dean of the Humanities Martha Roth’s signature and was received by the Department of Education on time, current CMES director Fred Donner said.

Students and administrators see the grant's submission as an assurance of the center’s future. “We had a kind of nervous wracking a couple of weeks ago,” Donner said. “But things are definitely settled down.”

Many CMES students are still concerned with Rook's firing, as he worked at CMES for over a decade. “He made grad school a little fun,” CMES student Chris Harvey said. “I came here to be a student, I didn’t come to jump through hoops.”

Although Rook, Donner, Roth and Dean of Social Sciences John Mark Hansen declined to comment on why Rook was fired, calling it a personal issue with confidentiality restrictions, four University deans are meeting with CMES and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations students today to discuss recent concerns.

And despite the grant's successful submission, some faculty feel that there’s still the question of the center’s independence from the rest of the University. As a national resource center, CMES is structured as an umbrella organization covering everything under its geographical region, regardless of academic discipline, Rook said. “There’s a sense that these centers are supposed to run independently,” Rook said referring to their traditional role as autonomous organizations.

According to former CMES director John Woods, this sense of independence could potentially be under pressure because of the grant’s wording and the University’s attitude toward a politically and financially independent CMES. “We’re all relieved that the grant went through,” Woods said. “But the next issue is going to be over the job description of the principal investigator,” who serves as the administrator of the grant.

Although Woods is confident Donner is the only principal investigator, he said that, if an administrator not affiliated with CMES were listed as principal investigator, CMES would lose its independence and be answerable to a “corporatized” administrative system.

But other CMES administrators feel that there is no current dispute between the center and the Humanities department that oversees it. “There’s always tension with who controls the money,” Donner said, dismissing the issue.