The U.S. Army War College has suspended a widely known expert on Islamic studies partly because she had turned to the Middle East Studies Association, and threatened to contact a newspaper, with allegations that administrators there were violating her academic freedom and discriminating against her as a Muslim.
Sherifa D. Zuhur, a research professor of Islamic and regional studies in the college's Strategic Studies Institute, was suspended without pay for 10 days, effective Monday, from the Army college, in Pennsylvania, which trains both military leaders and civilians. The institute's director, Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., had notified her of her suspension in a letter last week affirming the recommendation of the institute's deputy director, Col. Louis H. Jordan Jr., that the college take disciplinary action against her.
Among the alleged misconduct Mr. Lovelace cited in his letter was a January 23 e-mail from Ms. Zuhur to Colonel Jordan, her supervisor, threatening to relay her complaints against the college—as well as letters to the college by the scholars' association and a Muslim American advocacy group to an Arab-American newspaper, the Arab Times.
Mr. Lovelace's letter supported Colonel Jordan's conclusion that the e-mail message amounted to a challenge to her supervisor's authority and "a clear threat to attempt to damage the U.S. Army War College's reputation with malicious claims and misinformation for which you can offer no support." Mr. Lovelace's letter cited several other examples of "conduct unbecoming a federal employee" and warned "should you persist in such conduct, I will propose your removal from federal service."
A spokeswoman for the Army War College, Carol Kerr, declined on Tuesday to discuss Ms. Zuhur or the actions taken against her. In an e-mailed statement, she said, "In support of our employees' privacy, it's our policy to not comment on personnel actions."
Ms. Zuhur's suspension marks the latest chapter in a long-running dispute with the Army War College, in which she has leveled a long list of allegations that the institution denies. In 2007, she filed an employment discrimination complaint with the U.S. Defense Department alleging that a student there had sexually assaulted her, that she has been unfairly denied more than a one-year renewal of her contract, that an unspecified employee of the college had orchestrated an attack on her work in the news media, and that administrators there had discriminated against her by refusing to accommodate her Muslim religious practices.
Ms. Zuhur has also accused the college of violating her academic freedom by blocking her from publishing criticisms of the Bush administration's since-debunked "weapons of mass destruction" justification for going to war with Iraq, as well as various statements regarding Israel and the Islamic Palestinian group Hamas, such as characterizations of Israel's targeted elimination of various enemies as "assassinations." More recently, she has accused an administrator of the college of harassing her in retaliation for her discrimination complaint.
Responding to an appeal by Ms. Zuhur for help, the president of the Middle East Studies Association, Mervat F. Hatem, sent the college's commander, Maj. Gen. Robert M. Williams, a letter last June urging him to investigate her complaints. The letter said Ms. Zuhur had complained of being treated in ways that may violate the college's stated policy regarding academic freedom and the standards of the college's accreditor, the Middle States Association of Colleges. (Mr. Hatem has said he never received a response.)
In a separate letter sent to the college in January, the Pennsylvania chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations relayed allegations by Ms. Zuhur that she had been a victim of religious discrimination at the college since 2005, when, she said, she had difficulty obtaining a room in which to observe her daily prayers. Among the requests it made of the Army War College in its letter, the group asked that the college adopt the council's diversity- and sensitivity-training program on Islam and Muslims for its employees, and either compensate Ms. Zuhur for not being offered the three- to five-year contract offered her peers or "provide her with an equal opportunity to attain such a contract."
Findings of 'Unprofessional Conduct'
Mr. Lovelace, the Strategic Studies Institute's director, said in his letter last month to Ms. Zuhur that he had concluded that her complaints related to academic freedom and harassment were without basis, and that he was suspending her over the college's several findings of unprofessional conduct on her behalf.
"I have never before dealt with such blatant examples of disrespect and contempt for one's supervisors and support staff," he wrote. "Nor have I encountered the level of obstreperousness you display in my 40 years as a supervisor."
Mr. Lovelace's letter accused Ms. Zuhur of making several unsubstantiated allegations against Steven Metz, chairman of the college's regional strategy and planning department. Those complaints include accusing him of bursting into her office and physically threatening her by thrusting a letter in her face so abruptly that she fainted. Mr. Lovelace's letter said the complaint led to an investigation that wasted the college's resources, because an eyewitness said she had not fainted and otherwise denied her account of the incident. "As a federal employee, researcher, and writer, you have a responsibility to report and articulate matters in an accurate and unembellished manner," Mr. Lovelace's letter said.
In a letter last month standing by her accusations against Mr. Metz. Ms. Zuhur said the institute apparently "wants to torture me for saying exactly what happened."
Mr. Lovelace's letter also accuses Ms. Zuhur of verbally abusing the college's support staff and acting unprofessionally by setting an automatic out-of-office message on her computer that included the statement: "Dr. Metz, do not continue to harass me, especially by e-mail. I am trying to work or enjoy the days off."
Ms. Zuhur was caught up in a similar struggle with a previous employer, the American University in Cairo, in 2000. In that case, she had the support of several faculty members and ended up going on a hunger strike (The Chronicle, June 9, 2000).