Undergraduate and graduate students have written two petitions and personal letters to university administration and department heads in protest of the non-renewal of Michael Barry's contract to teach at the university as an experienced lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies next academic year.
Barry has taught at the University for a total of 12 years. According to Barry, his contracts with the University would occasionally be for two- or three-year periods, and they were continuously renewed.
The first petition was circulated through email listservs last week and has since been signed by 280 students, according to Asmod Karki '16, who signed the petition and is currently enrolled in Barry's class on later Sufism. The petition is addressed to University President Christopher Eisgruber '83, Dean of Faculty Deborah Prentice and Chair of the Near Eastern Studies Department Muhammad Zaman.
Zaman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Prentice noted that she was not in a position to clear up circulating rumors.
"My office is not allowed to comment on personnel matters of any kind. However, I can say that I have received many letters of support for Professor Barry and have been gratified to hear about his positive impact on the lives of current and past students," Prentice said.
Prentice added that she never said that Barry would or would not be returning next semester, and that commenting on the matter would be a violation of the privacy of the individuals involved.
Ariana Mirzada '18 said that when she found out that the department had not decided to offer Barry's course on Afghanistan and Great Powers, she, together with Hassan Ejaz '18, organized a second petition, specifically requesting that NES 307: Afghanistan & the Great Powers, 1747-2001 be restarted next spring with Barry as the continued lecturer. She said that this petition has accumulated over 150 signatures and has been sent to the NES department, as well as Prentice and Eisgruber.
"The lack of transparency regarding this matter is honestly shocking to me. I'm not sure how anyone could have expected for students to passively accept Dr. Barry's dismissal. He is loved and admired by many students. This isn't something that can be swept under the rug," Mirzada said.
"In the past, NES 307 has been one of the most popular classes in the NES department. The seats in the class have been filled, if not overenrolled, almost every semester that it has been taught. In addition, the course has had great ratings on EasyPCE and TigerHub," the petition read.
While most classes in the NES department have between 6 and 190 students, Barry's class NES 354: Granada and the Fall of Spanish Islam currently has 118 students enrolled and his other class, NES 324: Introduction to Later Sufism, has 172 students enrolled.
She added that Prentice replied two weeks ago saying that she would respond to the letter, but has not yet done so.
More than 80 alumni have expressed interest in participating in Barry's defense through both letter-writing and other avenues, Kelly Roache '12 GS '15 said.
"On a personal level, his investment, empathy, perceptivity as an advisor are rare and praiseworthy amid the breakneck pace of a place like Princeton," she said.
An additional letter, co-written by 18 students who are majoring in the NES department, was published in the 'Prince' as a letter to the editor on Wednesday.
"We strongly protest the impending dismissal of Dr. Barry from the Princeton faculty. Dr. Barry is a tremendous asset to the University, as well as a leading expert in his field," the letter read. "His loss would be irreplaceable and his dismissal, just two years from retirement, decidedly unjust... Above all else, Dr. Barry exemplifies Princeton's commitment to undergraduate teaching."
All of the groups involved in writing these petitions and letters said that Barry was not in any way involved in the making of these documents.
Barry said the NES administration and Nassau Hall told him that the reasons for his non-renewal had nothing to do with his teaching performance. Instead, the reasons had more to do with the department's future hiring plans and the administration's expressed interest in hiring a "junior person, at entry level."
According to Barry, the only issue that has been raised about his teaching by the administration was that he had been too generous in giving out As.
"I'm sorry these students have produced such extraordinary work that I can't look them in the eye and not give them below the A level," he said in response.
Barry noted that according to procedures of administration, decisions regarding the dismissal or hiring of faculty usually belong to a departmental head, with approval from the Dean of the Faculty.
Near Eastern Studies concentrator Preston Lim '17 said that Barry's class on Afghanistan is likely popular because of the topic's relevance to modern day international relations. He added that people are likely drawn to his classes on Sufism and Spanish Islam because people have heard about how life-changing the classes are, based on how Barry approaches the material and draws connections.
Mirzada said that as an Afghan-American, she is forever grateful for Barry's selflessness and influence on her course of study and her career path.
"Dr. Barry has inspired me and he restores my faith in humanity's goodness," she said.
"All I can say is that the consequences of the decision that is being taken now are going to affect my personal life very badly. But I cannot allow that in anyway to affect the quality, if it such, of teaching that I give to my students, or the quality of the written work that I publish regularly. I cannot allow that, because it's one's backbone, it keeps one standing, alive," explained Barry.
Mirzada said that the Princeton Muslim Advocates for Social Justice will be holding an informational table in the Frist Campus Center on Friday for those who would like to write a letter in solidarity with Barry. She explained that these letters will be delivered to the NES department and to Nassau Hall, with the hope that upper level administration will be able to override Barry's dismissal from the NES department.
Min Pullan, University Media Relations Specialist, said that decisions to make a term appointment or renew an appointment at the end of a term are made on a case-by-case basis.
The last time that the university was publicly implicated in the question of the dismissal of faculty was in 2011, when Antonio Calvo, a senior lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages, committed suicide, after he had been suspended for 'improper conduct' and put on trial for his contract not to be renewed.