A faculty panel at San Francisco State has found that the school broke its promise to the head of a fledgling program in Arab-American studies in 2006 to hire two full-time teachers for the program. But the university's president says any such promise was not binding and has vetoed the panel's decision that new teachers should be hired.
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi has struggled to maintain the program of Arab and Muslim Ethnicity and Diasporas Studies, or AMED, without the two additional faculty members she was promised by Kenneth Monteiro, then the university's dean of Ethnic Studies. But in a veto message issued Friday, SF State President Lynn Mahoney said the reported promise was inconsistent with the university's agreement with its faculty union and was therefore "unenforceable."
"Former Dean Monteiro did not have the authority to bind the University" or sidestep the collective-bargaining agreement, Mahoney said, without spelling out any inconsistencies between Monteiro's commitment and the union contract. She said university officials have "determined that AMED's current enrollments do not justify additional faculty hiring at this time."
In its Feb. 18 decision, the three-member faculty panel also agreed with Abdulhadi's claim that she was experiencing "hostility in the workplace" as a result of her long-running battle with university officials. Mahoney did not address that finding directly, but said in her decision that the fact that "SFSU has disputed and continues to dispute the enforceability and validity of (the dean's promise) does not amount to a hostile work environment."
There was no immediate comment from Abdulhadi. The teachers' union, the California Faculty Association, supports her and says she has filed an appeal of Mahoney's veto to an arbitration panel that would be jointly selected by the union and the university for a final decision in the case.
"We are fairly confident that we will win because it's (we think) pretty open and shut," James Martel, the union's campus president, said by email Tuesday.
The dispute reflects ongoing tensions about Middle Eastern studies at San Francisco State. In 2017, a group of Jewish students accused the school of encouraging anti-Semitism, citing protests that had halted a campus speech by the mayor of Jerusalem, and alleged that Abdulhadi had instigated prejudice with anti-Zionist statements. But a federal judge found no evidence of discrimination by the university and dismissed the suit in 2018.
Last year, Abdulhadi and a faculty colleague scheduled a remote classroom talk by Leila Khalid, a Palestinian activist who had taken part in an airplane hijacking in 1969, but Zoom canceled the broadcast at the urging of pro-Israel advocates. Another faculty panel found that San Francisco State had violated the teachers' academic freedom by failing to defend them, but Mahoney vetoed that decision as well.
The College of Ethnic Studies, home to the program, was the first such institution in the nation, established in 1969 after a months-long strike led by Black students protesting the absence of minorities in San Francisco State's curriculum.
The recent faculty panel ruling cited Abdulhadi's testimony that she had left a previous teaching position only after Monteiro, the Ethnic Studies dean, promised to hire two additional full-time teachers — a promise that Monteiro said had been approved by Robert Corrigan, then the university's president. Over the next decade, the panel said, SF State hired 10 new teachers for other Ethnic Studies programs but none for AMED.
"The lack of hires has resulted in intellectual isolation for Dr. Abdulhadi," the three panel members said. Although Monteiro is no longer dean, they said, "change in leadership does not revoke the promise." The panel called on the university to hire the additional teachers and to apologize to Abdulhadi.
Abdulhadi told The Chronicle after the panel decision that she felt "vindicated" and hoped Mahoney would uphold it. But Mahoney said Friday that the university had not made any binding promises to Abdulhadi or her program and was entitled to determine its own hiring policy, based on enrollment.