University of Chicago Professor Rashid Khalidi has accepted the Edward Said chair in Middle Eastern studies, he told Spectator yesterday. Columbia officially offered him the position last October. Khalidi, the director of the University of Chicago's Center for International Studies, will return to Columbia as the inaugural holder of the anonymously-donated chair this fall, 15 years after he left Columbia to begin his tenure at Chicago.
Khalidi described the decision as "wrenchingly difficult," because of the "wonderful friends and great colleagues" he will be leaving at Chicago.
By accepting the University's offer, Khalidi ended doubts about his likelihood of acceptance that had arisen among faculty members after three months of waiting for his response.
"The longer he waited, the more uncertain we were that he was going to come," history Professor Richard Bulliet said.
When he arrives at Columbia, Khalidi will step in as the director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, a program that organizes lectures and debates, conducts research, and seeks to inform the public about issues surrounding the Middle East.
"We were hoping to get somebody who could really reinvigorate the Middle East Institute. Rashid is probably the best scholar we could have gotten," said Vice President for Arts and Sciences David Cohen.
A Palestinian-American, Khalidi has established himself alongside Said, University professor of English, as one of the country's foremost proponents of the Palestinian cause. His views have generated controversy in recent years, especially regarding the place of politics in academia.
Khalidi's critics claim that Columbia's acceptance of the Edward Said chair, and the subsequent choice of Khalidi as recipient, reflects its support of Said's pro-Palestinian views.
Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes in the past has criticized many Columbia professors for their views.
"I think it's a problem that these universities award people with such extreme and unhealthy views with such prestigious positions," Pipes said last October.
Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly at Tel Aviv University, has suggested that the addition of Khalidi to the Columbia faculty would upset the balance of viewpoints in Middle Eastern Studies at the University. He specifically named Assistant Professor Joseph Massad of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department and Assistant Professor Nadia Abu-El Haj of the Barnard anthropology department as faculty members who share Khalidi's views.
Despite these criticisms, Khalidi has received praise from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His supporters believe this speaks toward his strengths as a teacher and scholar.
"Professors who are able to be identified with a persuasion and yet who are able to command the respect of those of every persuasion ... those are rare. He was one of those rare professors," Bulliet said when Columbia first extended its offer. Describing Khalidi's strengths, Lisa Anderson, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, cited his versatility as both a historian and an activist in contemporary issues.
"There was a consensus that Khalidi would be the best for this chair. He is highly reputed [at Columbia] and made many friends when he taught here," Anderson said in October.
Khalidi came to Columbia in 1985 after teaching at Lebanese University and American University in Beirut. He has taught in political science and history departments.
During his previous tenure at Columbia, Khalidi became friends with Said, a reason Khalidi cited for accepting the chair.
"I was certainly honored to be offered [the chair]," Khalidi said, "but the fact that it was named for Edward Said greatly influenced my decision."