As a fellow U of C student, I can empathize with the difficulties Tim Michaels faces trying to write a comprehensive, informative, and engaging article about the recent departure of Rashid Khalidi while coping with classes and midterms ("University Scrambles to Replace Khalidi," 10/20/03). But I still feel his article falls far short of covering the debate around Khalidi and his new position.
Michaels' assertion that "Khalidi's views, while controversial at times, were popular in the media, and his outspoken presence expanded the University's public profile" could also apply to Leopold and Loeb. "Popular" and "expanded the University's public profile" merely mean that Khalidi's pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli speeches were covered widely in the news. That these are positives is something Michaels implies but doesn't substantiate in his article. I question the
Perhaps Khalidi's views don't lead to debate and instead lead to polarization or even serve to create a hostile environment for those who end up on the wrong side of the issue and must work or study under a professor on the other side. Debate is healthy in academia, but polarization is anathema. This appears to be political science professor Charles Lipson's point in his quote calling attention to the issue of faculty's views potentially creating a climate of fear where alternative viewpoints may be excluded. Ironically, it is unclear if Lipson meant excluding Khalidi's views or those of his opponents. Of course that raises the question of whether there is a dearth of professors who share Khalidi's views in NELC and the U of C. It certainly would not appear so from Michaels' article.
Clearly Michaels has read www.campuswatch.org; after all, he cites their negative rating of Khalidi in the article. But it appears he neglected to read the article covering Khalidi's assumption of the Edward Said Professorship at
The issue of whether they further diversity and probing debate, or further unbalance a department is not taken up in Michaels' article. The final quote from Joseph Dorman addresses this obvious concern with diversity, however, it reads to me like a product disclaimer—something readers wink at because they know it's only there to avoid lawsuits. "Our department's role remains, I trust, one of encouraging informed discourse and independent thinking among students and faculty, and to the extent that strong-willed individuals often serve as catalysts for controversial subjects, I believe we will miss Rashid very much indeed."
Again this limp praise for Khalidi's role is applicable to virtually any polarizing figure. Wouldn't Osama Bin Laden also represent a strong-willed individual who serves as a catalyst for controversial subjects? Of course he would, but I sure wouldn't want to take a class from him. I have deliberately avoided another recitation of Khalidi's anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian views as he's expressed them publicly. The point is not that he has these views, which is all his defenders seem to be focusing on, but why his appointment to a department where everyone holds these views furthers debate. That our own U of C professors immediately employ this same argument in defense of Khalidi makes it relevant here as well, especially since the lack of such diversity in NELC at the U of C has received similar criticism. Lipson makes a strong case for the importance of a diversity of scholarly opinion and the need for probing debates on controversial issues, so why aren't the presence or absence of such diversity and debate themselves the main issues here? It's a cop-out to focus the argument on the merits of campuswatch.org's mission or how one feels about Khalidi.
The real argument is whether Khalidi really served the beneficial role that all such controversial academics supposedly serve; that of creating a diversity of opinion within their departments, fostering probing debates that further academic understanding of an issue and acting as catalysts for that debate to occur at all.
Further, if Khalidi performed this service here, was it really beneficial and to what degree if any does the controversial nature of an academic or department's views detract from the values of a university? Michaels had a tough subject to cover in one article, and he did an admirable job, but there's a lot more to say on this topic and the article does not begin to go far enough. There's no more important topic in academia than the issue of diversity of opinion and debate—cornerstones of U of C values–yet they are barely raised in the article. Especially considering that the article was focused on the need to fill Khalidi's position, what better time to consider exactly these questions.
These are issues the Maroon has taken on before, notably last year's commentary on politicizing the classroom and faculty ideologies centering on Khalidi and the faculty furor over campuswatch.org. How about a return to this debate now that Khalidi has left and we've had a year to consider the issue?