A year after he accepted the position and a semester after he began, Rashid Khalidi, the inaugural Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, has not yet escaped the controversy surrounding his new role.
Khalidi, also the director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia, has been under scrutiny for years. That scrutiny only intensified when Columbia hired him last July. Deemed too radical by his opponents and lauded as a scholarly genius by his supporters, Khalidi has faced opposition from many in his field and in the press who question the circumstances surrounding his chair.
Many challenged the initiation of an Edward Said chair, calling the recently deceased Columbia literature professor too radical. During a brief teaching stint at Columbia in the 1980s, Khalidi had befriended Said, but emphasized that "he had very little to do with the Middle East field at Columbia."
Other criticisms cite the chair's anonymous donors and a University announcement saying donor names would not be disclosed.
"The idea that there is something unusual about the 'anonymity' of the donors in this case is a complete fiction. Anonymity is the norm," said University Provost Alan Brinkley. "Very rarely is there any demand for disclosure of the names of donors," he added.
Nearly a year ago, after multiple requests, Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs Lisa Anderson said the names of donors would be released shortly. The names, however, still have not been disclosed.
Brinkley wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that the University has contacted each donor about name disclosure. "That has taken a great deal of time, but we will be releasing the names soon," he said.
Khalidi, tired of what he called "unfounded falsehoods" and "ridiculous, wild allegations," refused to comment, saying only that the business aspects of his chair should be taken up with the University's administration.
Daniel Pipes, the publisher of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Quarterly and one of Khalidi's most vocal opponents, suspects some sort of "secret deal" involving Khalidi's appointment. "He brings more left-wing and radical Palestinian rage to a faculty already suffused with such sentiments," Pipes said.
This view is disputed by one of Khalidi's own Israeli students, Seth Anziska, CC '06 and a member of Columbia's non-partisan pro-Israel group LionPAC. Anziska takes Professor Khalidi's class Orientalism and the Historiography of the Other.
"I don't think he says anything that a left-wing Israeli wouldn't," Anziska said. "Anybody who's passionately engaged brings certain baggage to the table, but he enriches the complexity of the situation with his viewpoints and scholarship."
"People who have attacked Khalidi, for whatever reason, should sit in on his class," Anziska added.
But Pipes maintains that "Khalidi's own work deeply discredits an important institution."
Anderson, who was one of the key players in recruiting Khalidi from the University of Chicago to Columbia, said that "In the long run, the more light shed on Professor Khalidi the better, since the more closely people examine him and his work, the more they appreciate it."
"What I publish is pretty hard to criticize," Khalidi added.
Khalidi came to Columbia in the 50th anniversary year of the creation of the Middle East Institute, once one of the most distinguished Middle East studies programs in the world. "We hope--indeed we are confident--that Professor Khalidi will be able to restore the former glory of this program, making it what Middle East studies should be at Columbia. He is an institution-builder," Anderson said.
Concentrating on scholarship instead of controversy, Khalidi emphasized the growth of Middle East studies. "Students understand that the world is really important," he said.