A leading Middle Eastern studies professor at Columbia University, Rashid Khalidi, is considering a jump to Princeton University, sources told The New York Sun.
Less than two years after Columbia recruited him from the University of Chicago to head its Middle East Institute, Mr. Khalidi has thrown his hat into the ring for the Niehaus chair in contemporary Muslim studies at Princeton and to take charge of that university's Transregional Institute, according to the sources, who are at the New Jersey school.
It's far from certain that Mr. Khalidi, who occupies the Edward Said chair of modern Arab studies, would accept a faculty position at Princeton if it were offered, as scholars frequently flirt with other schools, if only as a negotiating tactic. Indeed, Said, a Palestinian activist who taught comparative literature at Columbia beginning in the 1960s, occasionally opened up negotiations in the 1980s and 1990s with Harvard University without ever leaving Columbia. He died in 2003.
But Mr. Khalidi's interest in Princeton, coming so soon after his ballyhooed arrival in 2003, may also indicate frustration on his part with the university administration, and his bitter experience as a scholar highly critical of Israel in a city where denunciations of the Jewish state raise hackles.
Since Said's death in the fall of 2003, Mr. Khalidi, a specialist on Arab nationalism, has become perhaps the best-known spokesman in academia for the Palestinian Arab cause and a fierce critic of American government support for Israel.
Two weeks ago, the city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein, dropped Mr. Khalidi as a lecturer to public-school teachers enrolled in a professional-development program conducted in part by the Middle East Institute. The move came after the Sun reported that in the past Mr. Khalidi had made comments describing Israel's policies as racist, accusing Israel of establishing an "apartheid system in creation," and calling it appropriate for the Palestinian resistance to kill Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories.
Mr. Klein's decision triggered a furious reaction from the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, who accused the chancellor of violating "First Amendment principles" and threatened to cut off Columbia's involvement in the training program.
Earlier, however, Mr. Khalidi publicly expressed disappointment at the university's response to complaints from some Jewish students about professors in the department of Middle East and Asian languages and Cultures. Mr. Khalidi, who is in the history department and is not the subject of student complaints, described the administration's reaction as "supine," the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week, saying the professors should have been backed strongly. Mr. Bollinger instead initiated an internal faculty investigation into the allegations that the professors intimidated Jewish students.
The star professor's displeasure with Columbia's administration is reminiscent to some degree of the disaffection at Harvard of an African-American professor, Cornel West.
Mr. West had a heavily publicized feud with Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, after Mr. Summers questioned Mr. West's academic output. The professor left Harvard for Princeton.
Both Mr. West and Mr. Khalidi are seen as stars in their academic fields - whose scholarship and whose politics have attracted a fair amount of critics.
In Mr. Khalidi's case, some conservative academics have questioned the professor's tendency to lay much of the blame for problems in the Middle East on America and Israel.
Both his admirers and detractors view Mr. Khalidi's possible move to Princeton as a significant development for Columbia and the future of its Middle Eastern studies research.
"If Khalidi abandons the Edward Said chair, it'll mean that Columbia is no longer a Saidian safe house," a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Martin Kramer, said. "That's a revolution. And while Khalidi may not be the source of Columbia's fever, it'll be easier to treat it without him."
A Columbia history professor, Eric Foner, said if Mr. Khalidi leaves it would be a "serious loss" for the university. Mr. Foner, who said Mr. Khalidi is an "extremely well-regarded scholar and a beloved teacher here," said Mr. Khalidi is "getting tired" of negative news reports about him.
Mr. Khalidi, who refuses to speak to the Sun, is one of five candidates for the job. He is scheduled to deliver a lecture on Middle East democracy at Princeton at the end of the month - an academic presentation called a "job talk" that is part of the interview process.
The 11-year-old Transregional Institute, which Mr. Khalidi would be leading, was financed by a donation from a Moroccan prince, Moulay Hicham Benabdallah, an alumnus of Princeton.