Rashid Khalidi, the celebrated historian of the modern Middle East who has become entangled in the recent controversy over Middle East studies at Columbia, may leave the University to teach at Princeton.
Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and the director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, is a candidate for a newly endowed chair in contemporary Middle East studies at Princeton, officials at that university confirmed last week. On March 31, he went to Princeton to give a "job talk," a public lecture that is normally one component in the recruitment and assessment of candidates for faculty appointments.
A noted scholar specializing in Palestinian, Syrian, and Arab nationalism, Khalidi came to Columbia's history department two years ago as a high-profile recruit from the University of Chicago. But since the announcement of his appointment, he has been a frequent target of critics who perceive a strong pro-Palestinian bias in Columbia's Middle East studies curriculum.
Just two and a half months ago, after The New York Sun reported that Khalidi has called Israel a "racist" and "apartheid" state, the New York City Department of Education dismissed Khalidi from a professional-development program in which he had been scheduled to give a lecture to public school teachers on Middle East politics.
The dismissal came at the height of this semester's divisive controversy over alleged bias and intimidation by certain Middle East studies professors at Columbia. No students, however, have publicly said they felt abused or intimidated by Khalidi, and Columbians for Academic Freedom, a group defending the students who have brought complaints, has praised Khalidi as a responsible teacher.
Khalidi would not comment on his candidacy for the Princeton job. Asked about the turmoil that has surrounded Middle East studies at Columbia this semester, he said only, "I think it's been a frustrating experience for many people."
At Princeton, news of his candidacy was already sparking disagreement last week.
The interim director of Princeton's Center for Jewish Life, Arlene Pedovitch, told The Daily Princetonian that she has received numerous phone calls and e-mails from alumni who are opposed to Khalidi's appointment. Pedovitch also said she worries that by hiring Khalidi, Princeton would renew an old image of a university hostile to Jewish students.
But Princeton officials, intent on staving off the sort of controversy that has shaken Columbia this year, said the decision on whom to hire would be based only on a professor's scholarship, not on his political views.
"We're not interested in hiring racists or bigots, but we believe in intellectual pluralism," said Jeremy Adelman, the chair of Princeton's history department, adding that he has heard "nothing but excitement" about Khalidi's candidacy.
"We'll make our decision based on his scholarship, and his scholarship right now looks very exciting," Adelman said.
A search committee at Princeton will choose one of the several finalists for the professorship, which is being endowed by and named for Robert Niehaus, a businessman and Princeton alumnus. The position is not attached to a specific department, but if Khalidi were chosen, he would take an appointment in the history department. Before he could join the department, Princeton's history department faculty would have to vote to approve the appointment