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Statement in Opposition of the Denial of Tenure for Prof. Bashir Abu-Manneh

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Statement from the Students of Barnard and Columbia in Opposition to the Denial of Tenure for Professor Bashir Abu-Manneh

Re: President Debora Spar

Provost and the Dean of the Faculty, Linda A. Bell

Chair of the Department of English, Peter Platt

Barnard prides itself on being an institution of empowerment. Each Barnard student strives to become the quintessential “strong and beautiful Barnard woman” she is constantly reminded of in her own way. For many, it is through the intellectual rigor and academic challenges she overcomes through her coursework. For others, it is the way in which her prejudices and beliefs are provoked, and the extent to which her classes drive her to self-reflection. For some it is through the forum of free speech, safe spaces and engagement that Barnard allows, and the fact that any topic, no matter how controversial, is open for discussion and probing. And for others yet, it is the extent to which Barnard drives her to engage with her community and make a difference.

None of this would be possible without the tutelage, mentorship and encouragement of the faculty, administration and staff. In my own case, and the case of countless fellow students, none of this would have been possible without Prof. Bashir Abu-Manneh. Through the classes he teaches, and the tireless mentorship and support he offers his students, it would be an understatement to say that Prof. Abu-Manneh embodies each of the empowering aspects of a Barnard education. My own experience at Barnard would hardly have been the same without him, and in many ways, having him as a teacher and a mentor has itself defined for me what it means to be a Barnard student. To this extent, it both saddens and disillusions me to learn that Prof. Abu-Manneh has been denied tenure. It is a shame and a loss for the College and future students that Barnard will lose a Professor who not only embodies academic excellence, but more importantly, a Professor who is unequivocally dedicated to empowering his students. This administrative decision calls into question my entire perception of Barnard as an institution, and its dedication to these modes of empowerment. The decision to reject tenure for Prof. Abu-Manneh does not reflect his value as a scholar or educator. Rather, it raises serious concerns about the transparency and priorities of the tenure process, and the English department at Barnard. It also calls into question the value Barnard places on academic integrity, intellectual freedom and diversity, as well as teaching and mentorship, which are the primary resource for its students.

Prof. Abu-Manneh, through his innovative and thought-provoking classes in the English Department renewed my interest in studying literature, and allowed me to pursue my field of economic history through the window of literature and postcolonial theory. The fact that Prof. Abu-Manneh could appeal through his classes to English majors as well as Economics, Biology, History, and other majors alike is at the heart of what it means to study at a liberal arts college like Barnard. Prof. Abu-Manneh’s classes taught me to approach literature from within the larger framework of socioeconomic and political forces. He taught me that literature fills in the crevices within historical narratives that no academic article or treatise could ever really touch upon.

Any student who takes a class with Prof. Abu-Manneh will attest to the fact that he is devoted to his students in a way that illustrates what it really means to view teaching as an investment. Abu-Manneh’s classes are the kind one remembers as that one class that really changed the way you critically approached the world around you. During his office hours, Prof. Abu-Manneh generally has no less than 4 to 5 students outside his office, waiting to take advice on classes they are taking with him, but also to seek advice on other academic issues and curiosities. His approachability, his willingness to devote as much time as each student needs to discuss ideas or seek support, and his genuine care and desire to push each student to reach his/her potential is what makes his office hours such a popular hub for his students. In many ways, Prof. Abu-Manneh’s office provides a safe haven of guidance, encouragement, and intellectual engagement for students from both Barnard and Columbia.

As dynamic of a presence Prof. Abu-Manneh has had within Barnard, he is equally an asset to Columbia University as a whole. Apart from Barnard’s English Department, Prof. Abu-Manneh has been an integral member of the Film Studies Department, the Africana Studies Department and the Center for Palestine Studies. Prof. Abu-Manneh has helped organize various important events for students, like Noam Chomsky’s lecture on the monopolar trajectory of globalization, a lecture series on the history of capitalism, and a conference on the Arab Spring earlier this year. Prof. Abu-Manneh, through the events he organizes, the books he writes and the classes he teaches has been able to address controversial topics with the intellectual rigor and objectivity that empowers his students with the tools to analyze these issues without apprehension. It would be a shame to see this forum that Abu-Manneh has created and the confidence he gives his students to go to waste.

As Barnard and Columbia students and alumni who have been affected in one way or another by Prof. Abu-Manneh, we feel disempowered and alienated by this decision. Edward Said once said, “For all its often noted defects and problems, the American university— and mine, Columbia, in particular is still one of the few remaining places in the United States where reflection and study can take place in an almost utopian fashion." The ‘utopian fashion’ Said discusses in this quote refers to the openness and freedom within Columbia University, which enabled and cultivated academic innovation and integrity. I contend that rejecting Prof. Abu-Manneh’s tenure will greatly compromise this “utopia,” and that this administrative decision is antithetical to both Barnard and Columbia’s proclaimed institutional values. This decision will result in an immense loss to Barnard College, and to Columbia University as a whole. Most importantly however, the groups with the most to lose with this decision are the Barnard and Columbia students who have and could have been instructed and mentored by a truly inspirational and empowering educator. As students, we oppose this decision vehemently, and we beseech the English Department and the administration to reconsider the gravity and implications this decision has on the University’s commitment to intellectual freedoms, diversity, and teaching.


Nancy Elshami Barnard College '10

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