Karawan resigns over Middle East Center dismissals

By Rochelle McConkie

Ibrahim Karawan, director of the Middle East Center, announced his resignation yesterday before a lecture at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Karawan said he is resigning because two of his colleagues were forced out of the center by Dean Robert Newman of the College of Humanities.

“They were basically moved out of the center, not according to what they wanted, and moved to other departments,” Karawan said.

He questioned whether the action was justified and what the impact will be on the governing structure of the center and its ability to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

Newman was not available for comment.

Peter Sluglett, a professor of Middle Eastern history, and Harris Lenowitz, a professor in Hebrew, both received letters from Newman informing them that they could continue teaching but would no longer be able to hold leadership positions in the center. Sluglett and Lenowitz both have joint appointments in the center and their departments — history and languages and literature, respectively — and both teach cross-listed courses.

Lenowitz said Newman first contacted him for a meeting, but sensing what the meeting would be about, he wrote back asking if he could bring his lawyer. Newman said he would not meet with them.

On March 13, Lenowitz said he received a letter from Newman that read: “It has come to my attention that you have contributed consistently toward creating an atmosphere in the Middle East Center that lacks collegiality and can no longer be tolerated.”

Sluglett said he also received this letter, but he doesn’t think other faculty members have any problems with his behavior.

“The dean has never to my knowledge consulted my colleagues to see if I’m as beastly as he says I am,” Sluglett said.

Sluglett said there are “personality differences” between him and the dean and they have had academic disagreements over appointments, but he should not be victimized for this.

Lenowitz said there were more extensive and “dubious” accusations against Sluglett than against him, but Sluglett would not say what they were.

Shortly after Karawan heard of Lenowitz’s and Sluglett’s removal, he resigned. His associate director, Peter von Sivers, also resigned.

Sluglett said Karawan left his directorship because the letter from Newman said the action was done with Karawan’s agreement, among other people.

“If there was any truth in this, then why has Karawan resigned?” Sluglett questioned.

Karawan was unavailable for additional comment.

Lenowitz has been working with the center since 1972 and now chairs the executive committee of the center. Sluglett directed the center from 1994 to 2000, until Karawan took over.

Lenowitz said he will do everything in his power to keep his original contract of belonging half to the department of languages and literature and half to the center.

“He’s a dictator,” Lenowitz said of Newman.

Steve Ott, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science, said he would be worried about losing Karawan, who is jointly appointed in political science and the center. Karawan has been a top Middle East scholar for the U and the center, which receives the largest U.S. Department of Education grant for Middle East centers in the nation.

Ott has worked with Karawan extensively in a partnership with Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, where Karawan has taught a course in Abu Dhabi via a two-way television.

“I think he’s a tremendous asset in the university,” Ott said. “In the post 9/11 world, in the turmoil and fear, he quickly took a leadership role in the university in trying to prevent unwarranted backlashes.”

Ott said Karawan has received a number of offers from other universities but has declined them. Ott said he is worried this could undermine Karawan’s confidence in the U.

“Something like this could change his mind,” Ott said.

This situation might have angered him, but he doesn’t see Karawan leaving impetuously, Ott said.

Karawan, Sluglett, Lenowitz and Ott all questioned whether Newman has the authority to remove these professors from the center.

Newman has appointed an interim team to run the center until new leaders are determined, Ott said.

At the Hinckley Institute, Karawan told students and faculty in the audience that there had been a “flood of reaction” about moving the professors. He expressed pride in the center and its accomplishments.

“When I was in Washington last week, the Department of Education wanted to find an example of diverse, thoughtful lectures…and they looked to the U and the Middle East Center,” Karawan said. “I am very proud. I wish my successor, whenever that person is to be identified, to be even more successful in that regard.”

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Tyler Cobb

Director of the Middle East center, Ibrahim Karawan, resigned Wednesday after two of his colleagues were questionably removed.