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Dean quiet about Karawan’s resignation

By Rochelle McConkie

Dean Robert Newman of the College of Humanities issued a statement Wednesday saying he would not comment on the resignation of Middle East Center Director Ibrahim Karawan, which followed Newman’s dismissal of two faculty members from leadership positions in the center.

Newman said in the statement, “Unfortunately, the changes being made in the Middle East Center deal with personnel issues, which should rightly remain private to protect those involved, and about which I simply can’t comment.”

Newman went on to say that he intends to “continue to build a Middle East Center that is collegial, collaborative and teaches our students that leadership is tied to integrity.” He said that the college has implemented governance procedures that will “sustain and enhance the center” and they are beginning the process of choosing a new director.

Karawan informed Newman of his resignation after Peter Sluglett, a professor of Middle Eastern history, and Harris Lenowitz, a professor in Hebrew, received letters from Newman informing them that they could continue teaching but would no longer be able to hold leadership positions in the center. Karawan listed three reasons for leaving: 1) the decision to move the faculty members would lead to legal problems and raise issues on a legal level, 2) negative attention caused by the incident would not benefit the center, and 3) opposition from faculty as a result of the incident would not “just fade away.”

“The noise might take precedence over issues of developing the center, and I thought the noise would become unavoidable,” Karawan said.

Students have expressed disappointment in Karawan’s resignation, some writing letters to administrators in response to the action.

“It’s a big blow to the prestige of the Middle East Center — it will be hard to find an adequate replacement of someone of the same stature of Ibrahim Karawan,” said Kristian Alexander, a political science graduate student who works with Karawan. “He is a man of integrity, both as a person and an administrator.”

Nicholas Barker, a student in Karawan’s advanced Arabic class, wrote an e-mail to U President Michael Young in response to the resignation. In the e-mail he praised Karawan, saying he remembers a time when The New York Times opinion columnist and Middle East specialist Tom Friedman spoke at Kingsbury Hall following Sept. 11 and attributed his visit to requests “from his good friend Ibrahim” that he make an appearance at the U.

“It is largely due to Karawan’s hard work that the U has consistently garnered federal funding for the Middle East Center since his appointment as its chair,” Barker said.

In all of his dealings with Karawan, Barker said he has never known him to become frustrated.

“For Dean Newman to have drawn the ire of such a patient, good-humored and intelligent individual is surely indicative that somewhere in his dealings with Dr. Sluglett and Dr. Lenowitz, Newman acted inappropriately,” Barker said.

Karawan said Newman met with him personally to discuss actions toward Sluglett and Lenowitz, who both have joint appointments in the center and their departments — history and languages and literature, respectively — and both teach cross-listed courses.

In the meeting, Karawan said the dean asked for his assessment, but Karawan did not recommend dismissing the faculty members.

“I understood my role clearly — I was consulted, the person making the decision was seeking to hear my assessment, and I gave it,” Karawan said. “All the time I was aware the ultimate decision was the dean’s.”

Karawan said the dean did go through the U Division of Human Resources and Office of Diversity for an investigation, but Karawan was concerned because he had not been informed of the outcomes of these inquiries.

“I could not claim to give a profound assessment,” Karawan said.

Karawan said the center should not be continually caught up in investigations of claims that could have been settled years ago instead of “leaving it suspended in midair over the head of all those concerned” and leaving the center vulnerable to unclear outcomes.

He decided to announce his resignation to students before a lecture at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Tuesday in order to not mislead them. He introduced himself as the “former” director of the center.

Karawan said he has not left the center and will still be a part of it as a professor. Both Sluglett and Lenowitz also plan to continue to teach.

Karawan said Newman has been supportive of the center.

“Undoubtedly he did render support. Was it all what some colleagues of mine wanted? No,” Karawan said. “It is painful to me what is happening. I had a very good relationship with Dean Newman…and all of my colleagues knew that.”

Brad Dennis, a first-year graduate student in Middle Eastern studies, said he has worked with Karawan and Sluglett is his adviser.

“I am disappointed in the friction between the dean and Sluglett and other professors,” Dennis said. “This interdepartmental conflict…will end up hurting the center unless changes are made.”

Dennis said he thinks Newman should have given greater recognition to the decision-making abilities of Karawan and the Middle East Center.

“Karawan is one of the main reasons why the Middle East Center is so highly ranked and Sluglett is definitely one of the foremost scholars on Iraq in the whole nation,” Dennis said. “They’re one of the reasons I’m here.”

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