Newman appoints new MEC director

By Isabella Bravo, Staff Writer

After the controversial dismissals and resignations of Middle East Center leadership last spring, Humanities Dean Robert Newman selected Bahman Baktiari as the new director for the center.

Baktiari, a professor of political science at the University of Maine, accepted the offer last week to head the U’s Middle East Center in July, but he has not yet been hired by a campus department.

Hakan Yavuz, a professor of political science at the MEC, sat on the search committee that decided on Baktiari. Yavuz said Baktiari is a particularly relevant choice because of his background in studying Iran.

The center does not have a Persian scholar. With Baktiari’s addition, the MEC would have someone to cover the Turkish, Persian, Egyptian and Arab areas of the region.

The slot has been vacant since April, after Ibrahim Karawan, a professor of political science, resigned from the position. Karawan resigned in response to Newman’s dismissal of two professors, Harris Lenowitz and Peter Sluglett, from their leadership positions at the center. Both professors continue to teach courses offered by the MEC, but cannot sit on MEC committees.

Newman told The Daily Utah Chronicle in the spring that he dismissed the professors for creating a non-collegial environment at the center and for gender inequities toward female faculty, which Karawan and the professors denied. Newman was not available to comment on this article.

Before Baktiari can lead the center, he will need to hold a tenured faculty position in an academic department at the U.

Matthew Burbank, chair of the political science department, said his department is the first choice to hire Baktiari, because he has a doctoral degree in political science. Newman said the department has the option not to hire him as a faculty member.

Burbank said he is not sure what will happen if the political science department decides not to hire Baktiari.

“There could be an appointment in another department. It’s not clear,” Burbank said. “It’s just the beginning from our end.”

After a general meeting Friday, the department, political science faculty and the Board of Trustees, will begin a complex voting process to decide whether to hire Baktiari. Burbank said he expects the voting will end sometime in December.

“I don’t see any reason for rejecting him, because political science wants to improve relations with the Middle East Center,” Yavuz said. “We need someone desperately (to fill the director position) and he is a well-known scholar in his field.”

Yavuz said the committee primarily chose Baktiari for his publication record, research agenda, fundraising and public relations skills.

“He’s very sensitive to community relations. That’s something that was lacking in previous administration,” Yavuz said.

Karawan, who said he wouldn’t comment until after the meeting Friday, continues to teach at the center, concentrating on Egyptian studies.

Yavuz was reluctant to compare Karawan, the previous director, with Baktiari, but said Baktiari’s 1996 publication, Parliamentary Politics in Revolutionary Iran, put him at the head of the pack during the selection process. Baktiari’s book has become a crucial and frequently cited text in Persian and Iranian research.

“The new appointee (Baktiari) has a book,” Yavuz said. “The old director doesn’t have a book.”

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