Newman sued for defamation

By Michael McFall, Staff Writer

Hebrew studies professor Harris Lenowitz filed a lawsuit against Humanities Dean Robert Newman on Wednesday for defaming his reputation and damaging his current and future employment opportunities.

The suit demands that Newman issue a public apology to Lenowitz and provide $5,000 in damages. The suit has been filed while Newman is being considered as a top candidate for the presidency of the University of Rhode Island.

Last spring, Newman removed Lenowitz and Peter Sluglett, a history professor, from their leadership positions in the Middle East Center because he said they created a “lack of tolerance for diversity, for gender equity and for collegiality” in the center, which he said caused some female faculty to leave the center. Newman said last April that then-MEC director Ibrahim Karawan did not oppose the removals and had actually brought some complaints to him, but Karawan resigned in protest.

“This public statement was full of highly damaging false accusations against professor Lenowitz,” according to the complaint filed by the professor’s attorney, Kathryn Wyer.

According to the lawsuit, female faculty left the center because the U failed to provide competitive salaries. Sluglett said the women left for higher-paying jobs at schools as good as the U, and that none of them spoke in disfavor of either professor.

Wyer said the the timing of the suit has nothing to do with Newman’s employment prospects. Lenowitz notified the state about the charges several weeks ago without the knowledge of the dean’s ambitions, she said.

Fred Esplin, vice president of institutional advancement at the U, said the administration fully supports Newman.

The Middle Eastern Studies Association, on behalf of Karawan, sent a letter to U President Michael Young last year requesting that the administration look into the matter, Sluglett said. Young did not reply, he said.

“If the University will not require due process before allowing a dean to ruin a professor’s reputation, it is time that someone hold him accountable,” Wyer said in a statement.

Newman previously told The Daily Utah Chronicle that his correction of a dysfunctional center would be seen as an accomplishment, not a detriment to his chances at becoming URI’s next president this fall.

“The university has every confidence that the actions taken by Dean Robert Newman in connection with the Middle East Center were taken in good faith and in furtherance of the university’s academic mission,” Esplin said.

Lenowitz and Newman did not respond to requests for comment.

[email protected]

Robert Newman