UPDATED: Salaita in job dispute at new post in Beirut
UPDATED Friday (4/15/16) with additional comments from American University of Beirut's president:
Steven Salaita, the professor who lost out on a tenured position at the University of Illinois because of his controversial tweets, is the subject of another job dispute, this one at the American University of Beirut.
Students at the university — where Salaita was appointed to a one-year faculty post in American studies last summer — say the school's president abruptly called off a search for a new director of the Center for American Studies and Research after Salaita was unanimously recommended for the position.
An online petition created this week by a group called Students for Salaita said the search was canceled on March 30, with Khuri citing "procedural irregularities" within the search committee. The petition demands that the committee's recommendation be respected.
The petition said students and other Salaita allies are "deeply concerned Professor Salaita is once again being wrongfully targeted for his advocacy on behalf of Palestinian self-determination."
President: 'Wholly untrue'
But in an email message to the campus, President Fadlo Khuri called the reports "wholly untrue" and "a malicious distortion of the facts involved in this case."
He said he made the decision after university leaders received several complaints from faculty members alleging conflicts of interest and misconduct in the search process.
Further consultations revealed "significant procedural violations" and administrators decided to stop the search and re-advertise the position next year, he said in the email, which was sent to The News-Gazette and other media.
Khuri said he and the school’s interim provost also met with Salaita “to explain the flaws in the search process and advised him to reapply for a permanent position.” They also proposed extending his current position for another year, the email said.
Khuri said the violations included the presence of visiting faculty with selection and voting rights on the search committee, and the potential confict of having the current director, visiting Professor Lisa Hajjar, chairing a committee to find her own successor.
Khuri said he met with Hajjar later in March "to indicate the serious nature of the allegations and
she acknowledged understanding of the fatal flaws in the process."
Hajjar told Inside Higher Education that the panel learned that the president had canceled the search the day after the recommendation to hire Salaita was discussed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Advisory Committee. She said she'd been working to get the decision reversed when the petition was posted.
In a follow-up email to The News-Gazette, Hajjar said she had not been informed, "beyond generalities, what specific irregularities the president claims prompted him to cancel the search. I have been working with AUB faculty to understand whether or not the way the search was conducted violated rules. Thus far, no one else seems to have found any irregularities, although the investigation is ongoing." She declined further comment.
800 signatures of support
As of Thursday evening, the petition had gathered more than 800 signatures, the group said in an email to The News-Gazette.
It said the cancellation of the search "illustrates the powerful presence of external pressures in the university, which come at the cost of academic freedom."
"With the absence of an investigation, and given Professor Salaita's recent termination from a tenure-track position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his pro-Palestinian political views, we fear that AUB is reproducing the trend of persecuting scholars who condemn the injustices committed in Palestine," the petition said.
But Khuri said the university "strongly supports the principles of academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the fair, transparent selection of academic positions based on merit alone and free of any hidden political agenda."
Salaita was initially hired by the UI's American Indian Studies Department in October 2013, and was to start teaching the following August. But after his angry tweets about Israel in the summer of 2014, administrators revoked the offer and trustees eventually voted against his appointment.
Salaita sued to get his job back. The UI agreed to an $875,000 settlement last fall, with Salaita promising not to seek employment at the university.