Massad mystery at Harvard


Joseph Massad, the student-abusing extremist who’s left an indelible stain on Columbia, is back from leave to teach this semester. According to Massad, this is to be a banner year for him: in the spring, the University of Chicago Press will publish his new book, Desiring Arabs.

Wait a minute… Just last year, Massad told Columbia that Harvard University Press would publish that book. In his March 2005 statement to the Columbia ad hoc committee that investigated the charges against him, he announced proudly that “my recent work on sexuality and queer theory is also taught across the country, and a book length study on the subject is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.” The Nation, covering the Columbia controversy last year, also reported that Desiring Arabs “is forthcoming from Harvard.” (Its conclusion: such “scholarly output would seem to make him a viable candidate” for tenure.) Indeed, as far back as May 2004, Massad was telling readers of his Ahram Weekly columns that Desiring Arabs was “forthcoming from Harvard University Press.”

I don’t know what’s expected of faculty at Columbia. But in my neck of the academic woods, you don’t go around telling the world that your next book is forthcoming from Harvard, unless it’s really forthcoming from Harvard. That doesn’t mean a friendly chat with an editor in Cambridge. It means an acceptance letter, presumably based on a completed manuscript and readers’ reports. As it turns out, Massad described as “forthcoming” a book he hadn’t even finished. The Columbia Spectator reported last fall that Massad was “spending this semester in Cairo, Egypt, finishing his book on homosexuality in the Arab world.” If so, it could hardly have been “forthcoming from Harvard.” According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on academic terminology, “forthcoming” indicates that a work has been completed and accepted for publication. (“Under submission” or “under review” refers to completed work that’s been submitted but not accepted. “In preparation” describes work that’s neither been completed nor accepted.)

This isn’t nitpicking. Last spring, Columbia promoted Massad to associate professor, a rank from which he could be tenured. Did the list of publications he submitted include Desiring Arabs as forthcoming from Harvard? If so, on what basis? What went wrong for Massad at Harvard University Press? And is Chicago really going to publish the book in the spring? (It’s not on their website.)

Since Massad paraded the Harvard credential when he needed it, he should explain why it’s evaporated. And if the elusive book figured in Columbia’s promotion decision, the university should investigate Massad’s conduct–again.

Update: It’s 2007 now, and the book is on the University of Chicago Press website.

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