Last year, Rashid Khalidi came to Princeton to deliver a job talk. His aim: to win the newly-established Robert H. Niehaus ’77 Professorship of Near Eastern Studies and Religion. He didn’t get it. Last month, Princeton announced the appointment of Muhammad Qasim Zaman, a McGill-schooled specialist on Islam from Brown University.
But Khalidi, it turns out, has friends in Princeton’s history department, and they began to push for his appointment there. People tell me that Jeremy Adelman, chair of the department, bulldozed Khalidi through the history faculty (against opposition), and a favorable recommendation has gone up to the so-called Committee of Three (the Faculty Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements). Its recommendation will go to the university president.
An odor arises from this procedure, on this account: the department didn’t conduct a search. In very rare cases, involving candidates of immense distinction, university departments do recruit without searches. But Khalidi doesn’t have such standing, and the proof has already been provided by Princeton itself, which passed him over for the Niehaus Chair.
So Khalidi’s admirers in Princeton are already dropping the university to the abject level of Columbia, which brought him to the Edward Said Chair without a search. One suspects that these admirers know that if a search were conducted, Khalidi might not make the cut, and so they’ve chosen the back-door route.
Until now, I’ve always regarded Princeton as a more demanding setting than Columbia (and I’m an alumnus of both). Columbia has a culture of cutting corners and under-the-table dealing, in which friend recruits friend. This is why it exploded in scandal less than two years ago. Princeton’s history department now seems to have been infected with the same virus. I urge the Committee of Three at Princeton to hold the line against this latest assault on the university’s integrity. The way is simple: it should send Khalidi’s file back, and insist on a publicly-announced search for the position.