Special to Outlook
“Now, we can simply lambaste someone on Twitter, and then, if they prove us wrong, we can simply delete the tweet!”
Addressing the AUB community at the Opening Ceremony of the American University of Beirut’s 152nd academic year, President Fadlo Khuri, in a one-of-a-kind speech, hit the bullseye by highlighting how easy it is to just wreck someone using the cheapness of words.
More often praised than condemned, the new administration at AUB has been toiling away with all its resources to prove transparency and start effective two-way dialogues. Yet, every now and then, an article surfaces on the web in which fingers are pointed at the administration. A particular article, to which my attention was hooked, is the one Steven Salaita wrote following his departure from AUB.
Published recently in Mondoweiss under the title of “AUB Limited”, this article is not the first of its kind. Salaita did try to seek the public’s sympathy several times before, with matters related to AUB as well as previous professional occupations.
First things first, my article is by no way an attempt at blindly defending AUB, and no, I am not writing it because I am a full time employee here. This op-ed is nothing but an invitation to a more critical analogy.
Salaita indeed showcases some exceptional talent writing long, curated, and expressive articles. It’s just that it takes more than the usage of a wide vocabulary to prove a point, if only he provides concrete evidence and examples of the plots AUB planned to shut him down. This article only tends to touch on the feelings of nationalism that are long sought out within our communities.
Salaita in his article is being offensive to the President of this university, and automatically loses credibility by turning the issue into a personal one. What does the song President Khuri wrote have to do with his problem?
Beyond that point, Salaita performs a straightforward attack when he writes: “Immediately Khuri and his vassals announced a disdain for shared governance by […] empowering reactionary mediocrities, cosseting the U.S. State Department, appointing leaders without meaningful feedback, […].”
Accusing someone who hosts regular town hall meetings, and who vigorously challenged the President of the US on his political stances on many occasions, the latest being in the same Opening Day speech of the above flaws, is thoughtless.
An “unruly” employee myself, and as a previously “oppressed” student (as Salaita put it), I can confirm that not once was the right to freedom of speech denied at AUB. AUB Outlook has always served as a venue to the voice of the Palestinian resistance. Beyond Palestinian strongholds in Lebanon, I haven’t seen a single institution (including non-profits and leftists) commemorate the Nakba like the Palestinian Cultural Club (PCC) does at AUB.
Examples of freedom of speech at AUB are endless, so much so that we have become accustomed to it, and have started taking it for granted. AUB never granted freedom of speech as a token to better its brand (seriously, haven’t you seen the students protesting?). It was always as part of its much preserved values: “the university encourages freedom of thought and expression and seeks to graduate men and women committed to creative and critical thinking, lifelong learning, personal integrity, civic responsibility, and leadership.”
Protesting failure by claiming victim of a vicious agenda seems to be taking its toll nowadays: more often than not, the only conspiracy against those people is self-made, serving as ego boosters in order not to admit that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t fit for the job.
Salaita was holding the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies, while his academic record is mainly grounded in teaching English literature courses, and writing about themes of immigration, indigenous peoples, dislocation, race, ethnicity and multiculturalism. Also, the departure of Salaita comes with the departure of many other high-ranking AUB recruits as the new administration looked over appointments.
I am not oblivious to the fact that the Palestinian cause is under-highlighted, and media giants heavily hinder it. However, you can’t insert the word Palestine every time you are looking to win the affection of the people.
On a brighter note, perhaps Salaita should consider creative writing for his future endeavor. I particularly enjoyed reading his description of Beirut at the beginning of the article.
The AUB administration is not saintly, and AUB is not sinless. However, when it comes to reforms within its institutions, it is clear that it is playing an essential role in reforming the institution. Only competent people are now in leadership positions, and this statement is verifiable by looking at the profiles of the people in power and what they are accomplishing in their positions.
Salaita may have a rightful cause, and he may not. I cannot judge due to the lack of enough evidence. All I am sure of is that AUB is not an institution with a hidden political agenda.
To all the students and alumni who strive to share negative news about AUB on the internet, perhaps digging deeper before doing so is a better idea. You had to use at least five academic resources in each paper you wrote at AUB for a reason, right?