Rejoice! The March 2013 issue of The Blue and White is now on campus. Pick it up in Lerner, Butler, or select residence halls (or find it “online“). To honor our heritage/amorousaffair with our mother magazine, we will continue posting pieces from the upcoming issue. In this feature, mag contributors Naomi Cohen, CC ’15, and Claire Heyison, BC ’13, discuss the complexities of the tenure process at Barnard and why a beloved Barnard English professor packed off for Brown University. Want more? Catch the writers discussing the piece tonight from 9-9:30 pm on 89.9 WKCR’s “Late City Edition.”
“It’s a body blow,” says Barnard English chair Peter Platt. “But we’re big and we’re strong. We have to pick up the pieces, and we’re doing that.”
Platt is referring to the loss of former colleague Bashir Abu-Manneh, whom he helped hire in 2004—and who, in November 2012, was denied tenure by his department, effectively ending his employment at Barnard.
Illustration by Alexander Pines, CC ’16
While students were quick to voice their resentment toward the tenure decision by circulating a high-profile petition demanding his reinstatement, Abu-Manneh’s colleagues in the department have largely refused to speak on the matter. Abu-Manneh, too, declined to comment.
Abu-Manneh taught a number of courses, including Cultures of Colonialism: Israel/Palestine; Global Literature; Postcolonial Theory; and Marxist Criticism. He was the only Barnard English professor who specialized in postcolonial literatures and the only professor on campus who taught a course built exclusively around Arabic literature in translation. While Abu-Manneh’s deep engagement with Marxist theory and Israel-Palestine was new for many students, his openness and dynamism attracted students of disparate viewpoints. Abu-Manneh is remembered as having the rare ability to strike a pedagogical balance that was neither dogmatic nor apolitical.
“Atypical,” says Platt of his role in the department. “I’ve always been a big fan of his.”
As Abu-Manneh was a campus favorite, his dismissal has invited speculation regarding the tenure process led to his rejection. In all cases, candidates are evaluated along three distinct criteria: teaching, research, and service. Linda Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Barnard, stresses, “Nobody can pass the Barnard tenure process without distinguishing themselves in all three areas.”
While these three expansive categories are known, because tenure deliberations are confidential, cases often invite drama. What’s more, Barnard tenure protocol requires that candidates be reviewed first at Barnard, then at Columbia. Since every step of the process is confidential (and since there are many steps), where and why a candidate was rejected is always obscured.
According to multiple sources, Abu-Manneh was initially approved for tenure by the Barnard English department, by Barnard’s tenure committee, and, since the case went over to Columbia, presumably by President Spar.
Abu-Manneh’s dossier was then passed to the Columbia tenure committee, which recommended that the Provost reject his case. While rejection at this stage is usually final, Abu-Manneh’s colleagues appealed to the Columbia Provost to return the case to Barnard in fall 2012. These appeals are considered on the merit of “evidence of substantial scholarly growth,” or publishing.
Because he had only published one book during his eight years at Barnard, the same panel that approved Abu-Manneh once before was now backed into a corner, as a process which was once based on three criteria was now whittled down to an evaluation of his publication history.
Of the four candidates considered for tenure in 2012 at Barnard, Abu-Manneh was the sole candidate that was denied. According to Professor Frederick Neuhouser, Chair of the Philosophy department at Barnard and a close friend of Abu-Manneh’s, “after maybe years of serving Barnard and Columbia with great energy, Bashir is feeling very betrayed by the tenure process.”
But what is the process like?