Juan Cole: Middle East Wars Flare Up At Yale





Juan Cole, one of the country’s top Middle East scholars, was poised for the biggest step of his career.

A tenured professor at the University of Michigan, Cole was tapped earlier this year by a Yale University search committee to teach about the modern Middle East. In two separate votes in May, Cole was approved by both the sociology and history departments, the latter the university’s largest.

The only remaining hurdle was the senior appointments committee, also known as the tenure committee, a group consisting of about a half-dozen professors from various disciplines across the university.

Last week, however, in what is shaping up as the latest in a series of heated battles over the political affiliations of Middle Eastern studies professors, the tenure committee voted down Cole’s nomination. Several Yale faculty members described the decision to overrule the votes of the individual departments as “highly unusual.”

The reasons behind the rejection remain unknown; several calls to a Yale spokeswoman went unreturned.

But university insiders say that the uncharacteristic rebuff may have been influenced by several factors, central among them the political commentary Cole writes on his blog, “Informed Comment.” They also contend that Cole’s nomination was torpedoed mainly by senior professors in both departments who were concerned with Cole’s controversial persona.

Often favoring a pugilistic tone and consistently criticizing Israel’s policies in the West Bank, Cole has attracted a visibility that has made him a favorite target of several conservative commentators.

When Cole’s potential hiring became publicly known, several of his detractors, including the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin and Washington Times columnist Joel Mowbray, took various steps to protest the decision. They wrote op-ed pieces in various publications and Mowbray went as far as to send a letter to a dozen of Yale’s major donors, many of whom are Jewish, urging them to call the university and protest Cole’s hiring.

Cole, while refusing to comment on the tenure committee’s vote, told The Jewish Week he believes that “the concerted press campaign by neoconservatives against me, which was a form of lobbying the higher administration, was inappropriate and a threat to academic integrity.

“The articles published in the Yale Standard, the New York Sun, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, and the Washington Times, as part of what was clearly an orchestrated campaign, contained made-up quotes, inaccuracies, and false charges,” he said. “The idea that I am any sort of anti-Jewish racist because I think Israel would be better off without the occupied territories is bizarre, but I fear that a falsehood repeated often enough and in high enough places may begin to lose its air of absurdity.”

“The issue is complicated,” according to one Jewish official at the University of Michigan who asked not to be named, “because Cole is seen as a scholar who does not intimidate students in class with his Mideast views, but has an appalling Web site, highly critical of Israel. So what are the boundaries of outside behavior affecting academic decisions?”...


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Amin Ali Golmohamad - 6/8/2006

Juan Cole may very well be qualified for the position he has been denied. It is possible to hypothesise that his different views have led to personal interests interfering with sound judgement.

It is not illegal to criticise Israel, nor is it illegal to criticise France. It may also be more balancing to have views from more than one perspective. However, the Yale institution may probably have a preference for people whose views are not controversial or likely to conflict with those of the established employees.

Subscribe to our mailing list