Students, alumni and professors have banded together to petition Georgetown’s July decision to deny tenure to the School of Foreign Service’s assistant professor of Arab politics Samer Shehata.
Ebie DuPont (GRD ’06) created the petition, which she submitted to University President John J.DeGioia Feb. 11 with 255 signatures after learning of the university’s decision.
DuPont, who is based in Cairo, found out about the decision when she was visiting Washington in January and spoke to Shehata, who told her he was leaving Georgetown after being denied tenure in July and then unsuccessfully appealing the committee’s decision in September, learning of his second denial in November.
“He was denied tenure. People were shocked,” DuPont said. “He appealed it and had full support from the faculty.”
Several faculty members from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies lent their support to Shehata’sappeal. Former CCAS Director Michael Hudson wrote a personal letter in response to Shehata’s denial.
Associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at New York University Arang Keshavarziansaid he was upset by the committee’s decision to deny Shehata tenure.
“I was also saddened for my own field of Middle East politics that doesn’t support the type of original, refined research exhibited in Samer’s publication,” Keshavarzian said. “His scholarly work, in terms of his political engagements and his willingness to dialogue with journalists is admirable. Samer strove to offer a deep understanding of Egyptian politics to as broad an audience as possible. He has gone a long way in achieving this objective.”
“Denying Samer Shehata tenure is unjust and wrongheaded,” DuPont said. “It is an unbelievable judgment when you consider his record, which is superior on several levels to many other successful applicants in recent years.”
Among other accomplishments, Shehata was instrumental in establishing the Qatar Arabic Scholarship Program and the Qatar Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at CCAS.
“Together, both programs have brought hundreds of thousands of dollars to Georgetown and have created countless opportunities for students to critically engage with the Arab world,” Shehata said of his work.
Keshavarzian added that Shehata’s research was particularly significant in the wake of the Arab Spring.
In addition, Shehata emphasized his scholarly accomplishments outside of Georgetown.
“Because of my scholarship and expertise, I have frequently been asked to share my knowledge with senior U.S. government, World Bank and [International Monetary Fund] officials; civil society leaders, the policy community and the media,” Shehata said.
The petition stresses that Shehata’s work focuses on the contemporary Arab world, which is an explicit goal of CCAS in seeking to differentiate itself from other Middle East Studies programs.
DuPont pointed to Shehata’s proven excellence in teaching evaluations and student responses to his courses. According to DuPont, Shehata received an evaluation of 4.8 out of 5.0 in the ‘overall evaluation of instructor’ category for both “Egypt: Authoritarianism to Revolution” and “Contemporary Politics of the Middle East” in fall 2012.
“This was his score despite the stresses he has been going through for the last six months, having been rejected for tenure after more than a decade of service to the university and its students,” DuPont said.
Laci Barrow (GRD ’12) praised Shehata’s teaching and work.
“He has fantastic balance of scholarly, pedagogic and outreach,” she said. “His activities are so well balanced and in each of his activities he is so present and really engaging that its hard to find someone that has the combination of people skills and also teaching skills, pedagogic skills and who can also be representative of the university and can articulate political issues that the public can grasp.”
DuPont added that it is impossible to speculate on the reasons for the university’s denial because of the opacity of the tenure decision process.
“From my perspective, I can’t imagine the reason to deny him tenure. These decisions are not transparent.”
Graham Griffiths (GRD ’13) said losing Shehata will negatively impact the CCAS, which has been in a transition period.
“There has been quite a bit of turnover in the past couple of years, a couple of professors have left for retirement and other reasons and they’ve had difficulty hiring replacements to fill a couple people,” Griffiths said. “From a student perspective, its a lot of disruption to the center to have this high turnover of faculty, especially faculty like Professor Shehata.”
Diana Shin (GRD ’12) took two classes with Shehata and worked as his research assistant during the 2010-2011 academic year.
“I think he is a very dedicated teacher. He is the type of teacher who would Skype in while he was doing fieldwork monitoring parliamentary elections in Egypt for his classes here, and I don’t think many professors would do something like that,” she said. “He has done an incredible amount of service for CCAS and Georgetown. And just his name, ‘Samer Shehata,’ has been associated with CCAS for a decade now and just to lose that person is just a great loss for CCAS and for Georgetown.”
Shehata said that he was moved by the outreach from his students.
“I am extremely touched by the efforts of my former students and other Georgetown alumni,” Shehata said. “One of the great joys of teaching here has been the opportunity to interact with exceptionally bright students who are intellectually curious, hard-working, and deeply engaged in thinking about the world and its problems.”
Due to the privacy of tenure decisions, university officials declined to comment on the decision made by the committee.
Hoya Staff Writer Eitan Sayag contributed reporting.