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Open Letters from CUNY Faculty and Students to President Chase Robinson Regarding the Replacement of Dr. Anny Bakalian, Associate Director of the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC)

[Logo of the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center of The City University of New York] [Logo of the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center of The City University of New York]

[The following letters have been sent by faculty, PhD students, MA students, and alumni affiliated with the Middle Eastern Studies Program and the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, to Chase Robinson, President of the Graduate Center. The letters address proposed cuts that would replace the position of Associate Director, currently held by Dr. Anny Bakalian, with a part-time college assistant. Fifty-two faculty, fifty-nine PhD students, and twenty-five MA students have signed these letters. More information can be found here.]

1 March 2016

Dear President Robinson:

We the undersigned CUNY faculty are writing to express our grave professional concern about the CUNY Graduate Center’s plans to replace the Associate Director of the Middle East and Middle East American Center (MEMEAC), Dr. Anny Bakalian, after her retirement, with a part-time college assistant. This proposed change in staffing will have a devastating impact on MEMEAC, an intellectual and interdisciplinary home for many faculty in Middle Eastern Studies at CUNY, and on its MA program, which is a nationally and internationally recognized academic success, a prestigious asset, and highly profitable for the Graduate Center.

While we recognize that under any circumstances it would be difficult to find someone with Dr. Bakalian’s talents, expertise, and dedication to the position, our experience tells us that for MEMEAC and its MA program to continue to grow and flourish Anny must be replaced with a full-time HEO of similar qualification, able to serve under the same terms of reference. We understand the Graduate Center’s need to cut costs where possible, but feel strongly that trying to save money with this position would be fundamentally counter-productive. With no central line Graduate Center faculty hired to teach in the MA in Middle Eastern Studies program, and with MEMEAC’s director engaged with many other teaching, administrative, and advising tasks, to have the day to day administration, coordination, and advising of the MA program run by a part-timer and perhaps a rotating cast of graduate student helpers would, almost certainly, ensure the slow demise of that program. The duties of the Associate Director are myriad and include working with international students, coordinating teaching and activities across various CUNY campuses, as well as running the MA program and coordinating our offerings with various PhD programs and their students.

More widely, MEMEAC’s academic and cultural credibility, which relates to the all-important matter of fundraising, depends significantly on the nationally- and internationally-rated cultural and scholastic events that have become its trademark. These are the dedicated responsibility of the Associate Director, demanding a specialist facility, long and flexible hours, diplomatic and many other related skills, and self-evident contemporary authority likely to be far beyond what can be reasonably required from a part-time college assistant. By making the latter sort of appointment, these value-added but essential functions of MEMEAC will quickly deteriorate, eventually leaving little of what has been achieved during the last fifteen years.

Over and above the MA program, MEMEAC has consistently been one of the top centers in New York for cultural and academic events related to the Middle East. It now easily competes with Columbia and New York University in that regard, despite having fewer resources. MEMEAC’s unique place in New York, without a full-time HEO Associate Director, would quickly be diminished. This would not only have a negative impact on the morale and intellectual lives of CUNY’s MEMEAC affiliated faculty, but would also jeopardize the Center’s attractiveness to future donors, visiting scholars, presenters, and performers. Should MEMEAC become less active in this outreach role, other centers, such as ALWAN and the increasingly active New York campus of the Lebanese American University, would quickly take its place, and in relatively close-knit Middle Eastern circles this would soon be widely known, compounding the rate of MEMEAC’s decline.

At a time when the Graduate Center is actively seeking ideas for new MA programs, it defies logic to destabilize one of our most successful and flourishing programs. We urge you to reconsider the decision to replace Dr. Bakalian with a part-time college assistant and respectfully request a meeting at your earliest convenience to further discuss the matter.

Yours sincerely,

Ervand Abrahamian, Baruch College and Graduate Center
Ammiel Alcalay, Queens College and Graduate Center
Tony Alessandrini, Kingsbororough Community College and Graduate Center
Talal Asad, Graduate Center
Nebahat Avcıoğlu, Hunter College and Graduate Center
Hamid Bahri, York College
Jennifer Ball, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center
Beth Baron, City College and Graduate Center
Marlène Barsoum, Hunter College and Graduate Center
Ülkü Ü. Bates, Hunter College
Alexander A. Bauer, Queens College and Graduate Center
Moustafa Bayoumi, Brooklyn College
Stephen Blum, Graduate Center
Avram Bornstein, John Jay College and Graduate Center
Habiba Boumlik, LaGuardia Community College
Lale Can, City College
Marvin Carlson, Graduate Center
Sami Chetrit, Queens College and Graduate Center
Dina Dahbany-Miraglia, Queensborough Community College and Graduate Center
Craig Daigle, City College
Simon Davis, Bronx Community College and Graduate Center
Alex Elinson, Hunter College and Graduate Center
Louis Fishman, Brooklyn College
Arnold Franklin, Queens College
Erik Freas, Borough of Manhattan Community College
Emily Greble, City College and Graduate Center
Elhum Haghighat, Lehman College and Graduate Center
Samira Haj, College of Staten Island and Graduate Center
Amr Kamal, City College
Andrea Khalil, Queens College and Graduate Center
Suha Kudsieh, College of Staten Island
Marnia Lazreg, Hunter College and Graduate Center
Mandana Limbert, Queens College and Graduate Center
Dina Le Gall, Lehman College and Graduate Center
James De Lorenzi, John Jay College
Xerxes Malki, John Jay College
Feisal G. Mohamed, Graduate Center
Loraine Obler, Graduate Center
Kristina Richardson, Queens College
Christa Salamandra, Lehman College and Graduate Center
Victoria Sanford, Lehman College and Graduate Center
Jillian Schwedler, Hunter College and Graduate Center
Roger Sedarat, Queens College
Miryam Segal, Queens College and Graduate Center
Jonathan Shannon, Hunter College and Graduate Center
Christopher Stone, Hunter College and Graduate Center
Jane Sugarman, Graduate Center
R. Shareah Taleghan, Queens College
Stanley Thangaraj, City College
Bryan Turner, Graduate Center
H. Aram Veeser, City College and Graduate Center
Devrim Yavuz, Lehman College 

***

29 February 2016

Dear President Robinson:

We, the undersigned, PhD students at the Graduate Center, CUNY, affiliated with the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC), are writing to express our grave concern regarding the decision to replace the Center’s Associate Director, Dr. Anny Bakalian, with a part-time college assistant following her retirement in summer 2016.

There are over fifty-five “MEMEAC PhD students” at the Graduate Center in at least thirteen programs, including Anthropology, Comparative Literature, English, Ethnomusicology, History, Political Science, and Sociology. Our dissertations focus on the Middle East and North Africa and their diasporas; consequently, MEMEAC functions as our area studies home. More importantly, MEMEAC has filled a number of gaps in our disciplinary programs. For example, the shortage of professors in each program specializing in the Middle East makes many MEMEAC PhD students feel underrepresented in their departments and at a disadvantage in comparison to their peers working on other area studies. Our departments often do not provide the resources and networks—ranging from language instruction and faculty mentorship to opportunities to meet renowned scholars and access to grants—specific to the study of the Middle East and necessary for a rigorous and immersive intellectual experience. MEMEAC has therefore served to supplement our disciplinary programs. In the past decade, several doctoral programs have enticed strong prospective students who work on the Middle East to choose the Graduate Center by selling MEMEAC as an added value.

MEMEAC’s Associate Director has been the catalyst in building an academic Middle Eastern Studies community within the Graduate Center. The Center offers graduate students advisors and mentors, a connection with students and faculty specializing in the Middle East across disciplines, professional development opportunities, research assistantships, student conferences, workshops, and relationships with other Middle East institutes and centers at nearby universities. In light of the increasingly competitive job market, it is imperative that doctoral students on the job market demonstrate the kind of interdisciplinary knowledge fostered by such a program. Further, Graduate Center alumni specializing in Middle Eastern Studies maintain ties with the Center and are invited to speak. Active alumni are invaluable for current MEMEAC PhD students as models and mentors, and they provide important information about job openings and invitations to present at panels at the Middle Eastern Studies Association and other conferences. It should thus be evident that the many responsibilities and functions of the Associate Director cannot be fulfilled by a part-time college assistant.

With prominent scholars such as Talal Asad, Ervand Abrahamian, Stephen Blum, Marvin Carlson, and Vincent Crapanzano having recently retired or retiring, the Graduate Center is left weakened, less attractive in disciplinary programs, and even more impoverished in Middle Eastern Studies. Replacing the Associate Director with a college assistant working twenty hours per week will diminish a thriving center that serves several stakeholders in the university. While we are aware of the gravity of the fiscal crisis, we firmly believe that terminating the position of MEMEAC Associate Director is shortsighted and will in the long term be harmful to the interests of the Graduate Center and its current and future doctoral students working on the Middle East.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned [the letter has fifty-nine signatories]

***

10 March 2016

Dear President Robinson:

We the students of the Master’s Program in Middle Eastern Studies (MA-MES) at the Graduate Center, CUNY, have serious concerns regarding the replacement of Dr. Anny Bakalian, the Associate Director, with a part time college assistant upon her retirement. We believe this decision would have a deleterious effect on the quality of our education and negatively impact the number of master’s students in the future.

The Associate Director assumes a series of mediations that begin with prospective applicants when we consider applying to the MA-MES Program. Her guidance becomes even more crucial when we enroll and start taking courses, and eventually complete the thirty credits and graduate. Students’ time in the master’s program follows widely divergent trajectories; however, the Associate Director is the one person who connects each student to the Graduate Center and makes sure that their experience is personalized and positive. Services offered include individualized advising depending on each student’s future goals, such as locating a thesis advisor for those taking the PhD route, or choosing an internship and focus on a capstone project for those seeking professional employment. The language requirement of the program entails many conversations with the Associate Director—where to study Arabic or another Middle Eastern language; summer abroad experiences, and which universities issues graduate credits for transfer. Many of us remember our encouraging exchanges with Dr. Bakalian before deciding to join the program. Further, out of state and international students recall helpful advice on managing the move to New York City, as well as taking advantage of its vast resources such as institutes, museums and performances at affordable prices. We have met many of the MA-MES alumni who regularly return to the Graduate Center for MEMEAC activities and we are grateful for this amazing networking opportunity. In short, the Associate Director is the glue of the program, connecting students, faculty, alumni and the Graduate Center. For the students this position ensures we get the most out of our master’s degree. The absence of a similarly qualified Associate Director would not only severely impede our ability to locate and utilize the considerable but far-flung resources available to us in the CUNY system, it would also jeopardize the existence of the program. Only a full-time person could try to fill the responsibilities necessary for the MA-MES Program to excel.

We understand that the Graduate Center is expanding master’s programs like our own in order to provide revenue because of the CUNY fiscal crisis. Considering that paying students expect a top-notch education and quality academic services, if this is neglected then future potential students will look elsewhere, and enrollment is sure to suffer. We think it is in the academic and financial interests of the Graduate Center to find a qualified replacement for Dr. Bakalian. Certainly, her responsibilities go beyond the MA program, but we are able to speak directly to her role in our success and the pride of our degree.

Sincerely,

The MES Master’s Students [this letter has twenty-five signatories] 

***

14 March 2016

Dear President Robinson:

We, the undersigned alumni of the MA program in Middle Eastern Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, are writing to express our strong opposition to the university’s plans to replace Associate Director Dr. Anny Bakalian with an Administrative Assistant for twenty hours per week following her retirement in the summer.

The downgrading of the Associate Director’s position poses grave risks to the Graduate Center’s Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies, a program not yet a decade-old that has been attracting strong students from throughout Greater New York, as well as nationally and internationally. The presence of a full-time director with credentials and experience are fundamental to the quality of the program. We chose the Graduate Center’s MA-MES program for its informative and patient recruitment, personalized academic advising, field-specific career advice, and generally welcoming atmosphere supportive of a diversity of lifestyles and needs. Graduates have gone on to doctoral studies and successful careers, as well as published noteworthy academic work. Given that the Graduate Center is actively seeking to expand Masters-level enrollment, replacing the Associate Director with a part-time manager is counterproductive and extremely short-sighted.

The elimination of a full-time director position would also pose a serious threat to nationally-recognized the Middle Eastern and Middle East-American Center (MEMEAC). MA students benefited tremendously from interactions with PhD students in history, anthropology, music, and other disciplines who make MEMEAC their Area Studies home. The diverse range of lectures, and recurring events like the “Dissections” series hosted by MEMEAC, also attract top scholars, giving students expanding on their curricular studies and invaluable opportunities for networking. Indeed, the doctoral ambitions of many MA students have been sparked and encouraged by such interactions. Without a full-time operating director, the number of events and high-profile visitors MEMEAC could sustain would quickly diminish, and with them the Graduate Center’s high esteem within the field of Middle Eastern Studies.

As alumni of the Graduate Center’s MA program in Middle Eastern Studies, we have benefited tremendously by the Associate Director’s connections, expertise and availability because as students we had very diverse timetables. A part-time college assistant would jeopardize MEMEAC and the MA program, and with them the reputation of the Graduate Center within the larger academic community. We urge you to reconsider this proposal and respectfully seek a meeting at your earliest convenience to address the matter.

Sincerely,

Alumni of the MA program in Middle Eastern Studies [this letter has forty signatories]

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