Duthu will not reconsider dean appointment

by Peter Charalambous | 5/30/17 2:15am

Native American studies professor N. Bruce Duthu ’80’s nomination to succeed Michael Mastanduno as the next dean of the faculty of arts and sciences was met with much discussion, and on May 22, Duthu declined the position and decided to step down from his current position as associate dean of interdisciplinary studies, effective July 1. In the two months between his nomination and rescindment, concerns were raised over his 2013 co-authorship of a declaration supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, sparking campus-wide debate.

In a regularly-scheduled faculty meeting on the same day as Duthu’s announcement, the faculty voted to unanimously reaffirm their support of Duthu as dean of faculty. The motion passed without opposition.

Despite College faculty’s affirmation of support, Duthu does not plan to accept the position. In an interview with The Dartmouth, Duthu expressed the reasoning behind his decision and outlook following his rescindment.

“I felt that my integrity was on the line in terms of being able to honestly look at the job and feel like, so long as this opposition is out there, then I could not adequately do my job as dean,” he said. “The other piece of it, to be completely honest, was that I felt that it would have been important to have a very strong and early and public statement of support from the administration at the earliest outset, which could have been very helpful to tamp down what became a louder call.”

Duthu also expressed his frustration that Gustman denied his request to meet with him. Duthu noted that while he was able to have conversations with two pro-Israeli students, he was not able to have that same kind of conversation with Gustman.

Economics professor Alan Gustman authored a faculty-wide letter criticizing Duthu’s affiliation with BDS on May 3. In his letter, Gustman called for Duthu to publicly denounce his affiliations with the BDS movement or resign his position as dean.

“I don’t agree with the language of [Gustman’s] letter, but I understand the motive,” anthropology and Native American studies professor Sergei Kan said.

He noted that while signing a letter in support of BDS does not make a person anti-Semitic, the Palestinian leadership and some of the European and U.S. core of the BDS movement is anti-Semitic.

While Gustman wrote in his letter that he does not believe that Duthu is anti-Semitic, the letter was published in Frontpage Magazine on May 5 under the headline “Dartmouth Appoints Anti-Semitic Terrorist Enabler as its New Dean.” Though headlines are not always written by the authors of the piece, The Dartmouth could not confirm the origins of the headline with Gustman, who declined request for comment.

Duthu responded to Gustman’s email by authoring a faculty-wide letter on May 9, claiming that he supports the right of private citizens to criticize government practices. He added that he does not support a boycott of academic institutions. He also wrote that he condemns anti-Semitism, bias and prejudice and claimed that his past support of boycotts has not affected his role as associate dean of interdisciplinary studies.

Chair of the department of Jewish studies Susannah Heschel said that Duthu’s past support of boycotts has not affected his work as associate dean. She noted that he has consistently supported Jewish academia by helping bring Jewish and Israeli scholars to the College, attending events hosted by the department and introducing guest speakers from the Jewish studies department. She said that Duthu has been invited to speak at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Duthu said that while he would have loved to speak at the University of Jerusalem, he is prohibited from entering Israel due to his affiliation with BDS.

Heschel also said that while the BDS movement is flawed and misguided, signing a petition in support of it does not make a person anti-Semitic. She also claimed that Gustman’s letter went too far.

“I find Alan Gustman’s creed against [Duthu] was pretty horrific and offensive and wrong and damaging to [Duthu] and to Dartmouth,” Heschel said. “I am offended as a member of the Dartmouth community by the way he behaved.”

Following Duthu’s response letter, Gustman authored another letter to the faculty on May 9. In this letter, Gustman noted that he found Duthu’s response letter inadequate, as he did not clearly repudiate the BDS movement. Gustman called for Duthu to either denounce the movement or return to the position of faculty where he can hold the beliefs of a “private citizen.”

Heschel said she offered to meet with Gustman three times, and College spokesperson Diana Lawrence said that Duthu also offered to meet with Gustman so that they could speak about their differences in opinion. Gustman declined these meeting requests.

“For me to reach out to a faculty member and ask for a personal meeting and to have that rejected, to me was a signal that this was not about engagement,” Duthu said.

Sandor Farkas ’17 was one of the two Jewish students who met with Duthu following his nomination. Farkas, the former president of Dartmouth Students for Israel, noted that he appreciated the opportunity to have a respectful dialogue with Duthu. Despite the conversation, Farkas still holds his beliefs regarding Duthu’s disqualifying support for BDS.

“It’s your duty to encourage the exchange of ideas, not your duty to prevent,” Farkas said. “For as long as Dean Duthu supported BDS, I opposed his appointment as dean.”

Duthu also noted that he blames the lack of conversation following his nomination on what he calls “corrosion of civil discourse” that stems from an “embolden[ed] right-wing and quite narrow-minded perspective that thrives on hate and division instead of openness and fair mindedness to at least try to approach really tough issues with respect for both sides.”

Duthu said that following his nomination, he received a substantial amount of hate mail from both named and anonymous authors. He cited a specific example in which a senior partner at a law firm told him that his decision to resign benefits the College and that he should be ashamed that he ever taught Dartmouth students.

When asked about his support for BDS, Duthu noted that he never fully supported the BDS movement. He claimed that NAISA instead only supported a boycott and that he no longer believes a boycott is necessary.

“The motive was to express solidarity with Palestinian academics and to offer a critique of specific governmental policies of the state of Israel,” he said. “We were very clear in not endorsing BDS as a movement because we understood that there were segments within that very broad movement that could be interpreted as being anti-Semitic. Anyone who took the time to read out statement would see that we do not reference BDS at all.”

He further noted that he believes that Gustman’s accusations were slanderous.

“I deeply regret the statements made about me, including those made by Professor Gustman, that could be characterized as slanderous,” Duthu said.

Duthu said that he does not plan to sue Gustman for slander.

“When there is no prospect of true engagement, the only response is to pray for someone like that,” he said. “That is what I will do.”

Duthu plans to continue his work at Dartmouth as a member of the faculty. He hopes that this position will allow him to educate students without facing constant scrutiny for past his beliefs regarding BDS.

“As distressing and spirit-crushing as this experience has been for me, it has been outweighed by the love, the respect, the encouragement that the overwhelming majority of faculty have shown for me,” Duthu said.

On May 19, Native Americans at Dartmouth authored a letter of support for Duthu’s appointment, signed by 610 people at press time.

College President Phil Hanlon and Provost Carolyn Dever issued a statement on the same day expressing regret that Duthu declined his appointment.

On May 24, Dartmouth Students for Israel issued a statement in response to the NAD letter. In their email, DSI debated some of the points in the NAD letter, explained the dangers of BDS, noted instances of anti-Semitism at the College and called Duthu’s decision “honorable.”

On May 26, Coalition for Israel-Palestine issued a statement in solidarity with NAD.

A search committee will convene to nominate a new dean. The College will also continue its search for a new associate dean of faculty,

“The critically important thing in the dean of faculty position is to get a person who is absolutely passionate and committed,” Dever said. “Whoever that person is, if that person brings the right ingredients and the right talents and the right experiences, that’s the right person.”