Renowned and beloved Arab studies professor Samer Shehata denied tenure

Dr. John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University: Reconsider Dr.Samer Shehata's case for tenureYesterday, Georgetown confirmed its decision to deny tenure to Dr. Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown. This rejection comes as a tremendous surprise to Shehata, who has taught at Georgetown since 2001 and is extremely well-regarded by both his students and his colleagues in the field of Arab studies.

“This was unexpected. My record speaks for itself,” Shehata said. “Nothing in my scholarship, teaching, or service to Georgetown justifies the denial of tenure.”

Many of Shehata’s students agree. A petition with over 200 supporters appeals to President John DeGioia to reconsider the decision to deny Shehata tenure.

According to the Georgetown University Faculty Handbook, “Through the institution of tenure, the University seeks to retain outstanding faculty and protect the academic freedom essential to the best research, teaching, and service.” Tenure can only be approved by the president after an application and review process. The handbook lists three requirements for receiving tenure: a highly-rated teaching career, lasting many years, “scholarly accomplishments,” and service both inside and outside the university.

Shehata believes he is more than qualified in all three of these areas.

“My teaching record is stellar,” he said. “This has repeatedly been reflected in my student evaluations, which have been excellent. Since I began teaching at Georgetown in 2001, my average overall evaluation of instructor score, in over 25 courses, is over 4.6 out of 5.”

Shehata has made significant contributions to the field of Arabic studies, especially since the Arab Spring and the installation of a new government in Egypt. He’s written numerous articles and book chapters and has appeared on The Colbert Report a few times.

Shehata believes his first book, Shop Floor Culture and Politics in Egypt, has the kind of uniqueness and insight which separates him from other scholars. To write this book, Shehata worked full-time in an Egyptian textile factory for 10 months. “The result is an empirically rich, theoretically sophisticated analysis of class formation at the point of production in Egypt,” he said. “My book represents the only study of this kind to have been undertaken in Egypt and one of only a few such studies in the world.”

His studies on the situation in Egypt are ongoing. “I am presently writing a book, under contract with Stanford University Press, on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral and political participation, a topic I have been working on and writing about for the last few years,” he said.

What makes the university’s denial of his tenure even more perplexing is its continual promotion of his work. Just a few weeks ago, Georgetown tweeted about an appearance Shehata made on NPR.

Shehata has done more than just scholarship for the benefit of Georgetown. His record of service is equally impressive. “I established two new academic programs at Georgetown, the Qatar Arabic Language Scholarship Program and the Qatar Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program, which have brought hundreds of thousands of dollars to the University,” he said.

“Georgetown gave me no previous indication that my teaching, scholarly or service record was deficient in any way—this is because it is not deficient,” Shehata said.

The university has offered no formal explanation to Shehata as to why his tenure was denied. “Given my dedication and service to the University and its students for over a decade, as well as the serious nature of my tenure application, it would seem appropriate for the administration to provide a detailed explanation for its denial of my tenure application,” he said.

David Edelstein, chair of the School of Foreign Service Faculty, explained to Vox that any details regarding Shehata’s tenure denial are confidential.

Shehata will no longer continue to teach at Georgetown. An email he received from the University on Monday informed him that May 31 will be his last day of employment.

Shehata will not let this be the end of his career, however. “Georgetown’s unfair denial of my tenure and termination of my employment will not affect my dedication to my students or deter me from teaching future generations of students about the Middle East,” he said. “I will continue to research, write, and teach about Egypt and the Middle East.”

Photo from Shehata’s blog

29 Comments on “Renowned and beloved Arab studies professor Samer Shehata denied tenure

  1. I have known Samer over 15 years. He’s an amazing scholar and his project on shop-floor culture is groundbreaking. This is nonsense. We will know the reason why when they try to hire whoever it is they want to bring in to replace him. It’s up to faculty and students to let any prospective hires to replace him know that they are not welcome, so that the university admin understands it can not pull this on qualified professors who’ve dedicated their careers to the university. That’s the only way to prevent it from happening again. At the same time, it’s a good advertisement for public universities, whose tenure processes are in the main much more transparent than private universities.

  2. I hope that justice is served and Dr. Shehata’s tenure application is reconsidered. He is the best professor I had at Georgetown and the best I’ve had in contemporary Arab politics (counting both my undergrad and graduate studies). Georgetown would be at a major loss if Dr. Shehata leaves and would be at a disadvantage as an institution regarding Arab politics. Is that really something that the University is willing to risk?

  3. We don’t know the full story. Everyone can stfu with their bashing of the tenure committee

  4. This is an absolute travesty and injustice. Georgetown is the epitome of ivory tower academia. It cannot see past the thick wall that it has constructed between itself and society at large. If Degioia and the administration in SFS would pull their heads out of each others asses and live in the world like the rest of us, not elitist, bookish, and self-important fools who can’t function outside of the university, they would see that this decision is 1) politically motivated and 2) unfair. This is a loss for Georgetown, but also a kick in the ass for CCAS, whose faculty are sinking like the Titanic. Who else do they have that is remotely qualified to teach Arab politics?

    The students should not only show up at the president’s office in protests, but they should create such an inhospitable environment for the professor that takes Shehata’s place that no one would dare want to take the position.

  5. It is sad to see our academia go down the path of other less independent institutions of our society kowtowing to special interests

    We all know and feel that America has been, and continues to be in a steep decline phase. Still, it is shocking to see clear manifestations of such state of affairs.

  6. I took a graduate seminar with Dr. Shehata on Islamist political movements, and was impressed with his knowledge of a complex field, and his balanced approach to controversial questions. He personally helped me to pursue my own interests, and went out of his way to graciously facilitate an interview for me with a significant personality in the Egyptian political scene. It is difficult to comprehend the rationale for Georgetown’s decision, and I hope the university will reconsider.

  7. Fair, but given that everyone seems to only have high praise for him (I never had him as a professor, so I can’t attest to anything) and there’s a gigantic petition already, there seem to be no grounds for both denying him tenure and firing him. Until someone in the administration either publicly announces or anonymously leaks (my favorite way) the reason for the university’s decision, really, he’s innocent until proven guilty.

  8. I was a student of his. Excellent teacher, perfectly suited to the goals of the Center… topically he is almost eerily suited to speak to the world of the moment…a great public face for the university.
    This decision strikes me as nothing but bizarre. Utterly bizarre.
    Perhaps it’s for the best; he’ll improve whatever institution is fortunate enough to pick him up.

  9. Denial of tenure for such a uniquely qualified scholar with a perfect record can only be a political decision not based on merit. How could GU do this to a shining face and an invaluable asset of its own?

    Am just having my doubts about my alma matter……..

  10. As a current CCAS student I am very upset about this denial! Samer Shehata is a wonderful teacher, a brilliant scholar, and a thoughtful advisor to students. I can’t imagine where this denial is coming from! I hope our support can help overturn this decision. But from what I know about university politics and bureaucracy, it’s going to be very hard to get these kinds of voices heard.

  11. Very sad news. Dr. Samer Shehata is not only a brilliant academic but covers contemporary Arab/Egyptian politics very closely–from labour movements, to political parties, street protests, and elections. As both a Georgetown SFS undergrad and MAAS alumni I’m pretty shocked at the decision to deny Dr. Shehata tenure. At my time as both an undergrad and grad at Gtown I took all the classes he was offering (at least 3!) and I thought they were exceptional. His work on labour movements set the scene well for me to understand the roots of the 2011 revolution. His work on Islamist politics and politicians, and his coverage of various parliamentary elections, are also extremely relevant in light of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power. I’m hoping the Dean and administration can change their mind about this as it’s a huge loss for Georgetown and its the student body.

  12. I’ve donated to Georgetown and to the CCAS every year since graduating a decade ago, in large part because of the tremendous respect I have for the faculty within the program, including Prof. Shehata. In light of the lack of transparency surrounding this inexplicable denial of tenure, I will have to reconsider where to allocate educational donations giong forward. I’m sure I won’t be the only alum with these reservations – the network is tight-knit and word travels fast.

    If Georgetown wants my money going forward, it needs to either reconsider or offer a satisfactory explanation. Sunglight remains the best disinfectant in instances such as these.

  13. Professor Shehata is one of the best professors I’ve had at Georgetown and I am sad to see him go. I thoroughly enjoyed his class on ME Politics and I admired his teaching style and knowledge of the subject.

  14. The loss of Dr. Shamer Shehata is the most tragic occurrence in the history of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown, of which I am a proud alumnus ( MAAS ’05). There can be no justification for this decision on any reasonable ground. In fact, SFS’s decision to deny Dr. Shehata a much-deserved tenure sets a dangerous precedent of allowing committees to make decisions based on arbitrary and non-academic reasons. The committee’s repeated insistence that the “reason is confidential” further reflects that there is no substantial reason to support this decision; else, the committee would have disclosed its reasons.

    I have taken two classes with Dr. Shehata in the past and they have been some of the most intellectually-stimulating, thought-provoking and informative classes I have ever taken. His analytical rigor, field research, methodical thoroughness and precision combined with his warmth and humility as a person make him a professor of the highest caliber one could strive to achieve.

  15. Professor Shehata ran the Qatar Scholarship program when I was a participant after finishing undergrad at the college. He did a fantastic job managing the program and making sure all the students were taken care of and that QU continued to improve its program.

    Very disappointed to see this decision.

  16. This decision is very disappointing and reflects badly on the university.


  18. I was shocked and extremely saddened when I first heard this news. I am still holding onto a slimmer of hope that the University might reconsider its decision. I do not want to Professor Shehata to not be there when I return for my second year at MAAS! Outstanding professors like him are what make a program great; CCAS will suffer immensely if this decision is carried through.

  19. This is an utter travesty. It seems the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) is trying to slowly kill off any aspect of its Contemporariness. Pretty soon it will just be an overgrowth of the History and Islamic Studies departments. As an alum, its incredibly disheartening to see CCAS on a path of self-destruction. Dr Shehata was one of the stars of the CCAS. He was incredibly generous with his time for students. What a shame.

  20. Interesting the level of outrage here. However, I think it is slightly misdirected. It seems that there is a general consensus that the Professor is an excellent academic and teacher. However, there are other reasons besides those it would seem that could result in the denial of tenure. It would seem to me that the real issue, therefore, is not the decision, but lack of transparency.

    There seems to be a widespread assumption that the University has some sort of hidden agenda, and I agree that it is incumbent on them to explain the reasons for their decision. So let them explain what the basis for such a puzzling decision is, and then at that point we will all have the basic information to actually judge whether this is worthy of the uproar it has provoked.

    So it would seem to me that the university should be judged first on whether it is open about why it made such a decision.

    And second, if it decides it can be open about its reasons, THEN we the public are in a position to react. But until we know the whole story, it seems to me we are reacting off of partial information.

  21. I’m not a party to this decision and I don’t know Samer. Glancing at his CV, however, it seems pretty evident that on research (the key to tenure at any top university) Shehata is extremely weak:

    For undergrads and others, the only things that matter are (1) books and (2) articles published in peer-reviewed journals. That means you should only look at the first 1.5 pages.

    Edited volumes don’t count for much. Chapters in edited volumes hardly count for anything. And non-peer-reviewed articles don’t count at all.

    For a scholar to have only produced one book and ZERO peer-reviewed articles over the course of a decade is a prima-facie reason to reject his application for tenure at a school like GU. The standard for tenure in a department like SFS is something like one or two books (normally with much, much better presses than SUNY) and two to five articles in top journals. Shehata falls short of this goal. In fact, it should have been clear to him years ago–literally–that he would have no chance at tenure.

  22. You really don’t think that any of the “numerous articles and book chapters” he wrote were peer-reviewed?

  23. Look at his CV. Under the peer-reviewed section, he lists only book chapters and one article. That article was published in 1992.

    As I said in my initial posts, peer-reviewed book chapters count for a LOT less than peer-reviewed articles.

    Professor Shehata may be an excellent classroom teacher, but his CV shows that he should not have been taken by surprise by a rocky path to tenure.

  24. If publications and “peer reviewed articles” are what gauges whether a professor gets tenure or not, then explain why Dr. David Edelstein is not only an associate professor but also the chair of the Edmund Walsh school of Foreign Service. How is that possible since he only published 1 book, 2 peer-reviewed articles, and only 2 other articles and 3 book chapters in his entire career and has been at Georgetown for about as long as Dr. Shehata. Dr. Shehata’s CV is much more extensive and quite more impressive with more books, a lot more scholarly articles, the same number of peer-reviewed articles if not more (some of them happen to also have been published as book chapters), and much much more…
    Here is a link to Dr. Edelstein’ CV; compare them side to side and explain that to me


  26. I’m a tenured professor at an R1 university.

    Shehata seems like a great guy. (I don’t know him).

    But his CV is very low on publications.

    To get tenure at a top program, you need publications at TOP UNIVERSITY PRESSES or TOP JOURNALS (eg, APSR, JOP, AJPS, etc).

    a book from SUNY and an edited volume from Routledge is VERY BAD.

    Considering that he started at Georgetown 12 years, ago, this publication record is ABYSMAL.

    in 12 yrs, a top scholar would have 2 books from cambridge or yale or oxford UP, and 10 or so excellently-placed articles. Particularly with the resources he’s had at Columbia, NYU and Gtown. All top places.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but clearly he focused on SERVICE and TEACHING way too much and not on publishing in TOP venues.

    he would not get tenure even at poli sci depts ranked in the 20s.

    too much Colbert Report…

  27. ps as PM mentioned above: (and this goes to all the undergrads and non-academics posting on here):

    tenure at a place like Georgetown depends 90% on publishing in TOP book presses or TOP journals.

    teaching and service (eg the Qatar programs he led) account for 10%. This is true for any good department in the to 25 or so universities in the US.

    Sorry to say the obvious: his publication record is DISMAL.
    Especially for someone who was ”assistant professor” for over a decade.
    (normally one goes up for tenure after six or seven years, not 10).

    Hope he lands in a good SLAC.

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