split over fellowship
by Will Woodward, education editor
31 January 2003
Academics at King's College, Cambridge, have split over a decision
to turn down Edward Said, the distinguished Arab-American intellectual,
for an honorary fellowship.
One senior fellow at the college, a locus for leftwing radicalism,
said they believed the award would have been "provocative"
- fuelling a belief of some dons that Professor Said had been rejected
because of his outspoken criticism of Israel.
The provost, Patrick Bateson, was one the signatories to a letter
to the Guardian calling for a moratorium on cultural and research
links with Israel until it abides by UN resolutions and opens "serious
peace negotiations" with Palestinians.
But two college fellows, Melissa Lane and Peter Lipton, signed
a rival petition opposing the boycott as an "improper and immoral
act of collective punishment". They are said to have spoken
up against Prof Said at a meeting of fellows last month. Dr Lane
declined to speak to the Guardian and Professor Lipton did not return
Fellows on all sides have refused to speak on the record about
the row after the provost ruled it should be kept private.
Prof Said, the Palestinian-born professor of English and comparative
literature at Columbia University, in New York, is an internationally
lauded but contentious figure. Last year he had a planned lecture
at the Freud Society in Vienna cancelled after members were shown
a photograph of him ready to throw a stone at an Israeli guardhouse
on the Lebanese border. Prof Said said it was a "symbolic gesture
of joy" at the end of Israel's occupation of Lebanon. The Freud
Museum in London then asked him to give the lecture there.
Prof Said was a member of the Palestine national council from 1977
to 1991 but has also criticised heavily Yasser Arafat's leadership.
His book, Parallels and Paradoxes, based on conversations with his
friend, the Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, is being published
in Britain in March.
One fellow said awarding Prof Said the fellowship would have broken
with college tradition, because they are normally given to fellows
or former students of the college. But he added: "It would
have been provocative - a lot of people thought he's a controversial
figure, it would have been even more pointed if we were going to
ignore our own procedures.
"Some people thought he is a person of literary distinction
who has some connection with the college in the past. But not either
being a student or a fellow, it would be thought it would be sending
a signal which is frankly not a signal the college would want to
send. In a fellowship of 100 or more, people have different views."
Other fellows denied that Prof Said not having attended the college
as either fellow or student was a barrier to his appointment. Prof
Said has been a regular visitor to King's and was hosted by the
college last term when he was visiting lecturer at the university's
centre for research in the arts, social sciences and humanities.
One academic said there had been confusion about whether Prof Said
could be nominated direct to congregation, or whether names should
be discussed first by the representative council. "This is
a private college, this is a club," one fellow said. "I
will not be happy if anyone actually discusses it outside the fellowship.
We don't want our dirty linen aired in public." But he added:
"I have very strong opinions about it."
Others said Prof Said had been put forward by Ian Donaldson, an
English professor. He did not respond to the Guardian's attempts
to contact him. The college refused to comment.
Colwyn Williamson, coordinator of the Council for Academic Freedom
and Academic Standards, criticised the decision. "It's clearly
inconsistent with the whole idea of academic freedom to penalise
in this way someone who is critical of Israel's conduct in Palestine.
It is part of a pretty systematic campaign against all critics of
Sharon and company."
But Geoffrey Alderman, vice-president of academic affairs at the
American InterContinental University in London, said: "It's
not that they have withdrawn an offer. It's in their gift, it's
their prerogative, it's an honorary degree. King's college is a