Arabic prof Frangieh will remain at Yale

Arabic language professor Bassam Frangieh will stay at Yale after the University, in response to an onslaught of pressure, upped the ante with an offer competitive enough to keep one of its star language instructors from leaving for a tenure-track position at the University of Delaware.

Frangieh, who for 12 years has been a senior lector at Yale without the option of receiving tenure, had decided earlier this semester to leave for Delaware. His announcement surprised students, faculty and alumni alike, who launched an extensive letter-writing campaign to the Yale administration, which made a late push to keep Frangieh on campus.

“We extended ourselves greatly, and he essentially, with all the sentiment that was expressed on his behalf, realized how valued he was and decided to stay, which we are all delighted at,” said a high-ranking Yale official who asked not to be named. “He’s a fabulous teacher, and someone that makes a great contribution to the University.”

Frangieh, who did not respond to requests for comment this week, said in an interview with the News last month that his decision to leave was motivated by the University’s failure to offer him a tenure-track position. Though Yale ultimately did not offer Frangieh a ladder-faculty position, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations professor Benjamin Foster said the administration worked with Frangieh to “meet his needs.” Neither administrators nor NELC professors would disclose the specific details of the offer.

“He had an excellent offer, and Yale made an even more excellent offer,” Foster said. “Student reaction contributed very positively to the matter … The students were absolutely magnificent. They really let the administration know.”

The move was a key victory for the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, which was hit with the departures this year of two language professors and has been struggling to rebuild its modern Arabic language program.

“We’re completely thrilled, and we can’t imagine better news for our department,” Foster said. “Bassam staying here means we can go ahead with a full-scale revamping of our modern Arabic program.”

Foster said the department will now add a fourth year of Arabic language study, which will be taught by Frangieh. The department also plans to institute a course in modern Arabic literature and translation in the following year to be taught by Frangieh, Foster said.

Frangieh, whom Yale wooed away from Georgetown University in 1987, is known for his unique approach to teaching introductory Arabic — a subject that has attracted a strong student following, particularly in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

First-year Arabic student Amanda Elbogen ’07, who helped organize the student drive to keep Frangieh at Yale, said she and her classmates are “ecstatic” that Frangieh will stay at Yale.

“I’m really glad he was able to stay, and I’m glad the University listens to its students,” Elbogen said. “We want teachers like that here, and I want other students to have the opportunity to meet with him.”

Elbogen and other first-year Arabic students helped launch a letter campaign aimed at pressuring the Yale administration into extending a more competitive offer to Frangieh. After publishing a petition in the News earlier this month signed by more than 40 students, Elbogen said the group convinced about 50 people, including current and past students as well as alumni from all over the country, to write letters to Yale President Richard Levin in support of Frangieh.

Elbogen said the purpose of the letters was to identify flaws in the administration’s policies regarding language instructors at Yale. Many language professors are not eligible to receive tenure and are hired as lectors on a purely contractual basis. Lectors, unlike ladder faculty members, are not expected to publish or research.

“[Bassam] was looking for an opportunity to teach more of the classes that he would like to teach,” Arabic student Elizabeth France ’06 said. “His specialty is Arabic language and literature, and he wanted to teach some classes on style and poetry. We suggested that maybe some of the policies that were currently in place, maybe in the long term they should be re-thought.”

Initially, some students doubted whether their efforts would sway the administration, France said. By the time Frangieh told his students he had decided to stay at Yale, France said she had “pretty much given up.”

“We knew it was a long shot from the very beginning,” she said. “In the event that Bassam did leave, it was important to us that Bassam know how many people would really stand up for him and tell him how much he meant.”

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