Controversial University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole is a top candidate for a senior faculty position in modern Middle East studies, two members of the search committee said Monday.
Cole writes about contemporary politics on his blog, “Informed Comment,” and has drawn criticism from conservatives for his opposition to the war in Iraq. But Frances Rosenbluth, a member of the search committee for the professorship, said the committee considered only his scholarly writing — not his blog or his political views — when they named him a finalist for the slot, which is sponsored by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies.
Search committee chair Julia Adams and Rosenbluth both confirmed that Cole is a leading candidate in the search process, but Rosenbluth said he is not the only person being considered for the job. The committee was attracted to Cole because of the caliber of his scholarship, she said.
“He’s a historian who’s written very subtle and insightful history of the Middle East,” Rosenbluth said.
Rosenbluth said that if Cole comes to Yale, he will likely have a joint appointment in history and sociology.
Modern Middle East studies has not been one of Yale’s strengths historically, but administrators are currently considering the creation of a new major in the field. Although the major might be housed within the Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations Department, it would likely draw on faculty members from throughout the University, including YCIAS.
Before Cole can be formally extended an offer to come to Yale, he must be approved by both the history and sociology departments, as well as the divisional tenure appointments committee and the full faculty, Rosenbluth said.
History Department chair Paul Freedman said the history faculty may discuss Cole at a meeting in May, but he has not yet heard whether Cole will be the search committee’s top choice. Because the professorship is funded by YCIAS, the History Department did not participate in the selection of candidates, Freedman said.
“All of the departments are asked to say, once the people have been selected, whether they want to have this person in the department,” Freedman said.
Because candidates identified in senior faculty searches are often being wooed by other colleges, the list of finalists rarely contains just one name, Rosenbluth said. Another candidate she named as a contender for the Middle East studies professorship — Susan Slyomovics, an anthropology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — recently accepted a position at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Rosenbluth declined to name other candidates who are still available and under consideration for the position.
“It’s a big jigsaw puzzle,” she said. “They have options, we have candidates, so finding a match sometimes take awhile.”
Michael Rubin ’94 GRD ’99, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said he is concerned that Cole’s scholarship is not up to par for the Yale faculty. Rubin said he questions how Cole could argue — as he has done on his blog and in articles for the online magazine Salon — that the war in Iraq is failing without visiting that country.
Rubin said he thinks commentators and scholars who have done research in Iraq tend to have more nuanced views of the war, whether or not they support it.
“I would argue that Yale should make a distinction between scholarship and blogging,” Rubin said.
Cole’s academic publications include books on Iran, Shia Islam and the Baha’i faith. He is currently the associate chair of the history department at the University of Michigan, where he teaches courses on modern Middle East history and Islam in global politics.
Cole could not be reached for comment Monday.