AUB President Responds to the Donna Shalala Honorary Degree Controversy

Remember when I told you about some AUB students causing a ruckus at this year’s Masters’ students graduation ceremony because “zionist Shalala” was being given an honorary degree?

Well, as an AUB alumnus, I received an email with the response of AUB president Peter Dorman on the whole issue and I thought it was such an interesting read that I’d share it with you all.

Dear Members of the AUB Community,

I would like to share with you a personal note, in view of several e-mails that have been circulating among the faculty and on the alumni listserv in the wake of the controversy surrounding the recent honorary degree ceremony at Commencement. In particular, I want to address the comments relating to this administration’s purported agenda related to Israel.

The first and paramount observation is that AUB has always respected and complied with the laws of Lebanon, and always will, particularly the laws prohibiting the normalization of any kind of relations with Israel.

Indeed, this position has come at a cost to some of our faculty members in recent years, particularly those who have had to give up significant funding or research partnerships because of the involvement of third-party partners who had ties to Israeli institutions.

Second, this administration at AUB has no normalization or Zionist agenda of any kind. Those who make that claim or imply it are simply wrong on the facts. But raising questions about AUB’s presumed Zionist leanings is a sensational charge that catches the eye, can spread quickly, and understandably raises deep alarm among Lebanese and others who have suffered from Israeli depredations.

The circulating messages entitled “Can AUB Find Only Those Complicit with Zionism to Honor?”–taken straight from the extremist coverage published by al-Akhbar newspaper‹is a rhetorical question that belies our history of honoring distinguished Arabs or friends of the Arab world such as Edward Said, Helen Thomas, and Hanan Ashrawi. In the last three years alone, the University has honored Walid Khalidi, Dourade Al Lahham, Eric Rouleau, Mary Robinson, Marcel Khalife, Owen Gingerich, Mostafa El-Sayed, Anthony Shadid, Wadad Kadi, and Munib Masri. Eight of these honorees were nominated by our own faculty.

Some have criticized the administration for awarding an honorary degree to individuals who do not adhere to the Palestine Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel campaign, an initiative intended to isolate Israel from such contacts. I defend the right of those who take such a position; it is a principled stance, and one that many feel passionate about. Yet institutional decisions cannot be subordinated to an absolute litmus test imposed by the demands of outside groups. Otherwise, to pick just one example, AUB could never have decided to honor Edward Said, who initiated an acclaimed cultural dialogue through his highly visible sponsorship of a Palestinian-Israeli youth orchestra.

I was born in Lebanon in the same year as the nakba; like so many of you, I have never lived in the world without the dreadful specter of Palestinian dispossession and an expanding Israeli settlement agenda, which are deeply immoral and ultimately, in my view, self-destructive.

As for AUB, our campus is a precious and protected space where differences of opinion do‹and must‹exist in a context of mutual respect.

Free speech is fundamentally a core value of AUB and a part of our long tradition of academic freedom. We will continue to honor it, for every voice in our community.

The Provost and I will be meeting this coming week with a delegation of faculty members, who wish to present their petition of disagreement. The Board of Trustees has also asked me to review the process of vetting candidates for honorary degrees. I know the faculty delegation speak for a good number of you reading this message; but I can assure you that we jointly have only the reputation and good name of our beloved institution at heart, alongside a profound commitment to AUB’s proud legacy, our home country, Lebanon, and the region we serve.
Peter Dorman


In very brief summary, he’s politely telling those protesting to suck it. And I couldn’t be happier.


4 thoughts on “AUB President Responds to the Donna Shalala Honorary Degree Controversy

  1. Great response actually. He treads lines very carefully: tell them this is the way it is BUT we might consider your opinions next time.

    All in all, the more people panic over Shalala’s degree, the more attention the whole thing undeservedly gets.



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