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April 6, 2010

Deans meet with CMES students concerned over associate director's dismissal

Administrators met with Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) students on Friday in an effort to address lingering negative feelings regarding the dismissal of CMES Associate Director Rusty Rook three weeks ago.

Rook, the main overseer of a $2.9 million Department of Education grant proposal that provides much of the Center’s funding, was fired two weeks before the grant’s deadline. CMES faculty scrambled to finish the grant and successfully submitted it on time, but remained puzzled by the administration’s firing decision.

Dean of the Humanities Martha Roth and Dean of the Social Sciences John Mark Hansen went over student concerns with a panel of six CMES graduate students and answered questions about Rook and the future of the CMES from audience members.

Many CMES students were particularly troubled by the way administrators acted in the aftermath of Rook’s firing. “The deans of students are the first point of contact between students and administration but…there hasn’t been any direct communication,” said panelist Neeraj Malhotra, a CMES graduate student who called for more administrative transparency. “We want to know with confidence that [the administration] is aware of what the students are concerned with.”

Malhotra said e-mails and phone calls to administrators did not receive responses. However, the deans said dozens of “copy-andpasted” e-mails were received and were later responded to as a whole.

Although students persisted in searching out the reasons behind Rook’s dismissal, which they allege came suspiciously close to the grant’s due date, the deans continued to call it a “personal issue not to be commented on.” They assured students there was no ill intent against the Center, however. “The firing was what it was, without any plan for anything,” Roth said.

But panel member Will Kent mentioned that the Humanities Department nominated Rook for an administrative excellence award in 2005. “We find it difficult to match that kind of support from your office with [Rook’s] termination,” Kent said to Roth.

Roth responded by saying that the nomination was from several years ago and that it is unreasonable to think the University no longer supports CMES because of Rook’s fi ring. “Remember the grant was submitted not by Rook but by the faculty…with the full support of the division,” Roth said.

Although administrators made an effort to answer questions about CMES, some students were disappointed by the answers they gave. “[The meeting] didn’t really accomplish anything; they were so defensive,” said one CMES student who asked that his name be kept confi dential. “And our biggest concerns, like Rook’s fi ring, were brushed off.”

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