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Asani Offered Tenure, But Considers Leaving Harvard

By Nini S. Moorhead, Crimson Staff Writer

Ali S. Asani '77 has been offered full tenure by University President Drew G. Faust, the long-time Islam professor confirmed to The Crimson last week. But the Kenyan-born scholar said he has not yet received an official letter of offer from the University and added that he is considering a competing job offer, which he declined to detail.

Asani said he will be "weighing the two" this summer. Colleagues say the tenure offer, which caps Asani's 35 years as a student and professor at Harvard, has been too long in coming.

"This is rectifying, if you will, or recognizing a situation that probably should have changed a long time ago," said William A. Graham, the dean of the Divinity School who co-taught a course on Islam with Asani in the 1980s.

Asani, who teaches the popular Core course Foreign Cultures 70: "Understanding Islam and Contemporary Muslim Societies," has served as a professor of the practice of Indo-Muslim languages and culture for 15 years.

Diana L. Eck—the chair of the Study of Religion, in which Asani is jointly appointed—said his position was an "enormously unusual situation."

"After teaching for eight years, a professor is usually reviewed for tenure or not," said Eck, who took the lead in pushing Asani's tenure through the process. "But Ali has been teaching with so many responsibilities for so long."

Although Asani was notified at the end of June that Faust had approved him for tenure, he said he is still waiting for information outlining his salary, benefits, and responsibilities.

"After all these years, they've decided to put me up for full professorship," he said. "Some claim it's long overdue."

Asani was first considered for tenure in 1992. But he said he was told then that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences did not have the funds to create another professorship. When Asani was offered tenure at the University of Bonn in Germany that year, Harvard fought to keep him, Eck said, by making him a professor of the practice in the departments of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (NELC) and the Study of Religion. The seat is a senior position with five-year contracts.

"The last time our two departments reviewed it [the contract], we said, 'This is crazy!'"said Eck, whose office abuts Asani's in the Barker Center. "He has written more, taught with more effectiveness than most of the people in our departments, and the basis that he is staying here needs to change."

But Graham said Asani's reputation has not "suffered much" from the delay in tenure. "He's recognized internationally as a first-rate scholar," said Graham, who has served as chair of NELC.

Asani said if he accepts the position as a full professor, he will finally be able to teach a course on Shia Islam, his area of specialization. Until now, he said he was required to split his teaching between instruction in Urdu and Hindi and other courses.

Asani first came to Harvard as an undergraduate in 1973. Graham said he remembered him as a "notably outstanding" student who graduated summa cum laude in the comparative study of religion. He went on to study under Harvard's famed Islam scholar Annemarie Schimmel for his graduate studies in NELC.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Asani has been active in improving the understanding of Islam in the U.S. through outreach to Harvard alumni, civic groups, churches, and schools. In 2002, he was awarded the Harvard Foundation medal for his contributions to improving intercultural and race relations at Harvard and around the country.

Asani said he is currently working on a book titled "Infidel of Love: Exploring Muslim Understandings of Islam," which is slated to be published by Harvard University Press next year.

Asani, who focuses on Islamic practice in South Asia, said he believes his offer of tenure is a step forward for Islamic studies at Harvard.

"For the first time, in the creation of this chair, Harvard recognizes the importance of studying Islam outside the Middle East," he said.

—Staff writer Nini S. Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@fas.harvard.edu.

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