McGill, News

Lawsuit causes leadership crisis in the Institute of Islamic Studies

Professor Michelle Hartman and Assistant Professor Pasha Khan of the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) have been dismissed from their respective roles as the Director and Undergraduate Program Director (UPD) of the Institute. The McGill World Islamic and Middle East Studies Student Association (WIMESSA) issued a statement on Sept. 20 expressing frustration with the McGill administration’s lack of communication with regards to the dismissals.

Dean of Arts Antonia Maioni and McGill Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi recused Hartman in light of an ongoing legal dispute involving an IIS student and faculty member. Over the summer, Assistant Professor Ahmed Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against Khan for defamation after Khan allegedly warned female students of Ibrahim’s sexual behaviours. The suit also named Sarah Abdelshamy, an undergraduate student, as a codefendant. According to Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell, appointing Physics Professor Martin Grant as IIS Steward is in the Institute’s best interests.

“The decision [to dismiss Hartman as IIS director] is intended to address a structural matter and in no way reflects the University’s confidence or trust in any individual member of the IIS,” Campbell wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Instead, the decision seeks to ensure that no one in an administrative role in the IIS appears to be in a conflict of interest or is subject to allegations of such a conflict.”

The McGill Board of Directors named Grant as the IIS Steward on Sept. 1. In addition to conducting theoretical physics research, Grant is now in charge of assigning academic duties within the IIS, overseeing its budget, and supervising its support staff. Professor Robert Wisnovsky, Associate Professor Khalid Medani, and Hartman—who remains the chair of the IIS tenure consideration committees—sit on the Steward’s advisory committee. Grant has full faith in his advisory committee.

“[Hartman] and [Wisnovsky] are knowledgeable, [as] they were both former directors, […and] they recommended [Medani] to the advisory committee,” Grant said. “We are having weekly meetings but I should mention that, [while] I listen to their advice, any decisions are mine to make.”

As Dean of Science from 2005 to 2015, Grant initiated Soup and Science, a popular event hosted every semester where students can attend science professors’ research presentations and mingle over lunch. Grant plans to roll out similar pilot projects in the IIS to promote increased academic interactions between students and faculty.

“What can we do to get people feeling ownership of the academic mission of the Institute again?” Grant asked. “I’m really big on the idea that the university is about academia. All of us, the support staff and the professors, feel very proud [of our commitment toward scholarship and research] because that makes a big difference for the students.”

According to the statement, Maioni and Grant informed WIMESSA and the IIS Graduate Student Council representatives of Hartman’s dismissal on Sept. 4. The McGill administration did not consult students before making the change and has yet to officially announce its decision to remove Khan as UPD. According to a WIMESSA representative who wished to remain anonymous, Khan directly notified the co-presidents of the McGill Institute of Islamic Studies Student Council (MIISSC), Sabeena Shaikh and Ashutosh Kumar, that he would no longer serve as the IIS UPD.

“We were disappointed that […] Khan wouldn’t be the UPD this year, as we had already met and begun discussing our goals for the year,” the member wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Without [Khan] notifying us, we would not have known, as the [administration] has not yet reached out to us in any way to inform us of the development.”

In the future, WIMESSA hopes that the administration can communicate decisions directly to students instead of relying on Association to relay information.

“As WIMESSA stated in its statement, we believe that there needs to be much more transparency in communication between the administration and the students,” the WIMESSA member wrote. “This also means meeting with us when we request it […] and not just when they decide [to] clue us in.”


A previous version of this article stated that Sabeena Shaikh and Ashutosh Kumar were presidents of the McGill World Islamic and Middle East Studies Students Association (WIMESSA) and that a quote was from Senior Communication Officer James Martin. In fact, they are the co-presidents of the McGill Institute of Islamic Studies Student Council (MIISSC) and the quote was from Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell. The Tribune regrets this error.

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