Middle East studies in the News
University of Montana Minor in Arabic Possible
by Cody Bloomsburg
When someone asks Arabic lecturer Samir Bitar if he has tenure, he laughs and says, "Yes, I have 10 years."
Bitar has been teaching Arabic at the University of Montana for those 10 years and, for the first time in that decade, there is hope that an Arabic minor may soon be in place.
UM administrators have proposed a tenure-track position in Arabic for next fall. If a proposal for an Arabic minor is submitted at the same time, the faculty could forward it to the Board of Regents for approval next spring, said Chris Comer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Though the tenure-track position is not directly linked to a possible minor, Comer said, the establishment of that position is a crucial step in bringing about the degree.
UM Associate Provost Arlene Walker-Andrews said that without a tenure-track faculty member in place, the Regents would be hesitant to sign off on the minor. The concern is that adjunct faculty could be lured away by tenure-track positions at other institutions, she said.
Ashleen Williams, a second-year Arabic student, is betting on the possibility of getting the minor.
"I made the decision to stick around in September when the proposal was first submitted, thinking that if I waited it out I might have the chance to do it," she said.
An Arabic minor wouldn't be in place until after the Regents meeting in March 2011, but approval would still allow students who already met the requirements to graduate with the degree that spring.
While that might sound a bit vague, the promise is the furthest that Bitar and his colleague Khaled Huthaily have come in their efforts to secure the minor since they first started in 2004.
At that time, Bitar was the only faculty member teaching Arabic on campus, but enrollment in Arabic classes has grown steadily since his arrival in 1999. Bitar said his students continued to ask for the minor, and when Huthaily joined the faculty in 2006, he also joined the cause.
Bitar said enrollment numbers in UM's program are competitive with those of other Arabic programs nationwide. During the past two years, four UM students studying Arabic have been awarded Critical Language Scholarships from the U.S. Department of State.
In the past three years, the ASUM Senate has passed resolutions backing the establishment of the minor.
Without the minor on their résumé, Bitar said, it is often difficult for students to get a chance to take a language proficiency test when applying for a job or, in the case of UM student Jared Markland, to get accepted into graduate studies at other universities.
Markland took Arabic from Bitar before he graduated in 2007. He would have had enough credits to earn a minor. He is taking post-graduate courses from Bitar this fall while he waits to get into graduate school. But, he said, several schools won't allow him to even take a proficiency test without an Arabic degree on his transcript.
"I can say I speak Arabic, but I don't have anything to prove it," Markland said.
Bitar hopes Williams' hard work won't go unrewarded like Markland's.
"It would be very nice for students like this, who work so hard and dedicate themselves to learning the language and the culture, to be rewarded by UM for their efforts," Bitar said.
The promise of professional validation isn't what drew Williams and other students to UM's Arabic courses.
"I chose to study Arabic last year, and I did so because I wanted a challenge. For me, Arabic essentially means a large extended family and community in Missoula," Williams said.
Nicole Allen, another one of Bitar's second-year students, has her fingers crossed that the minor will go through before she walks next spring. After sitting in on an Arabic course with her brother, she become interested and dropped her Russian language studies. But, had she realized there was no Arabic minor available, she said, she never would have left.
Comer said there are a lot of variables that will play into the inclusion of the minor, like hiring plans for next fall and whether a suitable candidate can be found, but he said these are hopeful times for Arabic students and faculty alike.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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