After years of frustration with the University's limited Middle East studies resources, William Beeman has left his post as professor of anthropology to chair the department at the University of Minnesota. Though Beeman continues to work with anthropology-linguistics concentrators at Brown, his departure may force the concentration to be folded into the Department of Anthropology.
One of only a handful of professors whose research and teaching focused on the Middle East, Beeman said he spent many of his 33 years at Brown advocating for development in Middle East studies - without results.
"It seemed really foolish of me to continue to beat my head against the wall trying to get some action on Middle East studies," he said. Ultimately, Beeman said, higher pay, an administrative position and a chance to develop those academic areas important to him lured him away to the University of Minnesota.
"It became very clear to me that there was no commitment whatever on the part of the administration to ever develop Middle East studies," Beeman said, adding that his other areas of expertise - South Asian studies and linguistic anthropology - similarly suffered from limited resources. The current lack of support has caused other professors to leave Brown, he said, and discourages younger faculty from coming to the University. "The process is going to continue unless the University gets serious about those areas of study," he said.
Alex Ortiz '09, a Middle East studies concentrator, agreed with Beeman that the program receives "very little support and organization." Ortiz said Beeman's departure underscored the fact that Middle East studies is not a priority for the University administration.
"I think just the number of Middle Eastern studies concentrators and people who have taken Middle Eastern studies courses should prove without a doubt that there is avid interest in the student body here about these topics, and thus the administration should make it a priority to see that these interests are all well satisfied," Ortiz said.
But Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron said the University has made progress in Beeman's areas of expertise. "I do think that there's been attempts on the part of the administration this year to look into the teaching of Farsi," she said, also citing one newly hired Arabic teacher this year. "So it may or may not be related to concerns he raised, but I do think there's been some movement in these issues and especially in the past year under (Provost David) Kertzer's ('69 P'95 P'98) leadership," Bergeron said.
When the University of Minnesota offered Beeman a position in November last year, he said he approached Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P'07 to request a higher salary and more support for his fields of study. While the University was willing to raise his salary to match the Minnesota offer, Beeman said, University officials "made no guarantees" about increased support for linguistics, Middle East or South Asian studies.
Vohra said the University does not make changes in any area or department simply because a faculty member says he will leave otherwise.
"It is important to note that when we are trying to hire faculty or retain faculty, usually that is not a negotiation that involves one individual making demands about how a certain program develops," Vohra said.
Vohra said losing a "very important member of the Brown faculty" like Beeman is "difficult" but that the University has hired a linguistic anthropologist in his absence.
After Beeman's departure over winter break, students in the anthropology-linguistics concentration program he had run received an e-mail Feb. 1 announcing his departure. Sent by Associate Professor of Anthropology Matthew Gutmann, the e-mail informed students that the University was "reassessing the Anthro Linguistics concentration and will most likely fold this into the general Anthropology concentration." Gutmann assured the seven current concentrators that they would be able to complete their concentration without any impact.
Still, Beeman's departure left the anthropology-linguistics concentration without someone to direct the track, Bergeron said. "As far as I know, Professor Beeman, who was here in the fall, made no arrangements for anyone else to direct that concentration in his absence. Therefore, there's a problem for students who might want to enroll in this concentration," she said.
"The concentration has not been canceled - no concentration can be canceled unless it goes through sort of the same process that adding a concentration goes through," Bergeron said. "I think students have been advised to think about their options, and I think we do need to decide what should happen in this concentration in the absence of a director."
Mike Prentice '07, an anthropology-linguistics concentrator, said there will be three active linguistic anthropologists on campus and various grad students this fall.
"The fact that there are few people who do it - someone could see as an argument for getting rid of it - at least from an administrative point of view," Prentice said. "But low numbers doesn't mean the value for the University is diminished."
Beeman said he will remain an adjunct professor at Brown until 2010, when all of the students he is currently working with have completed their studies.
"The students were certainly one of the reasons why I stayed at Brown for so many years, even though I had frustrations with the administration. I'm very positively disposed towards students, and certainly didn't want to abandon any of the students that I was working with," Beeman said.
After three months at the University of Minnesota, Beeman said he has established a Persian program, received $1 million in development funds and hired five new people to expand the Department of Anthropology.