Students majoring in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies have expressed frustration with the department's shortage of full-time professors and lack of courses focusing on contemporary issues in the Middle East.
Since the retirement of Prof. Yitzhak Nakash (IMES), the IMES program has had only two full-time professors, Avigdor Levy, the program's chair, and Joseph Lumbard. Compounding the shortage, Lumbard said he plans to go on sabbatical next semester.
Levy said the interdisciplinary program within the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department has never had three full-time professors due to leaves of absences and sabbaticals. He acknowledged that the small size of the IMES program exacerbates the problem.
There are currently 30 declared IMES majors at the University in addition to a number of undeclared students, according to Noa Balf '09, the Undergraduate Departmental Representative for the program. The department's two professors serve as advisers for all 30 undergrads and six graduate students.
"We don't have enough faculty to help students who are interested in doing an honors thesis, [since] that requires a full year of tutorship and guidance by a professor," Levy said.
The IMES program was almost forced to prevent students from researching theses this year, and in the future, some students may be left out, Lumbard said.
Students are also frustrated that the professors specialize in the Ottoman Empire and early Islam and Islamic theory instead of contemporary issues, Balf explained.
"Many students are interested in the Israeli-Arab conflict and the modern Middle East," Balf said.
Levy, however, maintained that there are too few courses in classical Islam, a core requirement for the IMES major. Lumbard added that the uneven course distribution simply reflects the program's shortage of courses in general.
Balf is currently circulating a letter among IMES students requesting that the administration hire an additional professor. So far 20 or 21 students have signed the letter, Balf wrote in an e-mail to the Justice.
"The premise is that we have as many IMES students sign it to have strength in numbers to show that we are aware of what is going on," she said.
The Crown Center for Middle East Studies does supply some classes on contemporary issues, but Balf noted that the Center is "mainly a research institute" that facilitates student projects and volunteers to have classes, and that holding classes isn't the Center's main objective.
Prof. Banu Eligur, Ph.D.'06 was appointed this year as an assistant IMES professor and research fellow at the Crown Center. She is teaching a course on the roots and current face of political Islam in the Muslim world.
The shortage of faculty in the IMES department could also harm Brandeis' reputation as a frontrunner in the field of Middle Eastern study programs, Lumbard explained.
"We need to hire people as soon as possible to make sure that we stay ahead of the curve," he said.
Levy agreed, stating that the department needs more permanent faculty that provides a greater balance between modern and classical Islam. "After all," he said, "the Middle East was not created yesterday; it has a long history."
Courses in IMES are cross-listed with NEJS, Afro and African-American Studies, Economics, Sociology, Politics and other departments. Prof. Kanan Makiya teaches a course every spring semester, "Describing Cruelty," and Prof. Ilan Troen (NEJS), the director of the Israel Studies Center and a chair in Israel Studies (the first in the United States), teaches courses on Israel. As of press time, 10 IMES courses will be offered next semester, according to the University Registrar's Web site, all of which are cross-listed. Fifteen were offered this semester.
Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe said he will not start searching for a new professor for the department in the near future, although he admitted that this is the only viable solution to the problem.